Getting to Know Sichuan Cuisine
People who live in the Sichuan region of China know that the food there is varied and that each dish has a sophisticated as well as a complex taste. Unfortunately, this knowledge doesn’t translate well to Western culture. In the United States, people primarily consider Sichuan Chinese food to be extremely hot and spicy and little else.
Understanding the History of Sichuan Chinese Food
The reason so many Westerners don’t fully appreciate Sichuan food is that they don’t understand the history and culture of this region of China. For one thing, it isn’t easy to reach China’s Sichuan basin because it’s surrounded on all four sides by mountains. Another important fact about the Sichuan basin is that the Qinghai-Tibet plateau sits to the west of it. Many Chinese citizens and immigrants alike saw the difficulty in reaching the Sichuan basin as a challenge to overcome. As immigrants continued to pour into the region, they brought new cultural and culinary customs with them.
A Primer on the Flavors of Sichuan Dishes
Increased appreciation for food from the Sichuan region of China can also come from having a greater understanding of its main flavors. Although more than 20 exist, five of the most common ones include:
- – Fish fragrant: Chefs don’t really use fish to create this flavor. Instead, they combine seasonings popular with traditional fish cookery in China. These include ginger, garlic, pickled red chilies, scallion, soy sauce, sugar, and vinegar.
- – Garlic paste flavor: For the first step, a chef simmers soy sauce with spices and brown sugar. He or she then combines it with chili oil, mashed garlic, and sesame oil. This topping is especially popular on cold pork.
- – Scorched chili flavor: To prepare this seasoning, a chef fries dried chilies inside of a wok until they show signs of toasting and darkening. He or she then adds several other ingredients to the wok, including Sichuan peppercorn.
- – Spicy sesame: This basic ingredient typically tops cold dishes. It comes from a combination of dried red chilies and Sichuan peppercorn.
- – Wine fragrant: Chefs create this flavor primarily from rice wine and rice wine lees. It produces a fragmented flavor that Westerners might recognize from Chinese dishes from the region of Shanghai. However, a dash of Sichuan peppercorn helps to differentiate it.
Some Well-Known Sichuan Dishes
Even though they may not recognize the above flavors, many Western diners do recognize popular Sichuan dishes served here. Kung Pao Chicken, for example, is a staple on the menu of a lot of Chinese restaurants. It includes diced chicken along with golden peanuts and dry red peppers. Dan Dan noodles, also known as Dan Dan Mian, is another well-known Sichuan Chinese dish in America. An authentic serving of Dan Dan noodles contains vegetables, chili oil, Sichuan pepper, and minced pork. While it’s more on the bland side outside of the Sichuan basin, it’s known for its strong nutty, savory, smoky, and spicy flavors in its home region.
These are just two of the many dishes Sichuan dishes Americans can enjoy in their own country. To truly experience Sichuan culture, they should consider expanding their taste buds and try several others.