Heralded around the globe as the 'Mecca' for would-be connoisseurs wishing to try some of the world's hottest and spiciest food, Sichuan province does not disappoint. In truth, it offers so much more – from its mystical landscape with protruding cliffs often etching through in a mid-morning fog, to the most famous face in all of China, that of the Giant Pandas.
In Chengdu the province's capital, locals adore their food and often pride themselves on their culinary skills. First, let's set the record straight out of respect for the Sichuan province. We acknowledge that it is perhaps unfair to tarnish all Sichuan dishes with that same metaphorical paintbrush dripping of fiery, chilli-based paint.
It's a lot more than scorched taste buds, and peppercorn numbed lips. The cuisine is vastly more complex, invoking foreign cultural influences and well-practised cooking techniques which must all be taken into account to truly appreciate the wonderful food. So let's get started, here are the 5 top Sichuan dishes you must try!
Ma Po Dou Fu (麻婆豆腐)
This fiery classic is one of the most popular dishes amongst the taste-buds of Chinese folk. Well, maybe once the numbing sensation has subsided that is! We are told that the dish derived its name from a 'pockmarked' wife who supposedly invented it for to save her husband's restaurant.
Wow, wasn't he a lucky guy? Tofu, the dish's main ingredient, is set in a thin, oily, bright-red suspension where douchi is then added and finally a healthy portion of meat – usually pork or beef. Last but not least, the pièce de résistance – doubanjiang –, a broad-bean paste is added to complete the delicious Mapo Doufu dish. It's widely regarded as the soul of Sichuan cuisine.
Sounds amazing, right? Just remember to bring a fire extinguisher to the dinner table, as things are about to get hot hot hot!
Fu Qi Fei Pan (夫妻肺片)
It literally translates to 'Married Couple's Lung Slice', but don't worry – actual lung is rarely using in the preparation of the dish. So we'll just call it 'beef in chilli sauce' from now on in an attempt to not terrify you diners, okay? It's actually an incredibly tasty snack.
Beautiful in colour, soft and tender, and of course it wouldn't be a Sichuan dish if it wasn't aromatic and spicy. Best served as a cold dish, it is made of thinly sliced beef, beef stomach and beef tongue. Garnished with a generous amount of spices as well as the notoriously hot Sichuan peppercorns – make sure you have a drink of milk on hand.
Address Fuqi Feipan with an open-mind and lose your cultural conceptions because as far as unique Chinese delicacies go, this one is a good one!
Yu Xiang Rou Si (鱼香肉丝)
"Yuxiang" is actually a traditional Sichuan preparation method. This dish can be literally translated as shredded, fish-flavored Pork! Despite its rich and aromatic fish-flavour, you will be surprised to know that the dish actually does not contain any fish! The secret is the intricate blend of hot chilli sauce, shallots, ginger, garlic, white sugar, and salt which is used during preparation to give spicy, sweet, sour, and savory flavours all at once!
The local people also use this method to cook eggplant, eggs, tofu and more so when you're in Sichuan, you'll have a wide selection of 'Yuxiang' foods to dig your teeth in!
Kung Pao Chicken (宫爆鸡丁)
Kung Pao Chicken is a famous dish that has become a popular choice in many overseas Chinese restaurants. This gorgeous dish comprises of a glorious combination of chicken, golden peanuts and red chillies that are mixed into a light sweet sauce, enriched with deep spicy tones, and sometimes with added Sichuan peppers- that will make your lips tingle pleasantly.
The chicken is cut into small cubes and the scallion in short pieces to complement. The chicken is wonderfully succulent and the nuts, which are added at the very last minute, adds a delightful crunch!
Did you know this dish is rumoured to have been named after a late Qing Dynasty governor of Sichuan, Ding Baozhen 'Gong Bao', who is said to have been absolutely obsessed with it!
Tea Smoked Duck (樟茶鸭)
Zhangcha duck, colloquially known as tea-smoked duck, is a quintessential dish of Szechuan cuisine. The cooking process begins by marinating the duck with a peppery rub with ginger, garlic and salt. A wok is then prepared for smoking the duck with camphor twigs and leaves and black tea leaves After more smoking and frying , the final product is complete and it is simply amazing; with a crackly thin, greaseless skin over supremely tender meat and a bracing smoldering tea aroma- it is sure to please! What more can you want than crackly, meaty goodness!
Zhangcha duck is commonly eaten in banquets or festive events, but don't worry you can find it in many restaurants in Sichuan! Now that we've piqued your interest in the delicious food in Sichuan, Chengdu, find out where you can go exploring in the city itself!