Sichuan Cuisine - China's Most Popular Cuisine

Written by Sally Guo Updated May. 5, 2022

Sichuan cuisine is one of the eight major cuisines of China, originating from Sichuan and Chongqing in Southwest China. 

Sichuan cuisine is the most widely served cuisine in China. Sichuan dishes with their bold and spicy flavors are also very popular in the country.  

Sichuan Cuisine Flavors - Hot and Spicy

Spicy Sichuan food

Sichuan cuisine is the most distinctive cuisine in China with its hot and spicy flavors, although Sichuan dishes may also have sour and sweet flavors. 

Cooks in Sichuan use a variety of seasonings to create dishes with that distinctive flavors such as strong pepper, chilies, garlic, thick bean sauce, and other uniquely Sichuan ingredients such as ginger, mustard.

Each dish has its distinctive flavors, as the saying goes  “one hundred dishes, each with one flavor and one dish containing all one hundred flavors”. The secret to the latter is in cooking and flavoring each ingredient separately, or in small groupings, then combining them, which is roughly the opposite of what is termed “crockpot” cooking in the U.S.

Top Ingredients of Sichuan Cuisine

Sichuan food ingredients

Goose‘s Necks

Sichuan's complex topography has shaped its cuisine with a variety of ingredients. Located in southwest China, the region features plains, mountains, hills, and rivers. 

Pork is the most common type of meat eaten with the most popular pork dishes such as Shredded pork in garlic sauce and Dongpo Dong Po Pork Knuckle, etc.

 Beef is more widely used in Sichuan cuisine than cuisines in other regions in China, probably because the oxen are widely raised in the hilly regions there.  

The other mainly consumed meat types are chicken and fish. There are also complexly seasoned when being cooked.  

Sichuan cuisine also uses organs such as its major ingredients such as liver, tongue, and intestine.

Preserved vegetables are very commonly used in Sichuan cuisine to add fragrant and sour flavor to the dishes. 

Sichuan cuisine is also known for its curing methods such as salting, smoking, air-drying, and pickling.

The tradition of curing meats especially stems from the fact that the province is hot and humid, and in ancient times, refrigeration was not available.

Do you want to learn how to cook authentic Sichuan cuisines? Plan your China tour with us and we can customize a private cooking class for you.

Seasonings of Sichuan Cuisine

Sichuan food

Sichuan Pepper

Sichuan cuisine can't have its unique flavors without its variety of seasonings such as Sichuan pepper, black pepper, chili, broad bean chili paste, shallots, ginger, and garlic. They are used in almost every Sichuan dish. 

Cooking Methods - Quick - Frying, Braising

Sichuan cuisine typically makes use of fewer cooking methods than do the other cuisine schools, but it excels in the cooking methods it embraces.

The most used cooking methods are quick-frying, stir-frying, dry-braising, and dry-stewing, the latter two are techniques special to Sichuan cuisine.

Sichuan cuisine cooking method

For example, dry-stewing is a method reserved for soup-based sauces, where a soup or broth is first reduced over low heat, then the “condiment” sauce that has been made in advance - typically broad-bean or chili sauce - is added and heated up. This sauce is typically slightly oilier - and correspondingly heartier in flavor than other, thinner sauces, or sauces made with milk or corn starch.

Famous Sichuan Food You Should Try

Sichuan dishes are very popular all over China, and even in some countries outside China. There are a lot of dishes worth trying. Below are the most famous ones: 

1. Kung Pao Chicken

Kung Pao Chicken

Kung Pao Chicken

Kung Pao Chicken is the most famous Sichuan food in the west. The dish contains diced chicken, dried chilies, and peanuts. The chicken is tender, and the peanuts taste crisp. 

In Western countries, Kung Pao Chicken is widespread and has become the representative sample of “Chinese food”, just like what pasta is for Italian cuisine.

2. Mapo Tofu

Ma Po Tofu

Ma Po Tofu

Mapo Tofu is actually sautéed tofu in hot and spicy sauce. It is named after the lady Chen Mapo, who created its cooking method. The ingredients of Mapo Tofu include tofu, minced beef or pork, chilies, and Sichuan pepper, which highlight the characteristics of Sichuan cuisine - hot and spicy.

3. Husband and Wife Lung Pieces

Husband and Wife Lung Pieces contain no lung. Named by the couple who created it in the 1930s, it is actually sliced beef and ox organs in chili sauce. An interesting thing is that in some menus it is called “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”.

The main ingredients of Husband and Wife Lung Pieces are sliced beef and ox’s cowhide, tongue, tripe, heart, etc., which have been marinated. Seasonings include Sichuan’s local spicy oil, peppers, sesame seeds, cassia, and other spices.

4. Sichuan Hotpot

Sichuan Hotpot

Sichuan Hotpot

Hotpot is very famous in the winter season in China. A hotpot is a stew of meat and vegetables cooked in a simmering pot of soup stock. Hot pots can be roughly divided into two types, spicy and clear (not spicy). But with dozens of condiments, it also has hundreds of different flavors.

In fact, Sichuan people believe hotpots should be “the spicier, the better”, so the spices of Sichuan hotpots feature all kinds of chilies and peppers.

5. Water-Cooked Meat

Water-Cooked Beef

Water-Cooked Beef

Water-Cooked Meat is a dish originating in the 1930s. It usually involves dry chilies and some meat slices (pork, beef, or fish) that have been starched with egg white, as well as a large number of vegetables placed at the bottom of the serving bowl.

What makes it special is that the dish is finally completed by pouring the boiling oil over the prepared meat and vegetables, making the meat fragrant, tender and chewy.

6. Fish-Flavored Pork

Fish-Flavored Pork

Fish-Flavored Pork

Fish-Flavored Pork is a dish of shredded pork sautéed in spicy garlic sauce, mixed with ginger, sugar, soy sauce, broad-bean sauce, and other condiments.

The dish actually contains no seafood but smells and tastes like fish. 

Continue to read: the 18 most famous Sichuan food you must love. 

Best Restaurants to Eat Sichuan Cuisine in Chengdu

Although you can find Sichuan food in other cities in China even outside China, the only place where you can have the most authentic flavors is in Sichuan province such as Chengdu. Below is a list of some of the best restaurants in Chengdu where you can have the best local food: 

1. Chen Mapo Tofu Restaurant

Chen Mapo Tofu Restaurant

Chen Mapo Tofu Restaurant

2. Huang Cheng Lao Ma Hotpot

3. Long Chao Shou Restaurant

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Experience A Food and Panda Tour in Chengdu

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The food in Chengdu is a representative sample of Sichuan cuisine. It is a brilliant idea to plan a Chengdu tour combining culinary delicacies with visiting giant pandas:

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