This article was written by Elaine Luo, the writer, photographer and cook of China Sichuan Food.
Sichuan cuisine is my favorite cuisine out of the eight ones of China not only because of my childhood but also because of the great taste and imagination. There is a famous description about Sichuan food: “one hundred dishes, one hundred flavors.” Sichuan cuisine is featured by its unique cooking methods, adaption of spices and seasonings including fresh ones, pickled vegetables and dried goods. Now Sichuan dishes are enjoyed across the world. Today I’m going to introduce eight of the best dishes from Sichuan you can usually find in a real Sichuan style restaurant.
1. Kung Pao Chicken (宫保鸡丁)
Kung pao chicken is the most famous Sichuan dish outside China. There are many versions but generally it is a stir-fried dish with chicken cubes, dried chili pepper and deep-fried peanuts. Real Kung Pao Chicken contains no fresh peppers or other side ingredients in order to make the taste pure. The tender taste of the chicken matches with the crispy peanuts. This sweet, sour and spicy chicken dish is worth trying.
2. Boiled Dishes like Sichuan boiled fish (水煮鱼)
If you ever visit a Sichuan restaurant, a boiled dish is a must. Water boiling is a unique cooking method from Sichuan cuisine. Usually heavy seasonings including Doubanjiang, chili peppers, ginger, Sichuan peppercorns and other common seasonings are used in the basic soup base and then beef, pork, fish, blood tofu are cooked along with other side ingredients.
The key step of all boiled dishes is the pouring of hot oil on the surface after the main dish is done. This process helps to give the dish a brighter color and a stronger taste. You may find boiled pork, boiled fish and boiled beef. Usually there are other side ingredients inside the boiled dishes such as bean sprouts, cucumber or mushrooms.
3. Dry-fried dishes like fry-fried green beans (干煸豆角)
Dry-frying is another unique cooking method of Sichuan cuisine. First of all, either deep-frying or no oil pan-frying is used to remove the water from the raw materials. The fried raw ingredients will become soft and dry, which allows a better absorption of the seasonings and spices.
Dry-fried green bean sometimes is featured as Sichuan green beans. You may find both vegan and minced pork version.
4. Mapo tofu (麻婆豆腐)
I guess the Mapo tofu is the most famous Chinese tofu recipe. Due to the outstanding of Doubanjiang, the spicy coating of tofu form a deep contrast with the faint and fresh taste of tofu. Mapo tofu usually is stir-fried with minced pork or minced beef.
5. Twice cooked pork (回锅肉)
Twice cooked pork is, in my opinion, the tastier Sichuan style stir fry dish. It is named after the cooking process: twice cooked. First, the pork belly is boiled until is almost cooked and then fried with garlic sprouts and fresh peppers. There are two seasonings used in this dish: Sichuan doubanjiang and Dou-chi (also known as fermented black bean sauce). The combination of doubanjiang and dou-chi endow an excellent taste to the pork slices.
There is a similar plate named as “Yan Jian Rou”. It is a simplified pork stir fry dish that uses almost the same seasonings but a different cooking process.
6. Pork in spicy garlic sauce
Pork in spicy garlic sauce (蒜泥白肉) is a cold dish with Sichuan combined spices. It’s great if you love Chinese spice sauce.
7. Cold noodle salad (涼面)
In summer times, Sichuan style restaurants will provide cold noodle as one of the staple food. Cold noodle salad (or Liang Mian) is excellent when serving with drinks or porridge. Besides, this is also a street food you many find everywhere in Sichuan province.
Besides the liang mian, there are also other famous Sichuan style noodles like jelly noodles (o Liang Fen), Dan Dan noodles or pickled vegetable noodles.
8. Yu Xiang Dishes like Yu Xiang Rou Si (鱼香肉丝)
Yu Xiang is also known as fish fragrant. There are several famous dishes including Yu Xiang Rou Si, Yu Xiang tofu, Yu Xiang eggplants. All of them are extremely tasty. In fact, the sauce used in those dishes is known as Chinese garlic sauce on many menus of Chinese restaurants offering Sichuan dishes. The fish-fragrant sauce in fact doesn’t come from fish. It is named because of the sauce is firstly used to cook fish in peasant family in Sichuan province. But later one, it is widely adapted on other dishes too.
All the dishes I introduced are very common, yummy and economic Sichuan dishes you can find in real Sichuan style restaurants. In addition, there are so many other less known foods if you try to explore deeper in real farm house like pickled vegetables, mala chicken, hot pot, red oil wonton and dumplings, spicy roasted chicken wings.
Although cooking methods and basic seasonings are similar, different combinations provide unique flavors. You’re also welcome to visit my website, China Sichuan Food, to learn more and find out your favorite!
p.s. What is your favorite Chinese food?