Sichuanese Cuisine : Food & CultureSichuan, being a “land of fish and rice”, is naturally home to a rich and varied cuisine. The Sichuanese cuisine is well known for its spiciness and use of a diverse range of native ingredients. The province’s geographical proximity to Southeast Asia meant an exposure to the hot and spicy cuisines of this region, for example, Thai, Burmese and Indian cuisines, and hence one sees in the Sichuanese food the liberal use of chilli, pepper and other tropical spices. The main reason for this is summarised in May Holdsworth’s Odyssey Illustrated Guide to Sichuan : “Local people attribute the development of their cuisine to the weather in Sichuan. They say that chilli- and pepper-flavoured food stimulates sweating, which cools them down in the hot summer, while in the damp cold winter, it produces the opposite effect of warmth and comfort.”
However, what caught visitors who thought they knew what’s Sichuanese cuisine unaware is that quality known as “ma” - the feeling of numbness in the mouth. The addition of Sichuan peppercorn, known as “huajiao”, in numerous dishes create a most sudden numbing sensation in one’s mouth. The diner who’s unaware of this might for moments thought that one’s mouth have evaporated. Tasty and appealing Sichuanese cuisine might be, this quality is certainly not one easily appreciated by outsiders. And this is why Sichuanese restaurants outside the province usually dispense with ma. One either loves it or hates it, though it can be an acquired taste. In fact, as my clients say, some outsiders have come to like it so much that they can have more ma that the native Sichuanese. So visitors beware... Ask the cook not to cook your dish too ma lest it spoils your tastebuds.
Some of my favourites are listed here :
· Mapo doufu - “Pocked Face Grandmother Bean Curd”. This is bean curd cooked with minced pork and served in hot chilli and pepper.
· Huiguo rou - “Returned-to-the-pot Pork”. Thinly sliced pork boiled first and then stir-fried, with spring onion scattered at the end.
· Mala huoguo - “Ma and Hot Hotpot”. Meat and ingredients of every kind thrown into red hot soup. First eaten by poor boatmen of the Changjiang in Chongqing area and then spread westwards to the rest of Sichuan. Now a restaurant dish.
· Dan dan mian - yellow thin noodles served in soya sauce, spring onion, vinegar, hot oil and generous serving (what’s new!) of chilli and pepper. Real sensational !
· Liang Fen - Cold Noodles. These are white rice noodles served cold with a hot, spicy and ma sauce. Especially great in summer, as the local say.