The Food in Szechuan (West)

Szechuan, the largest single province in China, lies in a great basin ringed with mountain. Its principal connection eastwards is through spectacular gorges cut by the Yangtse River - until recently, in fact, the Yangtse was its only means of communication with the outside world. With its fertile soil and warm, humid climate crops can be grown almost all year round, and it has always been one of the most prosperous regions of China. Fruit and vegetables grow in abundance, as well as edible mushrooms and fungi. Spices grow in abundance here too, particularly chillis and the famous Szechuan peppercorns.

Szechuan food is noted for being hot, spicy and strongly flavoured. Chillis are used in large quantities - usually unseeded - as well as pungent flavoured vegetables such as garlic, onions and spring onions. They also enjoy the aromatic, nutty flavour of peanuts, sesame seeds, cashews, walnuts and pine nuts, which are often found incorporated into dishes; aromatic ground rice and sesame seeds are often used to coat meat which is to be deep-fried or stir-fried, while sesame paste is often the principal ingredient in sauces.

The region is also noted for its food preservation techniques, which include salting, drying, smoking and pickling, probably because the humid climate makes it difficult to keep food fresh.

Beef appears more often on the menu here than in the south - probably because oxen are used extensively for haulage. A favourite way of cooking it is by stir-frying, often until it is quite dry, giving it the characteristic dry 'chewy' texture. Steaming is also popular, and here the meat is usually first coated with ground rice, producing a rich, thick gravy.

Yunnan, in the deep south west, is even more remote than Szechuan. Being so mountainous and secluded, it developed over the years a highly distinctive cuisine of its own. the best know product of Yuannan is its ham, which many Chinese consider the best in the world. It is also noted for its game, such as rabbit and venison, and it is here that such exotic items as bear's paws, snails, armadillo, slugs and snakes can appear on the menu!


<>   Last Modified by Xiaoniu SuChu Hsu (p) in May 1998    suchu@techart.nia.edu.tw