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Of all the eight great regional cuisines of China, Sichuan cuisine packs the biggest punch and its fast gaining popularity in Australia. Hailing from the Sichuan province in southwest China, Sichuan is known for its liberal use of incendiary chilli peppers and tongue-tingling Sichuan peppercorns.
The History of Sichuan’s Unique Ingredients
Known as the ‘heavenly country’ thanks to its abundant farmlands, the Sichuan province has always enjoyed a rich food history. Today, Sichuan cuisine may be best known for its fiery flavours, but it’s interesting to note that chilli peppers didn’t enter the local diet until 200-300 years ago, when they arrived from Mexico via India and Macau. Prior to this, the Sichuan diet was a much sweeter version of what we enjoy today and, thanks to its proximity to the Ottoman Empire, utilised a range of ingredients that are more commonly associated with the Middle East, such as sesame paste, walnuts and broad beans.
The Seven Flavours of Sichuan Cuisine
While most Asian cuisines strike a balance between the four flavours of salty, spicy, sweet and sour, Sichuan food is a celebration of seven flavours. Each dish is a delicate dance between hot, sour, sweet, pungent, bitter, aromatic and spicy, and every meal is carefully considered to ensure the hottest plates are countered by cooling accompaniments, such as pickled and preserved vegetables.
Sichuan Cooking Styles
Sichuan cooks employ a range of cooking styles to create their recipes, including stir frying, steaming, deep frying, braising and pickling. One of the most popular dishes, Sichuan hot pot, is a DIY affair, with diners cooking a selection of sliced meats, seafood, vegetables, tofu and starches in a bubbling cauldron of spiced broth.