Szechuan cuisine is a style of regional Chinese food that is common to the Szechuan Province in southwestern China. Szechuan may also be spelled Sichuan or Szechwan, and its cuisine is now popular in restaurants all over the world. This cuisine is known for its pungent, spicy flavors. Vinegar, which is used to preserve meats and vegetables in the winter, is also an important flavor component. Stir frying, steaming and braising are the most common techniques used in the preparation of Szechuan cuisine.
Szechuan Province gets its name from four tributaries of the Yangtze River: the Min, the Tuo, the Fou and the Jailing. The surrounding mountain ranges form a large basin, which is well-irrigated by the four rivers and provides good conditions for the cultivation of rice. Within Szechuan Province, there are many regional cuisines, including Chengdu, Zidong and Chongqing. The vegetarian cuisine preferred by Buddhists represents another type of Szechuan cuisine.
Fiery chili peppers and Szechuan peppercorns add the characteristic spiciness to Szechuan cuisine. Other distinctive flavoring agents include ginger, garlic and sesame oil. Star anise is used as a spice in many Szechuan dishes, and peanuts are also a common component. Soy sauce, chili garlic sauce and the salty, spicy black bean sauce known as doubanjiang are often used to flavor Szechuan food.
Szechuan beef, stir-fried with red chili peppers and soy sauce, is perhaps Szechuan cuisine’s most well-known dish. Spicy kung pao chicken with diced vegetables and peanuts is another Szechuan favorite. Twice-cooked pork, tea-smoked duck and ma-po tofu in black bean sauce are also included on many Szechuan menus.
Until 1997, Chongqing, one of China’s four provincial-level municipalities, was part of Szechuan Province. Chongqing cuisine is known not only for all the Szechuan favorites, but also for one of its own. Chongqing is famous for its fire pots, which feature a cauldron of simmering broth served with skewered meats and seafood. Diners cook the skewered ingredients in the spicy broth, which is then used to cook vegetables and noodles for a savory soup at the end of the meal.
Szechuan cuisine also is known for three distinctive sauces. Yuxiang sauce is made with stir-fried ginger, garlic and scallions combined with black bean doubanjiang sauce. Guaiwei sauce is a combination of sesame oil, rice vinegar and soy sauce spiced with Szechuan peppercorns. Mala sauce is also made with doubianjiang, seasoned with chili peppers, Szechuan peppercorns and garlic.