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Sichuan Cuisine

Sichuan Cuisine is one of eight famous regional cuisines. It is a style of Chinese cuisine originating in Sichuan Province which has an international reputation for being hot and numbing, because of the common ingredient Sichuan peppercorn or fagara.

Origin

The origin of Sichuan cuisine can be traced back to the Qin and Han Dynasties (221 BC - 220 AD), its recognition as a distinct regional system took place in the Han Dynasties (206 BC -220 AD ). 

As a unique style of food, Sichuan cuisine was famous more than 800 years ago during the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) when Sichuan restaurants were opened in Lin'an, now called Hangzhou, the capital. The hot pepper was introduced into China from South America around the end of the 17th century. Once it came to Sichuan, it became a favored food flavoring. 

In the late Qing Dynasty around 19th century, Sichuan cuisine became a unique local flavor, enjoying the same reputation with Shandong, Guangdong (Canton) and Huaiyang cuisines.

Flavor

Sichuan food is famous for its many flavors, and almost every dish has its own unique taste. This is because many flavorings and seasonings are produced in Sichuan Province. These include soy sauce from Zhongba, cooking vinegar from baoning, special vinegar from Sanhui, fermented soy beans from Tongchuan, hot pickled mustard tubers from Fuling, chili sauce from Chongqing, thick, broad bean sauce from Pixian, and well salt from Zigong.

Spicy

The hot pepper was introduced into China from South America around the end of the 17th century. Once it came to Sichuan, it became a favored food flavoring. Sichuan has high humidity and many rainy or overcast days. Hot pepper helps reduce internal dampness, so hot pepper was used frequently in dishes, and hot dishes became the norm in Sichuan cuisine. Sichuan food has become the common food for most people in the area, especially since the dishes go well with rice. In this respect, Sichuan cuisine differs from Beijing cuisine, which was mainly for officials and nobility; Huai Yang cuisine, which was mainly for rich, important traders; and Jiangsu Zhejiang cuisine, which was mainly for literati. Typical, modern Sichuan dishes like twice cooked pork with chili sauce, shredded pork with chili sauce and fish flavor, Crucian carp with thick broad bean sauce, and boiled mat slices are common dishes eaten by every family.

Making and Seasoning

When flavoring foods, sometimes two or more flavorings are combined, and sometimes a hot fire is used to concentrate the extract from the dish to increase the intensity of the flavor, preserve the primary taste of the dish, remove unpleasant flavors, and increase pleasant flavors. Sichuan cuisine tends to use quick frying, quick stir frying, dry braising, and dry stewing. In quick - frying and quick stir frying, the food is fried over a hot fire and stirred quickly without using another pan. For example, it takes about one minute to stir fry liver and kidney to keep it tender, soft, delicious, and fresh. 

The raw materials for dry braising are mostly fibrous foods like beef, radish, balsam, and kidney beans. These foods are cut into slivers, heated in an iron pot and stirred continuously. Flavorings are added when there is only oil left and the water has disappeared. When the dish is ready, it is dry, fragrant, crisp, and soft. 

Dry stewing is similar to stewing in the Beijing cuisine, but the primary soup or extract in the dish must be condensed over a low fire before the thick broad  bean sauce or hot red pepper is added. No starch is used. When the dish is ready, it looks faddish, oily, and shiny and tastes delicious, crisp and soft. Typical dishes are dry stewed fish and dry stewed bamboo shoots. 

Mapo Bean Curd - Sichuan cuisine

Featured Dish: Mapo Bean Curd

Statistics show that the number of Sichuan dishes has surpassed 5,000. Dishes typical of Sichuan are twice cooked pork, spicy diced chicken with peanuts, dry-fried shark fin, and fish-flavored pork shred. 

One of the popular dishes is Pockmarked Woman's bean curd (or Mapo Doufu in Chinese) which was invented by a Chengdu chef's pockmarked wife decades ago in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The cubed bean curd is cooked over a low flame in a sauce which contains ground beef, chili, and pepper. When served, the bean curd is tender, spicy, and appetizing. Although many Sichuan dishes live up to their spicy reputation, often ignored are the large percentage of recipes that use little or no spice at all, including recipes such as "tea smoked duck".