Sichuan Cuisine

Málà – numbing and hot – that’s Sichuan cuisine. The wild Sichuan peppercorn (huājiāo), a little bit pink, a little more purple – really sets Sichuan cuisine apart. Take a bite of one and your mouth tingles as an addictive numbness makes its way to your lips. This is the . Combine it with the characteristic hot blanket of chili peppers – the – and you have discovered the magic of Sichuan cuisine.

Sichuan Peppercorns - Chengdu, China
Sacks of Sichuan peppercorn. Hurts so good.

While Sichuan food is available around the world, Sichuan dishes take on an almost electric quality – in both color and flavor – when served in China. Here’s a sample from our travels.

Gōngbǎo Jīdīng (Kung Pao Chicken)

When you travel to China, memories fade of the goopy generic slop that is often passed off as kung pao in Chinese restaurants throughout Europe and America. The real deal is full of fresh green onions, large red chilies, Sichuan peppers, peanuts and bits of chicken doused in a light sauce.

Kung Pao Chicken - Chengdu, China
Kung Pao Chicken, the real deal.

Where to Find It: In Beijing we tried the kung pao chicken at Xiao Wang’s Home Restaurant. It was good, but the real deal was right around the corner at this hole-in-the-wall restaurant on Guanghua Donglu #11 near Guomao metro station in the Chaoyang area of Beijing. Their versions of Sichuan classics were inexpensive and tasty, and dished out by giggling waitresses.

In Chengdu (Sichuan Province), Grandma Chen’s on Xi Yu Long Jie serves a kung pao plate piled high with chilies, Sichuan peppercorn, fresh green onions and a sprinkling of peanuts.

Try making it at home.

Ganbian Sijidou (Dry Fry Sichuan Green Beans)

Piles of green beans are dry fried with chilies, Sichuan peppercorns, garlic, ginger and other spices. Beans are crispy, smoked and sweet; the combination of spices leaves your mouth wondering where these flavors have been all its life.

Sichuan Green Beans - Beijing, China
Fiery Sichuan green beans.

Where to find it: At the same hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Beijing with the kung pao chicken (Address: Guanghua Donglu #11 near Guomao metro). Unfortunately, green beans weren’t in season during our visit to Sichuan Province, so opportunities to taste them on their home territory were limited.

Try making it at home.

Mápó Dòufǔ (Pockmarked Tofu)

The name of this dish finds its roots in the pockmarked face of its creator, Grandma Chen. Why anyone thought this descriptive appetizing for a dish is beyond us. The dish features soft dimpled tofu in a hot sauce of garlic, minced meat (pork or beef) chili oil, Sichuan peppercorns and fresh green onions. Quality varies widely; if it’s not good the first time, try it again elsewhere.

Grandma Chen's Mapo Tofu - Chengdu, China
Grandma Chen’s Mapo Tofu in Chengdu.

Where to find it: Our best plate of the stuff was served at an outpost of the Chen Mapo Doufu restaurant chain (Chengdu) that supposedly started it all with Grandma Chen’s recipe in 1862. Outlets of this restaurant chain seem to be opening and closing faster than guide books can keep up. Ask your hotel or taxi driver for the nearest location. We went to the one on Xi Yu Long Jie.

Try making it at home.

Xiao Chi (Little Eats):

Sichuan snack food, from barbecued skewers to steamed goodies like transparent dumplings and Zhong’s dumplings.

Chinese Dumplings - Chengdu, China
Transparent dumplings in Chengdu. Delicious.

Check out our piece on Chinese dumplings for more details, including where to find them.

Sichuan Huǒ guō (Sichuan Hot Pot)

Bubbling red broth laden with dried chilies and Sichuan peppercorns. Though Sichuan hot pot hurts so good, it also tastes so good that you might not be able to stop.

Spicy Sichuan Hot Pot - Chengdu, China
Spicy Sichuan hot pot.

Read more about Sichuan hot pot in our article, Hot Pot Fever.

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  1. says

    The food is so beautiful! I’m so glad you listed where to get it too. My husband has been to Beijing on business and loved it there. I hope to make it some day.

  2. says

    Lori, we’re glad that readers and friends keep telling us that they have a new appreciation of Chinese food (from China) thanks to this food series. It is very different than what you find in Chinese restaurants elsewhere – I’m sure your husband had the same experience when he was in Beijing! Hope you get to experience China yourself…maybe after Brazil?

  3. says

    Was surprised how Sichuan has taken over China, everywhere I went Sichuan food was never far from my taste buds. Sichuan Peppers took a little getting used to but hot-pots are the perfect example of how they work well I was lucky to try at Haidilao, tho the one you photographed looks a lot better.

  4. says

    @Allan: Yes, we also found that Sichuan food had become quite mainstream throughout China. Have to confess I grew a little addicted to Sichuan peppers – loved the flavor and feeling from them. We use them now in our cooking at home quite a bit 😉

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