Spicy food lovers rejoice! Traditional Sichuan cuisine, full of red chili oil, peppercorns, and exotic flavors and spices, is becoming increasingly popular throughout the United States. For example, in New York City, the louder flavors of Sichuan province are rapidly deposing milder-tasting Cantonese fare from its Chinese food throne!
Where Does Sichuan Cuisine Come From?
In China, the Sichuan basin is an isolated region encircled by mountains and known for its damp foggy climate. In traditional Chinese medicine, dampness is regarded as dangerously unhealthy.
To restore a healthy bodily equilibrium, foods that dispel cold and drive out moisture are eaten – ergo, the heat-concentrated Sichuan cuisine!
A Little History of Sichuan Cuisine
Chili peppers only arrived in China from the Americas in the 16th century and didn’t enter Chinese kitchens until much later. Therefore, before these American heat-producing missiles appeared, Sichuan cooks relied on other ingredients to get a diner’s nerves tingling, including ginger root and betel nuts. But, once the chili pepper arrived, it soon supplanted all other stimulants.
It’s Not All About the Spice
Chinese cooks value something called xian, a term that conveys the indefinable, delicious taste of fresh meats and seafood. The best Sichuan cooking does not drown out the food’s essential xian with red chili oil or other pungent ingredients. The diner should be able to taste the xian despite all the spiciness.
Why America Is Falling in Love With Sichuan Cuisine
Americans became more curious than they used to be, more cosmopolitan, and more globalized. Saturated in a 24/7 fast-food culture, Americans yearned for something new – enter Sichuan food to wake up the jaded cosmopolitan palate!
The hearty folk cuisine aspect of Sichuan food also appeals to modern-day Americans. Informality and comfort are two leading trends in American dining. White tablecloths and extravagant menus are out; people crave more casual experiences and homey cooking. Sichuan cuisine fits the bill perfectly!
What Are Sichuan Cuisine’s Most Popular Dishes?
Although spice is a key element in Sichuan cuisine, what really makes it stand out is its stunning variety of flavors. Here are a few of Sichuan cuisine’s most beloved dishes:
Mapo Tofu – A classic dish made with tofu, ground pork or beef, garlic, ginger, and other fragrant ingredients.
Hot and Sour Soup – The heat from this soup comes from white pepper, while the sour taste comes from vinegar.
Kung Pao Chicken – Ingredients include ground hot chilis and peanuts or cashews mixed with chicken cubes.
Fuqi Fei Pian (husband and wife lung slices) – American Sichuan restaurants usually give it the more appetizing name of Couple’s Delight! Legend has it that a countryman and his spouse sold beef slices flavored with vinegar. These gave off an attractive aroma and became very popular.
Spicy Szechuan Eggplant – A tasty dish made by mixing stir-fried chile paste with ground beef and other seasonings to impart spiciness and flavor to the eggplant.
Sichuan Cuisine in America – The Takeaway
Sichuan food lingers on the senses. The mouth-tingling heat lasts while the depth and intensity of the flavors continue to sink in overtime.
This immediate blast of sensation followed by an abiding presence may be one reason for the increasing popularity of Sichuan cuisine across the US in recent years.