Living in China is a life changing experience for foreigners who have been used to the western lifestyle and culture. Not only do we change our habits, way of thinking and language skills, but also our taste for food and spices. Throughout my two years’ experience of living in the Sichuan province of China, I as a foreigner have become accustomed to the spicy and rich in flavor Sichuan food. With this article we’ll introduce the best 5 Sichuan main dishes, so all of you gastronomes can try. 

Gongbao ji ding ( 宫保鸡丁)

Image: J. Kenji López-Alt

The dish is believed to be named after Ding Baozhen, a late Qing Dynasty official and governor of Sichuan Province, whose title was Gongbao, meaning “Palace Guardian”. It falls under the category of a sweet-sour diches, but the one thing that distinguishes it from all the others is the use of nuts, preferably peanuts. Cubes of tender moist chicken breast marinated with soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, cornstarch, scallions, garlic, ginger, chili peppers and Sichuan peppercorns are amongst the other ingredients. This dish will leave you with a nose-tingling and mild tongue-numbing whiff of the Sichuan peppercorns, a background notes of garlic and ginger flavor and a delicious chicken breast coated in a sweet, hot and vinegary glaze.

 

Shui zhu rou pian (水煮肉片)

Image: China Sichuan Food

The name literally means “boiled meat slices” as it involves some sort of meat (usually beef or fish) poached in boiling water, just enough to remove the rawness and preserve its tenderness. The serving starts with boiled vegetables which are placed at the bottom of the bowl, then the drained cooked meat followed by minced dried chili, Sichuan peppercorns, minced garlic and other seasoning. At the end the heated vegetable oil is poured over the prepared meat and vegetables, thus accentuating their aroma and flavor. 

Gan Guo (干锅)

Image: The Mala market

Ganguo “dry pot” is a member of the “hot pot” family, however without the need of soup base. This absence of soup base, additionally heightens the spiciness which in this dish is firmly situated inside its ingredients. Ganguo is versatile when it comes down to its components, vegetables (green bamboo shots, lotus root, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, potato), meat (ham, bullfrog, chicken, duck, crispy bowel, crab, streaky pork) and bean products (bean curd, frozen bean curd, dried bean curd). These components are combined based on the Chinese cooking by color theory, by which vegetables and meat can be divided into red, green, yellow, black and white color groups. The most famous one is the Ganguo Caihua, the dry pot with cauliflower, snap peas and bacon. 

Mapo tofu (麻婆豆腐)

Image: China Sichuan Food

Mapo tofu can be translated to “tofu made by mapo” or “mapo flavored tofu”, which is named after its creator. The story goes that Mapo was a wife of a restaurant owner who was famous by its tofu, however, few of her guests had an appetite for meat instead of eating plain tofu, so she simply added beef granules, creating the todays famous dish. This dish has a versatile ingredients list, consisted of tofu, bean paste, fermented black beans, freshly ground Sichuan peppercorn powder, garlic greens, sesame oil, soy sauce, ginger, salt and sugar. In case you’re vegetarian, just omit the use of beef granules and enjoy this lovely main course. 

Mei Cai Kou Rou (每菜口肉)

Image: China Sichuan Food

One of the most classic Chinese dishes, usually made for family part, is consisted of steamed pork belly meat with preserved mustard. The pork belly meat undergoes steaming and then the second day a re-steaming, thereafter provides enough fat which moistens the preserved vegetables and also intensifies the strong aroma. Amongst the ingredients you can also feel the ginger, onion, bay leaves and star anise flavor, all mixed together with cooking wine and additionally enriched with Sichuan peppercorns.

 

In the end, these five dishes are the ones that make you miss the motherland if you’re Chinese, or remind you of your life in China if you’re a foreigner. Bon Appetite!