Sichuan cooking (a.k.a Szechuan and Szechwan) has enviably taken its place as one of China’s eight great cooking styles. The term comes from the Sichuan province in southwestern China, where the Sichuanese, even in ancient written accounts, were reported to “uphold good flavors”—flavors marked by hot and spicy. Its cuisine today, even around the world and in almost every Chinese restaurant in San Francisco , is characterized as having bold, sharp flavors with garlic, chili peppers and peppercorns, and the fragrant native Sichuan peppers playing up the dominant notes in its dishes. The complexity and pungency of Sichuan cuisine, however, are not without its pulsing, thrilling depth.
As food writer Andrew Coe knowingly writes: “The result is a cuisine with an incredible depth and complexity of flavor, hitting all sense receptors in your mouth, nose, and gastrointestinal system at the same time. You can tell a bad Sichuan restaurant because it hits one note at a time; dishes at a good Sichuan restaurant are a symphony.”
Even food components in Sichuan dishes that are pickled, salted, and dried, are made spicy with the liberal use of chili oil. The unique flavor of Sichuan pepper (pinyin or flower pepper) has a citrusy, fragrant flavor that prickles in the mouth, along with star anise, ginger, garlic, and chili peppers.
Food writer, Fuschia Dunlop, who went for chef training at Sichuan’s Institute for Higher Cuisine, points out that spicy Sichuan cuisine is not unlike French cooking in that there are different words for different processes of cooking. She identifies some of these techniques below:
For example, liu is taking your ingredient, which usually has some starch paste on it, and pre-cooking it in oil or water. Then you make a sauce and mix the two together.
Jian is what Westerners would call pan-frying in a flat pan, or frying without moving the ingredients around very much because you can also do it in a wok.
Chao means stir-frying. Chaoxiang is to fry fragrant, which is bringing out the fragrance of oil, ginger, or garlic.
Bian is another word similar to stir-fry. Ganbian, meaning dry bian, is frying without any oil and later adding oil and seasonings.
Qiang is frying Sichuan pepper and chili and then adding an ingredient to drive in the Sichaun spice.
Sichuan’s capital city, Chengdu—the birthplace of many culinary traditions—was the first city in Asia to be designated the “City of Gastronomy” by UNESCO. The city, in fact, has become one of the most exciting food centers in the world. Sichuan cuisine, indeed, finds its way in any authentic and vibrant Chinese restaurant in San Francisco , such as the Chili House SF, and with every one of them never losing the beat of ten blended flavor notes—spicy, sour and hot, home-style, gingered, sweet and sour, and garlicky, among others—which has earned authentic Sichuan-styled food its well-deserved world reputation for great-style cooking.
(Sources: Sichuan cuisine: More than just spice, edition.cnn.com. October 10, 2012 )
Looking for the best Chinese food in San Francisco can be an exhausting experience, what with the huge number of choices available. Moreover, the various regional cuisines of China won’t limit you to one or two dishes alone. For example, NDTV recently had an article about Chinese food and it highlighted several of these cuisine types. One of those described was the spicy Szechuan, which is described in glowing terms:
The combination of everything hot and spicy stands out for Sichuan cuisine. Here, food is mind-numbingly fiery and frequent use of chillis and Sichuan peppers shines through in every dish. Those from the Sichuanese province cure their own meats, make their own pickles and cook in large pots with a lot of fragrant stock.
Szechuan is just one of the six prominent regional cuisines, the others being Cantonese, Hunan, Hakka, Mandarin, and Zhejiang. Oftentimes, leading restaurants like Chili House SF that specializes on Chinese food in San Francisco serve dishes from most, if not all, of these popular cuisines. Here are four dishes that you should try to get a taste of:
First, gong bao or kung pao chicken is an excellent example of Szechuan style cooking. Consisting of diced chicken, peanuts, vegetables, and peppers, this particular Szechuan dish has several variations. The original version uses the especially potent Szechuan peppercorns that made the dish a fiery pleasure on the tongue. For those who aren’t inclined toward spicy foods, milder versions can be cooked up.
Second, Peking duck is quite a popular duck dish worldwide. Roasted duck is easy to understand, but Peking duck takes a bit more preparation than just sticking a duck on a stick and cooking it over an open fire. For one, the duck is hung and left to stand for 24 hours after it has been glazed with a layer of sweet syrup. Afterwards, the duck is roasted in a closed oven until it has a shiny brown color. The thin skin and the tender meat are a tasty treat and make for a fine meal.
Third, chow mein is a noodle dish that everyone, most likely, already knows about. Stir-fried noodles mixed with a variety of vegetables and meat, this tasty noodle dish is filling and easy to prepare. Depending on where it is served, you can have a choice of crispy or soft noodles.
Finally, sweet and sour pork is a favorite among people trying out Chinese cuisine for the first time or are still getting used to its flavors. Made with deep-fried pork slices covered in the traditional sweet and sour sauce, it has a tangy taste that excites the tongue and leaves one wanting more.
(Source: 10 Best Chinese Chicken Recipes , NDTV, September 30, 2014)
Have you always believed that MSG is bad for your health? Scientists at the American Chemical Society’s Reactions (ACS) have recently debunked this myth, as detailed by Medical Daily reporter Lizette Borreli. The food additive has been linked to the age-old “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome,” but there is no strong scientific evidence proving that MSG caused the discomforts experienced by the scientist who coined the term.
“Glutamate is found in tons of common foods that are rich in protein — meat, dairy products, and vegetables all have glutamate,” say the scientists in the YouTube video, “Is MSG Bad for You?” The flavor enhancement we taste in MSG foods comes from the amino acid, l-glutamate. Glutamate occurs naturally within our bodies as we process and metabolize food, making it a very abundant and very common part of our diet. The monosodium part in MSG is so we can easily sprinkle it on a dish.
A rule of thumb: Take MSG criticisms with a grain of salt and consume responsibly.
MSG– or monosodium glutamate– gives food an added kick of umami , the fifth basic flavor (aside from sweetness, saltiness, sourness, and bitterness) characterized by a delicious, savory taste. Although MSG has been found perfectly safe for enhancing food, the best chefs in the world do not rely on the additive; instead, they bring out the natural umami in their ingredients.
The carefully crafted, mouthwatering entrees offered by authentic Chinese restaurants in San Francisco give your taste buds an incredible epicurean experience. From simple snacks to heavy dishes, each major ingredient and seasoning is meticulously selected and combined to produce appetizing courses that keep you coming back for more.
To relish an interesting mix of natural umami goodness, try classic and contemporary Chinese food. Bite into crunchy egg rolls, fried prawns, and other Mandarin-style dim sum and dumplings, and don’t forget to dip them in their complementary sauce. Have a taste of tangy, saucy dishes like Dong Po pork or Szechuan-style chicken.
Renowned chefs like Chef Han of Chili House use only the freshest, high-grade meats, seafood, vegetables, fruits, spices, and condiments to cook meals that are bursting with flavor. You don’t even have to go all the way across the world to experience it. You only need to visit the finest Chinese restaurants in San Francisco to satisfy that Chinese food craving.
(Source: Food Myth Debunked: Why MSG Chinese Food Criticisms Should Be Taken With A Grain Of Salt , Medical Daily, Aug 26, 2014)
Good food is one of the things people from all parts of the world can all agree upon. In the United States, especially in key cities like Washington and San Francisco, among others, Chinese food has made a niche over the years, although some sectors have something to say about the menu being offered by these restaurants.
An article by China Daily USA stated that local Chinese visiting the US were not very pleased when it came to the authenticity of the dishes in these so-called Chinese restaurants:
But most Chinese restaurants in Washington, like in other US cities, are simply not authentic Chinese. They’re Americanized despite some efforts to please the taste buds from China.
For Ling, the Chinese restaurants in the US are just not up to mainland standards. “It seems that one sauce has been used for all dishes,” she said.
“It’s a huge distortion of Chinese culinary culture,” said Ling, who, when back in Shanghai, likes to frequent new restaurants.
These comments coming from a Chinese native may very well serve as a guide for people who are searching for the best Chinese food in San Francisco . For one to enjoy the best Chinese food in town, authenticity should be the main barometer when choosing among the many different restaurants within the city.
The Value of Authenticity
The article also mentioned how Americans have grown to love the brand of Chinese food that are usually served by restaurants, which could be attributed to the fact that the chefs have already tweaked them to suit the American taste. Essentially, if you want to enjoy Chinese food at its best, you need to go for something that is really Chinese through and through, or else, you may only be eating something that is part-Chinese.
A Search to Be Rewarded
Though people may easily fall into the temptation of settling for the first restaurant they see that has the word “Chinese” on their signage, practicing more patience in your search will be rewarded with exceptional taste and more.
There are still a number of restaurants offering authentic Chinese food in San Francisco like Chili House SF, which use not only fresh ingredients but also prepare the food the traditional way. Dining in these restaurants will provide a taste of how food in China really is, which is the end-goal of enjoying fine Chinese cuisine.
(Source: “Chinese Visitors: America needs more real Chinese food,” China Daily USA, March 19, 2014)
If you eat at a typical Chinese restaurant in San Francisco or elsewhere, you’re likely to find dumplings in the menu. The history of Chinese dumplings is a rich and fascinating one. These tasty, cooked balls of dough, usually filled with meat or any other relish, are pretty popular around the world, and it’s not hard to see why. History Channel writer Stephanie Butler agrees:
From Italian ravioli, to Polish piroshky, to Chinese pot stickers, the humble dumpling is beloved by eaters around the world. Truly a universal food, you’d be hard pressed to find a cultural cuisine that doesn’t include dumplings in some form, be it stuffed or boiled.
But have you ever wondered about dumpling history? When and how did people first come up with dumplings? Dumplings are ancient by culinary standards, and the history behind them goes way back. Archaeological evidence points to dumpling-like recipes from Ancient Rome, but the true origin history of the dumpling as we know it today begins with the ancient Chinese. The treat’s inception was attributed to China’s so-called “Medicine Saint,” Zhang Zhongjing.
Zhang lived 1,800 years ago during the Eastern Han Dynasty. One day, he returned to his hometown after retiring from government service. It was winter when he came home, and upon arriving, he noticed that a lot of the people had frostbitten ears. As a healer, he soon realized that his home clinic would be filled beyond capacity with aching townspeople any moment. Because of this, he asked his brother to put up a tent in the town square, and place a heated cauldron inside.
Zhang crafted a cure by wrapping mutton, chili, and some medicinal herbs in a dough skin, shaped like an ear. This was boiled in water before being given to the people. Zhang’s cure helped warm the patients’ bodies effectively, and also thawed the frostbitten ears by promoting blood flow. Incidentally, the cure also tasted so good that it was well-received. For the next several days, Zhang had his fellow townspeople continued eating his recipe and consuming the soup made from its broth, and it was only a matter of time before the people’s frostbitten ears were cured.
Not many people would have thought that the tasty treat was originally crafted for medicinal purposes, but dumplings have withstood the test of time, still warming the hearts and tummies of people today eating in their preferred Chinese restaurant around San Francisco , like Chili House. For what it’s worth, foodies around the world have Zhang Zhongjing to thank.
Enjoy the best dumplings in San Francisco at Chili House as part of a tradition going back many centuries.
(Source: Delightful, Delicious Dumplings, History.com, March 28, 2014)