SICHUAN – China
Sichuan is a province in southwest China and historically known as the “Province of Abundance”. It is one of the major agricultural production bases in China. Sichuan contains a stretch of Asia’s longest river, the Yangtze and is the home of giant pandas. It has a population of around 81 M.
Chengdu is the capital of Sichuan and its history dates as far back as the 4th Century B.C. when it served as the capital of the Shu Kingdom. Chengdu is unique as a major Chinese settlement that has maintained its name (nearly) unchanged throughout the imperial, republican, and communist eras.
Sichuan is well known for its spicy cuisine and the various use of Sichuan peppers. The Sichuanese are proud of their cuisine, known as one of the Four Great Traditions of Chinese cuisine. The saying “one dish, one shape, hundreds of dishes, hundreds of tastes” describes its acclaimed diversity to the point. The most prominent traits of Sichuanese cuisine are described by four words: spicy, hot, fresh and fragrant.
According to the principles of traditional Chinese medicine, dampness creates an imbalance in the body and must be driven out by ‘heating’ foods. Though it was not until the 16th century that chili peppers arrived in China. Locals adopted chilies as they discovered their perfect harmony with the aromatic numb of Sichuan pepper, and they became an integral part of the cuisine.
Huajiao or Sichuan Pepper
It is an ancient Chinese spice that has been cultivated in Sichuan, China for thousands of years. It is responsible for the cuisine’s famous tongue-tingling sensation. Huajiao is actually the seed of a tree in the citrus family and isn’t related to the common peppercorn.
They are an iconic fixture of Chengdu/Sichuan, China. The name is given to hole-in-the-wall restaurants that are old and dirty but so delicious they still attract people like flies. Each restaurant has its own signature dishes that have been passed down and honed and over generations.
More than just Sichuan’s favorite dish, hot pot is a way of life. Locals eat hot pot at least once a week. Either at restaurants or at home with family and friends, they sit around a bubbling pot of soup teeming with chili peppers, lard, and spices. The soup base is a complex layering of flavors built upon a base of rich beef tallow, fermented fava-bean paste, and chili oil, and up to a dozen spices and herbs are thrown in as well.
Noodle variations can seem infinite, but in their simplest forms, there are really two types: soup noodles and dry noodles. At a noodle shop, the empty bowls are typically filled with a mix of soy sauce, vinegar, salt, garlic, Sichuan peppercorn and, of course, chili oil. Pre-prepared meat such as fried pork or red-braised beef is then added on top with garnishes such as chopped green onions or cilantro. That’s the basics, but the variations are innumerable.
Sichuan’s amazing landscapes and rich historical relics are an ideal travel destination. From the ancient but very moden capital Chengdu (with its traditional opera of firebreathing and sleight-of-hand mask changes) to the gate of Tibet with its vast mountains and everything in between, there is a lot to discover. Here are some locations:
Dazu Rock Carvings