15 Dishes Every Sichuan Visitor Need to Try

15 must-try Sichuan dishes.
October 04, 2021 | 08:33
12 Dishes Every Sichuan Visitor Need to Try
Sichuan is famous for its bold and spicy food.

Sichuan food is the most popular among other cuisines in China, and even in the world. There are thousands of dishes in Sichuan Province. The following is a short selection of gastronomic highlights.

Characteristic numbing spiciness

Sichuanese is China's most thrilling regional cuisine. Although it's most famous for its electrifying use of chilies and lip-tingling Sichuan peppercorns, the heart of the local style of cooking lies in the artful mixing of flavors.

Sichuanese cooks excel at combining hot, numbing, sweet, sour, savory and nutty seasonings to create an astonishing variety of flavors. Locals like to say "each dish has its own style; a hundred dishes have a hundred different flavors."

Some of these are dazzlingly hot, like the numbing-and-hot mix of Sichuan pepper and dried chilies. Other dishes are mildly spicy, like those featuring a fish-fragrant sauce based on pickled chilies, and those with a sweet-and-sour lychee-flavored sauce are not hot at all.

While a Chinese historian of the fifth century famously remarked on local people's love of bold and spicy flavors, and while Sichuan pepper is an ancient Chinese spice, the chili is a relatively recent import from the Americas.

It wasn't widely cultivated in Sichuan until the 19th century, but went on to become one of the most indispensable local seasonings.

In Sichuanese dialect, chilies are still known as "sea peppers" (hai jiao), a reference to their foreign origins.

Locals explain their predilection for chilies by referring to traditional Chinese medicine, which advises that people should eat plenty of "heating" foods to counter the damp humors of the local climate.

Chinese people will often ask a visitor to Sichuan,"ni pa bu pa la" -- "are you afraid of chili heat?"

Unrelated to chili pepper or black pepper, Sichuan pepper -- in the Zanthoxylum genus -- is a prickly member of the citrus family.

Its berries, referred to as peppercorns, have a strong citrusy aroma and produce a tingling, numbing sensation around the mouth that the Chinese refer to as "ma" (the same word is used for "anesthesia" and "pins-and-needles").

Capturing global palates

Although the staple food is rice, wheaten foods such as noodles, dumplings and flatbreads form part of the Sichuanese diet.

Dan dan noodles, named after the shoulder poles of the vendors who used to sell them on the streets of the capital, Chengdu, are the best-known local noodle specialty.

Sichuan cuisine is often viewed, somewhat unfairly, as a cheap and unsophisticated people's cuisine, in contrast to the stately imperial cooking of Shandong province and the refined, literary style of the Lower Yangtze Region.

In the 1990s, as China began to open up to the outside world, Sichuanese -- known locally as chuan cai -- became China's trendiest cuisine.

Since the early 21st century, it has begun to capture the imaginations and the palates of the wider world.

Any visitor to Sichuan will be spoiled for choice of delicious things to eat, but the following are 12 most famous Sichuan dishes worth trying.

12 Dishes Every Sichuan Visitor Need to Try

1. Kung Pao Chicken

Chinese Name: 宫保鸡丁 gōng bǎo jī dīng

Flavor: sweet, sour and spicy

Cook Method: stir-fry

Kung Pao Chicken is a famous Sichuan dish known in globe. It is mainly made of chicken and peanuts. The chicken dices taste slightly spicy and tender and peanuts taste crisp. It has also been summarized as Beijing court dishes. After that, Kung Pao Chicken was spread abroad.

Kung Pao Chicken, also Gong Bao Ji Ding or Gung Po Chicken, is a traditional dish of Sichuan Cuisine famous both at home and abroad. The mixture of the seasonings makes the dish taste special, and its flavor can be either spicy or mild, which is decided by the amount of chili peppers.

Mainly made of diced chicken and peanuts, Kung Pao Chicken also has medical and health preserving value, including nourishing the marrow and replenishing the essence, promoting mental health and preventing the hypertension and heart diseases.

12 Dishes Every Sichuan Visitor Need to Try

2. Cold Chicken in Spicy Sauce

Chinese Name: Liang ban ji

Sichuanese cold chicken dishes, made with poached chicken bathed in a spicy sauce, are simple yet sensational.

There's no single recipe, but the chicken is often chopped on the bone and a typical sauce might include vinegar, sugar, soy sauce, chili oil, sesame oil and a sprinkling of ground Sichuan pepper.

Roasted peanuts or sesame seeds and sliced scallions may be added as a final flourish.

12 Dishes Every Sichuan Visitor Need to Try

3. Mapo Doufu (Pock-marked Old Woman's Tofu)

Chinese Name: 麻婆豆腐 má pó dòu fu

Flavor: spicy and pungent

Cook Method: fry, boil

If you ever thought tofu was boring, this dish will make you think again. Ma Po Tofu, sautéed tofu in hot and spicy sauce, is one of the traditional Sichuan dishes.

It's a mind-blowingly delicious concoction of tender tofu, minced beef or pork, Sichuan chili bean sauce and ground Sichuan pepper that will warm your heart and make your lips tingle.

It's named after its inventor, a Qing Dynasty woman restaurateur with a pock-marked face. This dish shows the characteristics of Sichuan cuisine very well. It tastes spicy, pungent and smooth.

12 Dishes Every Sichuan Visitor Need to Try

4. Twice-cooked Pork

Chinese Name: 回锅肉 huí guō ròu

Flavor: salty and spicy

Cook Method: boil and quick-fry

No dish is more beloved by the Sichuanese than this homely stir-fry of sizzling pork (complete with its fragrant fat) with chili bean sauce, fermented black beans and green garlic leaves. It was once considered to be the best Sichuan dish in the rural area of Sichuan.

The meat is first boiled, then sliced and fried, which is why it's called "twice-cooked pork," or literally, "back-in-the-pot" pork.

With nothing more than plain white rice and perhaps a gentle broth, it makes an entirely satisfying meal.

12 Dishes Every Sichuan Visitor Need to Try

5. Fish-fragrant Eggplant

Chinese Name: 魚香茄子 Yu xiang qie zi

Flavor: sweet and sour

Yu Xiang actually means “fish fragrant” but the funny part is that this dish has zero seafood in it!

Classic "fish-fragrant" sauces are made with bright red pickled chilies, ginger, garlic and scallion, with base notes of sweet and sour -- these are the seasonings of traditional fish cookery, which is the usual explanation for the curious name.

This combination of flavors can be used with meat, fish or poultry, but one of the most delicious variations is the everyday fish-fragrant eggplant.

12 Dishes Every Sichuan Visitor Need to Try

6. Water-boiled Fish with Sizzling Chili Oil

Chinese Name: 水煮鱼 shuǐ zhǔ yú

Flavor: spicy, pungent, and hot

Cook Method: boil

When the craze for Sichuanese food took China by storm in the late 1990s, this dish took center stage.

Boiled fish was first popular in Chongqing. The predecessor of boiled fish is actually hot pot fish in Chongqing. The main materials are fish, bean sprout, red chili and pepper. The fish is first boiled and then topped the hot oil with red chili and pepper. The color is bright red and it taste spicy and pungent.

It's one of a whole family of local dishes that are finished with smoking-hot oil and aromatic spices.

12 Dishes Every Sichuan Visitor Need to Try

7. Seasonal Greens

Chinese Name: Shi ling shu cai

Flavor: mildly spicy

Lavishly spicy Sichuan dishes tend to hog the limelight, but no meal is complete without the balancing of mildly-flavored dishes -- in particular seasonal vegetables.

Sichuan province lives up to its reputation as the "land of plenty" in its gorgeous abundance of fresh produce.

Try, for example, tender rape shoots (cai tai) in early spring, or the weirdly-wonderful ze'er gen, sometimes known as fishgrass or Chinese watercress, a salad vegetable with a distinctive sour taste.

12 Dishes Every Sichuan Visitor Need to Try

8. Sliced Pork in Hot Chili Oil

Chinese Name: 水煮肉片 shuǐ zhǔ ròu piàn

Flavor: spicy, pungent, and hot

Cook Method: boil

Sliced Pork in Hot Chili Oil is a famous home-cooked Szechuan food. The meat is spicy, tender and easy to chew, and soup is red and bright. Before boiling, the pork slices are coated and pickled with beaten egg, dry starch and some seasonings, which make the pork taste tender after boiling. Broad bean paste plays a crucial role in its spicy flavor.

12 Dishes Every Sichuan Visitor Need to Try

9. Zhong dumplings in Spicy Sauce

Chinese Name: Zhong shui jiao

The Sichuanese capital, Chengdu, is famed for its "small eats." Zhong dumplings are small pork dumplings bathed in sweetened soy sauce, mashed garlic and chili oil.

Named after a local street vendor, they are one of the most popular Chengdu snacks.

12 Dishes Every Sichuan Visitor Need to Try

10. Numbing-and-hot Hotpot

Chinese Name: Ma la huo guo

Sichuan hotpot is a whole dinner ritual: you sit around a seething cauldron of chilies and cook your own food in the broth.

Originally a specialty of Chongqing, it's said to have been invented by laborers on the banks of the Yangtze River.

Locally preferred hotpot ingredients include beef tripe and other offal, but you may choose from a vast range of meats, vegetables and tofu.

Many restaurants offer pided hotpots, so diners can cook their food in either a spicy or a mildly flavored broth.

12 Dishes Every Sichuan Visitor Need to Try

11. Sliced Beef and Ox Organs in Chili Sauce

Chinese Name: 夫妻肺片 fū qī fèi piàn

Flavor: spicy and pungent

Cook Method: dress with sauce

It is a famous Sichuan food, created by a couple. The bovine scalp, beef heart, beef tongue, tripe, and beef are the main material which are marinated and then sliced. Then, the red chili oil and other seasonings are poured on it.

12 Dishes Every Sichuan Visitor Need to Try

12. Diced Chicken with Chili

Chinese Name: 辣子鸡丁 là zǐ jī dīng

Flavor: spicy, crispy and tender

Cook Method: fry

In addition to the chicken, chili is used as the main ingredient rather than seasonings, which fully reflects the characteristics of Chuan cuisine. The color of the dish is brown and red, the spicy taste is strong, which is an unforgettable delicacy for the eater.

12 Dishes Every Sichuan Visitor Need to Try

13. Bobo Chicken

Chinese Name: 钵钵鸡 bō bō jī

Flavor: spicy, salty

Cook Method: boil, dress

Bobo Chicken is a traditional Sichuan snack with over 100 years’ history. Bobo is a pottery in which the cooked chicken and spicy sauce are placed. The chicken is boiled, then sliced and dipped in sauce with spicy ingredients and a variety of seasonings. It tastes spicy and salty with a little bit sweet aftertaste.

12 Dishes Every Sichuan Visitor Need to Try

14. Long Chao Shou

Chinese Name: 龙抄手 lóng chāo shǒu

Flavor: spicy

Cook Method: boil

Long Chao Shou is a traditional snack in Chengdu with over 70 years’ history. Chao Shou is a special name of wonton for the Sichuanese. The filling is often made of minced pork, green onion and so and the flour wrapper is as thin as a piece of a paper. It is often eaten with soup after boiling.

The smooth surface makes Chao Shou slide into your mouth and it tastes fresh and tender.

12 Dishes Every Sichuan Visitor Need to Try

15. Chinese Cabbage in Supreme Soup

Chinese Name: 开水白菜 kāi shuǐ bái cài

Flavor: salty, umami

Cook Method: boil

The main ingredient is Chinese cabbage, which is boiled with soup made of chicken, duck and pork ribs. A little chicken oil is sprinkled before being served. Unlike most of Sichuan dishes, Boiled Cabbage in Chicken Soup is light and refreshing, not oily or greasy.

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