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Sichuan Food Culture

11:36 AM Taste and Flavours 0 Comments


People immediately think of Sichuan food as being hot, sour, sweet, and salty; using fish sauce; or having a strange taste. Actually, these flavors were introduced only in the last 100 years, and initially were popular only in the lower strata of society. Hot pepper, an important flavoring in Sichuan cuisine, was introduced into China only 200 to 300 years ago.

During the period of the Three Kingdoms, the kingdom of Shu was located in Sichuan. According to historical research, the people in Shu liked sweet food. During the Jin Dynasty, they preferred to eat pungent food; however, pungent food at that time referred to food made with ginger, mustard, chives, or onions. As recently as 200 years ago, there were no hot dishes in Sichuan cuisine, and few were cooked with pungent and hot flavorings. Originally, its flavorings were very mild, unlike the popular dishes of today, such as pockmarked lady’s bean curd and other hot dishes, Even today, some Sichuan dishes, like velvet shark’s fin, braised bear’s paw, crisp duck roasted with camphor and tea, sea cucumber with pungent flavor, minced chicken with hollyhock, boiled pork with mashed garlic, dry - fried carp, and boiled Chinese cabbage have kept their traditional flavors.

Sichuan has been known as the land of plenty since ancient times. While it does not have seafood, it produces abundant domestic animals, poultry, and freshwater fish and crayfish. Sichuan cuisine is well known for cooking fish. As a unique style of food, Sichuan cuisine was already famous more than 800 years ago during the Southern Song Dynasty when Sichuan restaurants were opened in Lin’an, now called Hangzhou, its capital city.
The prevailing Sichuan food consists of popular dishes eaten by common people and characterized by pungent, hot, strange, and salty flavors. Although Sichuan cuisine has only a short history, it has affected and even replaced more sumptuous dishes.

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 meat slices are common dishes eaten by every family.

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.

Much of the spicing of regional Chinese cooking is based upon bringing together five fundamental taste sensations – sweet, sour, pungent, salty and bitter. The balance of these particular elements in any one dish or regional cuisine can vary, according to need and desire, especially as influenced by climate, culture and food availability.

In Szechuan cuisine, there are a variety of ingredients and spices used to create these basic taste sensations. These include a variety of chili peppers, peppercorns over various types, Sichuan peppers, which are in reality a type of fruit, not pepper, and produce a numbing effect in addition to their warm flavor. Sichuan peppers, also called flower pepper and mountain pepper, are a traditional part of the Chinese five spice powder, or at least of those that are modeled upon the most authentic versions of the spice combinations common to regional Chinese cooking.

Other ingredients used commonly in Szechuan cuisine to create the five fundamental taste sensations include different types of sugars, such as beet root sugar and cane sugar, as well as local fruits for sweetness. The sour comes from pickled vegetables and different varieties of vinegar. A special bitter melon is added to many dishes to offer the touch of bitterness that complements other flavors. Other spices and flavors include dried orange peel, garlic, ginger, sesame oil and bean paste. Salt is important to Szechuan cuisine, and the area produces uniquely flavored salts that help to distinguish authentic Szechuan cuisine from the other regional cuisines from China.

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