Flavors of China > Szechuan cuisine
There is a saying here that “Szechuan cooking is very spicy. No doubt that’s why the inhabitants of the region have the sharpest tongues in the whole country.” This land of the four rivers includes the western border regions. Isolated for centuries, some 1600 km from the sea, Szechuan province developed a unique cooking style, notably spicier than in other regions, especially since the Szechuanese have a predilection for fagara, a small hot red pepper whose effect on the palate is like a time bomb.
The seasoning called Szechuan pepper is in fact a mixture of fagara and true black pepper. There are 21 sauces and spice mixtures unique to this cuisine, each with a distinctive flavor and its own particular culinary role. The best known are Gung-bao, a hot peppery blend; Tou pan jian, based on garlic, ginger, onion and chili; hot and sour; garlic sauce; ginger sauce; five spice powder, etc.
People of this region are adept in the art of preserving meat, either by pickling or smoking, and duck smoked over camphor wood and tea leaves is one of their most famous specialties.
Traditional rural cooking is often very time-consuming. A certain meat-based specialty is known as “pudding boiled three times and turned nine times,” consisting of successive layers of meat and vegetables steamed in a casserole for many hours. The choice and balance of ingredients is an art in itself, a reflection of the culinary sophistication of the cook.
If you go to Szechuan’s capital, Chengdu, the traditional departure point on the long routes leading to the Himalayas, don’t miss going to one of the many tea rooms to be found in the old parts of the city, especially near the temple of Wenshu. Here locals sit playing chess or cards, and between sips of tea the ear cleaner may come by and offer you his services!
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