What’s Eating China: Sichuan Cuisine


Colloquially known as the “heavenly country,” due to its abundance of food and natural resources. Most Sichuan dishes are very spicy, although a typical meal includes some more mild options to cool the palate.

The complex topography of Sichuan—including mountains, plateaus and a basin—has helped shape the food customs with versatile and distinct ingredients. Authentic Sichuan cuisine is composed of seven basic flavors: sour, pungent, hot, sweet, bitter, aromatic and salty.

Middle-age Sichuan welcomed eastern crops, such as broad beans, sesame and walnuts. From the 16th century onwards, the list of major crops in Sichuan was lengthened by newcomers from around the world. The characteristic chili pepper came from Mexico, but probably migrated over land from India and replaced the ancient spicy peppers to better complement the Sichuan peppercorn.

Rabbit is much more popular in Sichuan than anywhere else in China.

Other finds from the New World included sweet potatoes, maize (which largely replaced millet) and white potatoes. The population of Sichuan was drastically reduced through wars during the Ming to the Qing dynasties. Eventually, settlers from nearby Hunan province brought along their cooking styles.

Rice and vegetables come from the fertile Sichuan Basin, whereas a wide variety of herbs, mushrooms and other fungi prosper in the highland areas. Pork is overwhelmingly the major meat, although beef is somewhat more common here than in other Chinese provinces, due to the prevalence of oxen in the region. Locals typically make use of various organs, in addition to other commonly utilized portions of the meat.

Rabbit is also much more popular in Sichuan than anywhere else in China. It is estimated that Sichuan Basin and Chongqing are responsible for about 70 percent of China’s rabbit consumption. Yogurt, which also possibly spread from India through Tibet in medieval times, is consumed among Han Chinese; it’s an unusual custom compared to other parts of the country.

Foods preserved through pickling, salting and drying are also popular. The salt produced in Sichuan’s springs and wells—unlike sea salt—does not contain iodine. Preserved items are generally spicy, with heavy applications of chili oil.

Here, the most revered spice is the Sichuan pepper (花椒; huājiāo), which literally means “flower pepper.” Sichuan peppercorn has an intensely fragrant, citrus-like flavor and produces a “tingly-numbing” (麻; má) sensation in the mouth. Broad bean chili paste (豆瓣酱; dòubànjiàng) is one of the most important seasonings and essential to well-known dishes like Mapo tofu.

Sichuan cuisine is the origin of several prominent sauces/flavors that are widely used in modern Chinese cuisine and the province is also renowned for its hotpot (火锅; huǒguō). Sichuan relates closely to its neighbors in Hunan for the reputation of mind-blowing spiciness, yet there are occasionally items like the tea smoked duck that contain absolutely no bite at all.

Chef’s special:
麻婆豆腐 /mápó dòufǔ / Pockmarked granny’s tofu
宫保鸡丁 /gōngbǎo jīdīng / Spicy diced chicken (kung pao)
樟茶鸭 /zhāngchá yā / Tea smoked duck

Where to find it:
Xiao Sichuan 小四川
Phone: 8115 7071
Address: 1/F, Vienna Hotel, Hengzeng Rd, Chang’an

Wei Shu Wu Hotpot 味蜀吾老火锅
Phone: 8293 5182
Address: Shop 401, 4/F, Baihua Plaza, Changping (beside the observation elevator)

Fish For You 俺的江湖鱼
Phone: 2882 3799
Address: No. c1025-1026, Kangjingtai, New World Garden, Dongcheng East Rd, Dongcheng

See Guangdong cuisine here
See Fujian cuisine here
See Hunan cuisine here
See Jiangsu cuisine here
See Zhejiang cuisine here
See Anhui cuisine here
See Shandong cuisine here