Sichuan cuisine, Szechwan cuisine, or Szechuan cuisine (四川菜) (/ˈsɛʃwɒn/ or /ˈsɛwɒn/[1]) is a style of Chinese cuisine originating from Sichuan Province in southwestern China. It has bold flavours, particularly the pungency and spiciness resulting from liberal use of garlic and chili peppers, as well as the unique flavour of Sichuan pepper. There are many local variations within Sichuan Province and the neighbouring Chongqing Municipality, which was part of Sichuan Province until 1997. Four sub-styles of Sichuan cuisine include Chongqing, Chengdu, Zigong and Buddhist vegetarian style.[2]

UNESCO declared Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province, to be a city of gastronomy in 2011 to recognise the sophistication of its cooking.[3]


Sichuan in the Middle Ages welcomed Near Eastern crops, such as broad beans, sesame and walnuts. Since the 16th century, the list of major crops in Sichuan has even been lengthened by New World newcomers. The characteristic chili pepper came from Mexico, but probably overland from India or by river from Macao, complementing the traditional Sichuan peppercorn (花椒; huājiāo). Other newcomers from the New World included maize (corn), which largely replaced millet; white potatoes introduced by Catholic missions; and sweet potatoes. The population of Sichuan was cut by perhaps three quarters in the wars from the Ming dynasty to the Qing dynasty. Settlers from the adjacent Hunan Province brought their cooking styles with them.[4]

Sichuan is colloquially known as the "heavenly country" due to its abundance of food and natural resources. One ancient Chinese account declared that the "people of Sichuan uphold good flavour, and they are fond of hot and spicy taste." Most Sichuan dishes are spicy, although a typical meal includes non-spicy dishes to cool the palate. Sichuan cuisine is composed of seven basic flavours: sour, pungent, hot, sweet, bitter, aromatic and salty. Sichuan food is divided into five different types: sumptuous banquet, ordinary banquet, popularised food, household-style food and food snacks. Milder versions of Sichuan dishes remain a staple of American Chinese cuisine.[5]


A chili hot pot characteristic of Sichuan cuisine

The complex topography of Sichuan Province, including its mountains, hills, plains, plateaus and the Sichuan Basin, has shaped its food customs with versatile and distinct ingredients.

Abundant rice and vegetables are produced from the fertile Sichuan Basin, whereas a wide variety of herbs, mushrooms and other fungi prosper in the highland regions. Pork is overwhelmingly the most common type of meat consumed.[4] Beef is somewhat more common in Sichuan cuisine than it is in other Chinese cuisines, perhaps due to the prevalence of oxen in the region.[6] Sichuan cuisine also uses various bovine and porcine organs as ingredients, such as intestine, arteries, head, tongue, skin and liver, in addition to other commonly used portions of the meat. Rabbit meat is also much more popular in Sichuan than elsewhere in China. It is estimated that the Sichuan Basin and Chongqing area consume about 70 percent of China's rabbit meat consumption.[7] Yoghurt, which probably spread from India through Tibet in mediaeval times, is consumed among the Han Chinese. This is an unusual custom in other parts of the country. The salt produced from Sichuan salt springs and wells, unlike the sea salt, does not contain iodine, leading to goiter problems before the 20th century.[4]

Sichuan cuisine often contains food preserved through pickling, salting and drying. Preserved dishes are generally served as spicy dishes with heavy application of chili oil.

The most unique and important spice in Sichuan cuisine is the Sichuan pepper (花椒; huājiāo; "flower pepper"). Sichuan peppercorn has an intense fragrant, citrus-like flavour and produces a "tingly-numbing" (; ) sensation in the mouth. Other commonly used spices in Sichuan cuisine are garlic, chili peppers, ginger and star anise.

Broad bean chili paste (豆瓣酱; 豆瓣醬; dòubànjiàng) is one of the most important seasonings.[4] It is an essential component to famous dishes such as Mapo tofu and double-cooked pork slices. Sichuan cuisine is the origin of several prominent sauces/flavours widely used in modern Chinese cuisine, including:

Common preparation techniques in Sichuan cuisine include stir frying, steaming and braising, but a complete list would include more than 20 distinct techniques.

Notable dishes

Although many dishes live up to their spicy reputation, there are a large percentage of recipes that use little or no hot spices at all, including dishes such as tea-smoked duck.

English Image Traditional Chinese Simplified Chinese Pinyin Notes
Ants climbing a tree Mayishangshu.jpg 螞蟻上樹 蚂蚁上树 mǎyǐ shàng shù
Bon bon chicken Bon bon chicken with sauce.jpg 棒棒雞 棒棒鸡 bàngbàng jī
Braised pork ribs with konjac 魔芋燒排骨 魔芋烧排骨 móyù shāo páigǔ
Dan dan noodles Dan-dan noodles, Shanghai.jpg 擔擔麵 担担面 dàndàn miàn
Double-cooked pork Hoikoro.jpg 回鍋肉 回锅肉 huíguōròu Literally "meat returning to the pot"
Fish with pickled mustard greens 酸菜鱼 Preserved Mustard Green with Fish - Charming Spice AUD24.80 (4104355401).jpg 酸菜魚 酸菜鱼 suān cài yú
Fragrant and spicy fish slices 香辣魚片 香辣鱼片 xiāng là yú piàn
Kung Pao beef tendon 宮保牛筋 宫保牛筋 gōngbǎo niú jīn
Kung Pao chicken Gongbaojiding MichaelDziedzic.jpg 宮保雞丁 宫保鸡丁 gōngbǎo jīdīng
Mao xue wang 毛血旺 毛血旺 máo xuě wàng A traditional dish from Chongqing made from pig's blood, tripe, duck's blood, ham and chicken gizzard. Beansprouts, chili, Sichuan peppercorn, sesame and other spices are often added as seasoning.
Mapo tofu Cuisine of China 0106.JPG 麻婆豆腐 麻婆豆腐 mápó dòufǔ Literally "pockmarked granny's tofu"
Shredded chicken cold noodles 雞絲涼麵 鸡丝凉面 jī sī liáng miàn
Shredded pork in garlic sauce Fish flavoured sliced pork from Melbourne.jpg 魚香肉絲 鱼香肉丝 yuxiang rousi Literally "sliced pork with fish aroma"
Sichuan hotpot Chengdu Hotpot.jpg 四川火鍋 四川火锅 Sìchuān huǒguō
Sliced beef/beef tripe/ox tongue in chili sauce Fuqi Fei Pian.jpg 夫妻肺片 夫妻肺片 fūqī fèipiàn Literally "husband and wife lung pieces"
Spicy deep-fried chicken La Zi Ji (Chicken with Chiles) (2269517013).jpg 辣子雞 辣子鸡 làzǐjī
Tea-smoked duck Duck breast, smoked and panfried.jpg 樟茶鴨 樟茶鸭 zhāngchá yā
Three pepper chicken 三椒煸雞 三椒煸鸡 sān jiāo biān jī
Water-cooked meat Shuizhufish2.JPG 水煮肉 水煮肉 shuǐzhǔ ròu

See also


  1. ^ "Szechuan." at Merriam-Webster Online.
  2. ^ Dunlop, Fuchsia (2003). Land of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking. New York: W.W. Norton. ISBN 0393051773. 
  3. ^ UNESCO (2011). "Chengdu: UNESCO City of Gastronomy". UNESCO. Retrieved May 26, 2011. 
  4. ^ a b c d Anderson, Eugene (2003). "Sichuan (Szechuan) Cuisine". Encyclopedia of Food and Culture. New York: Scribner's. pp. 393–395. 
  5. ^ Fu, Peimei (傅培梅) (2005). Peimei's Selection of Famous Dishes: Special Edition on Sichuan and Zhejiang Cuisine (培梅名菜精選:川浙菜專輯) (in Chinese). Tangerine Culture Enterprise Co., Ltd. (橘子文化事業有限公司). p. 9. 
  6. ^ Tropp, Barbara (1982). The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking. New York: Hearst Books. p. 183. ISBN 0-688-14611-2. 
  7. ^ Geng, Olivia (June 13, 2014). "French Rabbit Heads: The Newest Delicacy in Chinese Cuisine". The Wall Street Journal Blog. 

Further reading

  • Fuchsia Dunlop. Land of Plenty : A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking. New York: W.W. Norton, 2003. ISBN 0393051773.
  • Fuchsia Dunlop. Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China. (New York: Norton, 2008). ISBN 9780393066579. The author's experience and observations, especially in Sichuan.
  • Jung-Feng Chiang, Ellen Schrecker and John E. Schrecker. Mrs. Chiang's Szechwan Cookbook : Szechwan Home Cooking. New York: Harper & Row, 1987. ISBN 006015828X.
  • Eugene Anderson. "Sichuan (Szechuan) Cuisine," in Solomon H. Weaver William Woys Katz. Encyclopedia of Food and Culture. (New York: Scribner, 2003; ISBN 0684805685). Vol I pp. 393–395.
  • Lu Yi, Du li. China Sichuan Cuisine (Chinese and English) Bilingual . Sichuan Publishing House of Science and Technology, 2010. ISBN 9787536469648.

External links