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      China's Szechuan Cuisine Article
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Regional Cuisine Of China: Szechuan Style Cuisine

by Kirsten Hawkins

Copyright 2005

The Szechuan style of cuisine arose from a culturally distinct

area in the central western of part of China, a province known

as Sichuan. This area of China came into its own culturally

towards the end of the Shang Dynasty, during the 15th century.

However, it was also the climate of the area that helped to

shape the culinary traditions that were to arise from Sichuan

province and make their way into the realm of international


The province from which the cuisine that the world knows as

Szechuan evolved is often hot and humid, and this contributed

to this necessity of preparing foods in ways that differ

significantly from other regions of China. Szechuan cuisine is

primarily known for its hot and spicy dishes, though naturally

there is more to Szechuan food than spice and sauces rich and

strong in flavor.

A general overview of culinary history and trends reveals that,

for the most part, areas that tended to spice heavily were areas

in which the fresh food supply was not as reliable as in places

that traditionally used a lighter hand in their use of spices.

The climate of Sichuan is conducive to faster food spoilage.

This, particularly in the past, made necessary food

preservation techniques that themselves left behind a strong

flavor, such as salting, pickling, drying, and smoking. Thus,

spices served to mask the flavors of less than fresh foods and

those that have been preserved by methods that affect their

natural flavors. In addition to masking certain flavors, the

use of hot spices, such as chili peppers, tends to be more

common to hot climates, as the sweat that they can produce is

thought to cool the body.

Much of the spicing of regional Chinese cooking is based upon

bringing together five fundamental taste sensations – sweet,

sour, pungent, salty and bitter. The balance of these

particular elements in any one dish or regional cuisine can

vary, according to need and desire, especially as influenced by

climate, culture and food availability.

In Szechuan cuisine, there are a variety of ingredients and

spices used to create these basic taste sensations. These

include a variety of chili peppers, peppercorns over various

types, Sichuan peppers, which are in reality a type of fruit,

not pepper, and produce a numbing effect in addition to their

warm flavor. Sichuan peppers, also called flower pepper and

mountain pepper, are a traditional part of the Chinese five

spice powder, or at least of those that are modeled upon the

most authentic versions of the spice combinations common to

regional Chinese cooking.

Other ingredients used commonly in Szechuan cuisine to create

the five fundamental taste sensations include different types

of sugars, such as beet root sugar and cane sugar, as well as

local fruits for sweetness. The sour comes from pickled

vegetables and different varieties of vinegar. A special bitter

melon is added to many dishes to offer the touch of bitterness

that complements other flavors. Other spices and flavors

include dried orange peel, garlic, ginger, sesame oil and bean

paste. Salt is important to Szechuan cuisine, and the area

produces uniquely flavored salts that help to distinguish

authentic Szechuan cuisine from the other regional cuisines

from China.

Szechuan cuisine is marked by its rich traditional flavors,

which stem from a culture of hundreds of years and are in part

shaped by the natural forces of climate. Authentic Szechuan

cuisine offers a unique dining experience made up of

adventurous and creative taste sensations.

About The Author: Kirsten Hawkins is a food and nutrition

expert specializing the Mexican, Chinese, and Italian food.

Visit for more information

on cooking delicious and healthy meals.

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