Regional Cuisine Of China:
by: Kirsten Hawkins
The Szechuan style of cuisine arose from a
culturally distinct area in the central western of part of
China, a province known as Sichuan. This area of China came into
its own culturally towards the end of the Shang Dynasty, during
the 15th century. However, it was also the climate of the area
that helped to shape the culinary traditions that were to arise
from Sichuan province and make their way into the realm of
The province from which the cuisine that
the world knows as Szechuan evolved is often hot and humid, and
this contributed to this necessity of preparing foods in ways
that differ significantly from other regions of China. Szechuan
cuisine is primarily known for its hot and spicy dishes, though
naturally there is more to Szechuan food than spice and sauces
rich and strong in flavor.
A general overview of culinary history and
trends reveals that, for the most part, areas that tended to
spice heavily were areas in which the fresh food supply was not
as reliable as in places that traditionally used a lighter hand
in their use of spices. The climate of Sichuan is conducive to
faster food spoilage. This, particularly in the past, made
necessary food preservation techniques that themselves left
behind a strong flavor, such as salting, pickling, drying, and
smoking. Thus, spices served to mask the flavors of less than
fresh foods and those that have been preserved by methods that
affect their natural flavors. In addition to masking certain
flavors, the use of hot spices, such as chili peppers, tends to
be more common to hot climates, as the sweat that they can
produce is thought to cool the body.
Much of the spicing of regional Chinese
cooking is based upon bringing together five fundamental taste
sensations – sweet, sour, pungent, salty and bitter. The balance
of these particular elements in any one dish or regional cuisine
can vary, according to need and desire, especially as influenced
by climate, culture and food availability.
In Szechuan cuisine, there are a variety
of ingredients and spices used to create these basic taste
sensations. These include a variety of chili peppers,
peppercorns over various types, Sichuan peppers, which are in
reality a type of fruit, not pepper, and produce a numbing
effect in addition to their warm flavor. Sichuan peppers, also
called flower pepper and mountain pepper, are a traditional part
of the Chinese five spice powder, or at least of those that are
modeled upon the most authentic versions of the spice
combinations common to regional Chinese cooking.
Other ingredients used commonly in
Szechuan cuisine to create the five fundamental taste sensations
include different types of sugars, such as beet root sugar and
cane sugar, as well as local fruits for sweetness. The sour
comes from pickled vegetables and different varieties of
vinegar. A special bitter melon is added to many dishes to offer
the touch of bitterness that complements other flavors. Other
spices and flavors include dried orange peel, garlic, ginger,
sesame oil and bean paste. Salt is important to Szechuan
cuisine, and the area produces uniquely flavored salts that help
to distinguish authentic Szechuan cuisine from the other
regional cuisines from China.
Szechuan cuisine is marked by its rich
traditional flavors, which stem from a culture of hundreds of
years and are in part shaped by the natural forces of climate.
Authentic Szechuan cuisine offers a unique dining experience
made up of adventurous and creative taste sensations.
Sichuan Cuisine in Houston.