Spice Is Nice: An Introduction to Sichuan Cuisine

“Fiery and pungent.” That is how Chinese food lovers describe the flavorful taste of Sichuan cuisine. Ginger, garlic, coriander, star anise, sesame paste and Sichuan peppercorns are used extensively. However, what truly defines this style of cooking is the generous use of chilies.

Here is a closer look at the chilies and other spices that give Sichuan cuisine its character and several of the most popular Sichuan dishes.

It’s the Chilies

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The sharp bite of Sichuan dishes comes from chili peppers. This fierce flavor is what sets the cooking of this province apart from the other seven major cuisines of China.

That’s a strange thing to say since chilies only gradually became a regular part of Sichuan dishes from the mid-1700s. Portuguese sailors and traders first introduced China to peppers in the 1500s. Two centuries later an influx of immigrants brought the chilies into Sichuan.

Clearly people love the pungent flavor. Sichuan is the cuisine served most often in China itself. And diners all over the world patronize restaurants that specialize in it.

Its most common form is broad bean chili paste. It is omnipresent in Sichuan dishes. It is what gives Twice-Cooked Pork its distinctive flavor. It even revs up the bland taste of tofu, creating the spicy Mapo Tofu.

A Tang of Spices


But it doesn’t stop there. Though fiery is a commonly used adjective, a more complete description of Sichuan cuisine would be spicy and bold, salty, bitter, flowery, smoky, sweet, sour and salty.

The Sichuan peppercorn has a citrus flavor that is sometimes called flowery. More common though is pungent. Diners say it packs a wallop, with an effect described as “tingly-numbing.”

One of the most popular dishes with peppercorn includes Mala sauce, which is oily and very spicy. This sauce has infiltrated all types of Chinese cuisines. It is made up of peppercorns, chili pepper and other spices, all simmered slowly in a generous ration of oil. Many of the pickled foods famous in Sichuan use chili oil.

Garlic sauce is popular in Sichuan, though its many variations all use chilies. One of its most famous dishes is Shredded Pork in Garlic Sauce.

Famous Sichuan Foods


Here is a look at six dishes that highlight the range of flavors in Sichuan cuisine.

  • Dan DanMian is a noodle recipe with chopped pork or beef and pickled vegetables on top. And of course, chillies and Sichuan peppercorn.
  • Fu Qi Fei Pian, translated as ox tongue and tripe, is cooked in a broth spiced with chilies and peppercorns. Before serving it is topped with roasted nuts, Chinese celery and cilantro.
  • Kung Pao Chicken is a favorite in Chinese restaurants around the world. Cut up chicken is served with peanuts, chilies, peppercorns and sweet-and-sour sauce.
  • Twice-Cooked Pork is first boiled, then fried. It uses black beans and leeks, served with a mound of fresh green vegetables.
  • Mapo Tofu is silken tofu with very hot Mala sauce, black beans with a salty sweet taste, and ground beef.
  • Dry-Fried String Beans are crunchy beans with a smoky and spicy flavor. They are stir fried in oil for an extended period, until they shrivel up and lose any moisture. Though scorched, they are tender and tasty.

Not for the faint of mouth and stomach, Sichuan dishes are made for people with adventurous tastes. If you enjoy fresh ingredients and bold flavors, its dishes are a must.

Article Submitted By Community Writer

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