As the name makes it pretty clear, Sichuan cuisine originated in the Sichuan province of Southwest China. It is also called as Szechwan or Szechuan cuisine. It is characterized by its bold flavors, especially pungency and spiciness, due to liberal use of garlic, bell peppers and the famed Sichuan pepper, giving it a unique flavor. It has four sub-styles – Chongqing, Chengdu, Zigong and a vegetarian Buddhist style. UNESCO has declared Chengdu as a city of gastronomy in 2011 to recognize the level of sophistication in its cooking.
During the Middle Ages, Sichuan welcomed North Eastern crops like broad beans, sesame and walnuts. People from the New World increased the crops it grew too. The characteristic chili pepper of Sichuan cuisine is taken to be from Mexico, but probably overland from India or by river from Macao, replacing those spicy peppers of ancient times and complementing the Sichuan’s famous pepper cones. The New World inhabitants brought with it corn that replaced the millets, Catholic Missions brought with them potatoes and sweet potatoes.
Colloqially, Sichuan province is called as ‘Heavenly Country’ due to its abundance of food and natural resources. The complex topography of Sichuan including mountains, hills, plains, plateaus, and basin has shaped food customs in Sichuan with versatile and distinct ingredients.
Abundant rice and vegetables are produced from the fertile Sichuan Basin, whereas a wide variety of herbs, mushrooms and other fungi prosper in the highland regions. Pork is overwhelmingly the major meat. Beef is somewhat more common in Sichuan cuisine than it is in other Chinese cuisines, perhaps due to the prevalence of oxen in the region. Sichuan cuisine also utilizes various bovine and porcine organs as ingredients, such as intestine, arteries, head, tongue, skin, and liver, in addition to other commonly utilized portions of the meat. Rabbit meat is also much more popular in Sichuan than elsewhere in China. It is estimated that the Sichuan Basin and Chongqing area consume about 70 percent of China’s rabbit meat consumption. Yoghurt, which probably spread from India through Tibet in medieval times, is consumed among the Han Chinese. This is a custom unusual in other parts of the country. The salt produced from Sichuan salt springs and wells, unlike the sea salt, does not contain iodine, leading to goiter problems before the 20th century.
Sichuan cuisine often contains food preserved through pickling, salting, and drying. Preserved dishes are generally served as spicy dishes with heavy application of chili oil.
The most unique and important spice in Sichuan cuisine is the Sichuan pepper. Sichuan peppercone has an intense fragrant, citrus-like flavour and produces a “tingly-numbing” sensation in the mouth. Other commonly used spices in Sichuan cuisine are garlic, chili peppers, ginger, and star anise, etc.
Broad bean chili paste is one of the most important seasonings. It is an essential component to famous dishes such as Mapo tofu and double-cooked pork slices. Sichuan cuisine is the origin of several prominent sauces/flavors widely used in modern Chinese cuisine, including the garlic sauce/yuxiang.
Common preparation techniques in Sichuan cuisine include stir frying, steaming and braising, but a complete list would include more than 20 distinct techniques.
The most popular dishes would be Sichuan Hot Pot, Spicy Diced Chicken, ‘Pockmarked Granny’ Bean Curd, etc.