Please enjoy this Guest article and recipes by Antoinette Ayana, on Szechuan cuisine, one of our favorites!! At the bottom of this article is information on how to submit your Chinese food recipes or articles to The Chinese Quest.
Traditionally, Chinese food is divided into the eight great culinary traditions. These different cuisines are identified by their unique ingredients and preparations. Historically, the styles developed based on local, sustainable ingredients. For example, food from the coastal region of Shandong emphasizes light-tasting dishes utilizing seafood caught off the coast of the province.
Originating in southwestern China, the Szechuan culinary tradition emphasizes bold, strong flavors. In fact, it is so popular in China and around the world that UNESCO named one of the cities in the Sichuan region a city of gastronomy. The food is typically spicy and pungent due to the prevalence of chili and garlic. The most noticeable flavor, however, is the Sichuan pepper. Unlike red or black peppers, the Sichuan is not powerful and hot. The flavor is reminiscent of a citrus fruit like a lemon, and it is mostly utilized for the tingling, numb feeling it creates in the mouth. This readies the palate for the stronger garlic and chili peppers.
The Sichuan peppers, red peppers, and garlic are only part of the rich tradition. The cuisine utilizes seven key flavors: salty, bitter, hot, sweet, pungent, sour, and aromatic. While the traditional Chinese versions of the dishes are very hot and spicy, the American versions tend to be milder. They are some of the most popular American Chinese dishes, though. Twice-cooked pork, mapo tofu, and hotpot are three of the dishes most popular amongst U.S. diners.
Hotpot dates back over 1,000 years. The dish likely came from Mongolians who typically ate horse, mutton, and beef. By the rise of the Qing dynasty in the mid-17th century, the dish was popular throughout most of mainland China. It has remained popular in China and abroad since then. The dish varies around the world, usually based on the meats used. However, the Sichuan pepper is common in Szechuan hotpot everywhere.
Mapo tofu is a spicy dish of tofu in a chili sauce. Typically, it involves fermented black beans called douchi. Like so much of Szechuan cuisine, this dish originated during the Qing dynasty, but not until the 1860s. The rumor is that the dish was first created by a restaurant owner in Chengdu who had pockmarks on her face. The colloquial term for pockmarks was “ma,” and “po” meant old lady. So the dish invented by the woman became known as “the pockmarked old woman’s tofu.”
For this popular dish, pork belly is simmered in a flavorful broth, then cut and fried with vegetables. One popular story says that the dish was invented during the Qing Dynasty when the Qianlong Emperor was touring the Szechuan province. The emperor supposedly demanded a feast at every village, but one village did not have enough fresh crops. Instead of fresh food, they cooked all of their leftovers a second time. Thus, twice-cooked pork was invented. The story is likely untrue, but it is suggestive of the rich cultural history woven into this dish.
Isn’t just looking at this dish making you hungry?? Check out this delicious recipe for: Twice Cooked Pork.
Whether you try hotpot, mapo tofu, twice-cooked pork, or another dish entirely, Szechuan cuisine offers diners the chance to dive into vibrantly colored dishes and flavorful cuisine. Don’t pass up an opportunity to try these mouthwatering meals!
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