Sichuan cuisine is a melting pot of different influences with rich historical and ideological connotations, Li Yingxue reports.
When Lan Guijun was born in Chengdu, Sichuan province, in 1965, the steamed Chinese cabbage in supreme soup, one of the most renowned local dishes, had already made a name for itself at a state banquet in China.
Now, with over four decades’ experience of cooking Sichuan cuisine, Lan still makes the soup in the traditional way and uses it in his signature dish, golden thread noodles.
The dough used to make the noodles is mixed with egg yolks to give them a golden color. Lan sits on top of a long piece of bamboo, under which sits the dough. He adds his weight to the bamboo to ensure the dough is flattened paper-thin. He then uses a 1.5-kilogram knife to cut it into fine threads.
Sichuan cuisine is a blend of diverse culinary influences with a rich historical and ideological significance, according to Li Yingxue. The region is renowned for its love of spicy food, but its cuisine is much more complex than just heat. Sichuan cuisine has a lengthy and diverse history, as seen in its signature dish of golden thread noodles.
Lan Guijun, the executive chef of Yuzhilan, a two-star Michelin restaurant in Chengdu, has over four decades of experience cooking Sichuan cuisine. He makes the famous Sichuan dish of golden thread noodles in the traditional way, using steamed Chinese cabbage in supreme soup. This noodle dish has been around for approximately 200 years. It originated in Henan province and then spread to Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces before finally reaching Sichuan. The dish changed slightly as it moved from place to place, adapting to local tastes.
Sichuan cuisine is a reflection of the region’s inclusivity, with many migrants from other parts of China contributing their culinary influences. According to Lan, Sichuan cuisine contains hints of other cuisines from regions such as Shandong, Shanxi provinces, and Zhejiang.
To make the golden thread noodles, Lan uses dough mixed with egg yolks to give it a golden hue. He sits on top of a long piece of bamboo, under which sits the dough. Lan applies his weight to the bamboo to ensure the dough is flattened paper-thin. He then uses a 1.5-kilogram knife to cut it into fine threads. In Sichuan, the dish is paired with the best soup, which is made by boiling chicken for eight hours before filtering it to make it nearly as clear as water. The chicken soup adds a distinct flavor to the noodles.
Lan’s observation of the popularity of Sichuan cuisine led him to open a new restaurant named Yong in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, earlier this year. He attributes the surge in popularity to the Sichuan hotpot, which has introduced spicy flavors to diners all over the country.
Sichuan cuisine is a melting pot of culinary influences with a rich history that has evolved over time. The golden thread noodles, one of the signature dishes of the region, is an excellent example of how the cuisine has adapted to local tastes. The inclusivity of the Sichuan region is reflected in its cuisine, which incorporates influences from many different parts of China.
A report on the sustainable development of the Sichuan cuisine industry was released in October by the World Federation of Chinese Catering Industry. It revealed that the number of Sichuan cuisine restaurants had grown to 320,000 by the second quarter of 2022. This accounted for 31.3 percent of the total number of restaurants in China, which is significantly higher than the second and third ranked cuisines, Zhejiang and Cantonese, respectively.
The popularity of Sichuan cuisine is not only limited to China but also extends internationally. The cuisine’s versatility is a key factor contributing to its widespread popularity, as it is said that “one dish comes with one flavor, and one hundred dishes come with a hundred flavors”. Sichuan cuisine is also known for its openness and inclusiveness, which reflects the same characteristics of the Sichuan people.
Sichuan chefs, regardless of their experience level, strive to maintain the traditional cooking methods and authentic flavors of Sichuan cuisine while also innovating to develop new combinations of ingredients and fusing recipes with other domestic and foreign cuisines.
Wang Gang, a chef and founder of the Sichuan cuisine restaurant chain Meizhou Dongpo, aims to bring Sichuan cuisine to the world. With a growing number of Sichuan cuisine restaurants and the cuisine’s increasing popularity, this goal may be closer than ever.
Sichuan cuisine has a rich history and has undergone various transformations as it spread to different regions of China. It originated in Henan province and then spread to Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces before reaching Sichuan. As the dish moved, it adapted to local habits and flavors, resulting in a unique Sichuan-style golden thread noodle dish, which uses the best soup with boiled chicken and fine threads of golden-colored noodles.
The influence of other cuisines can also be found in Sichuan cuisine, with traces of dishes from Shandong, Shanxi provinces, and Zhejiang being incorporated. The inclusive nature of Sichuan makes it a melting pot of different influences with rich historical and ideological connotations.
As the number of Sichuan cuisine restaurants continues to grow, Sichuan cuisine is evolving to appeal to a broader range of palates. The popularity of Sichuan hotpot, in particular, has spread the spicy flavors of Sichuan cuisine across China and introduced them to diners around the world.
Sichuan cuisine is not just a type of food but also a way of life. The Sichuan people are known for their resilience, resourcefulness, and hospitality. These characteristics are reflected in the cuisine, which embodies the spirit of the Sichuan people. With its popularity on the rise, Sichuan cuisine has become a symbol of Chinese culture and a source of pride for the people of Sichuan.
The popularity of Sichuan cuisine is on the rise, not only in China, but all around the world. Sichuan dishes, known for their versatility, inclusiveness, and authenticity, are loved by people of all cultures. This is evident from the increasing number of Sichuan cuisine restaurants, which have reached 320,000 as of the second quarter of 2022, accounting for 31.3% of the total number of restaurants in China. This figure is much higher than the number of restaurants serving other popular cuisines, such as Zhejiang and Cantonese.
One of the most popular Sichuan cuisine restaurants in China is Meizhou Dongpo, a restaurant chain founded by 55-year-old chef Wang Gang. The restaurant has had the honor of serving at the birthday banquet of the princess of Thailand in Bangkok in 2015, as well as the 2008 Summer Olympics and the 2022 Winter Olympics, both held in Beijing. Athletes and coaches from around the world enjoyed the restaurant’s signature dishes, including braised Dongpo pork joint and Mapo tofu.
According to Wang, Sichuan cuisine has a complete system, with 24 flavors, 56 techniques, and over 3,000 classic dishes. “Each dish has its own flavor, so the 3,000 dishes could allow you to have a different meal every day for (almost) 10 years,” says Wang. He was born in Meishan, Sichuan, where he learned to make the state banquet-level Sichuan dishes, as well as authentic local Meishan dishes. He believes that Sichuan cuisine is comprehensive and includes everything from street snacks to fine-dining dishes, catering to ancient officials, common people, Taoists, and monks.
36-year-old chef Li Junjie, from Chengdu, on the other hand, has managed to teach himself the art of making Sichuan cuisine based on his French cuisine background. “For me, making Sichuan flavor dishes is quite simple, as many of the cooking methods are similar to French cuisine,” Li says. He believes that the most difficult aspect of Sichuan cuisine is to understand the in-depth wisdom behind the dishes. Li is fascinated by the philosophy behind each traditional dish, as well as the 24 flavors, and takes time to discover their origin.
According to Li, Sichuan cuisine is an interpretation of Confucianism, which is to remodel things. In Sichuan cuisine, some ingredients cannot be eaten directly, so the unpalatable flavor is removed and new seasonings are added to make it edible. Li’s restaurant in Chengdu, which showcased his combination of Sichuan and French cuisines, closed in 2020 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. He currently runs two restaurants in Shanghai and Xi’an, Shaanxi province, both featuring modern Sichuan-style barbecue, while waiting for the opportunity to return to Chengdu.
Li shares the view with Wang that Sichuan cuisine is highly compatible with other world cuisines. Besides fusing Sichuan flavors with French cuisine, Li plans to combine them with Thai and Spanish cuisines. This is a reflection of the openness and inclusiveness of Sichuan cuisine, which has adapted and evolved as it spread to different regions of China and the world.
Sichuan cuisine is a complete and versatile cuisine that has a rich history, with its popularity increasing both in China and worldwide. Chefs like Wang and Li are at the forefront of promoting Sichuan cuisine globally, with their innovative approaches to fusing Sichuan flavors with other world cuisines.
According to Xu Fan, the chef and founder of Michelin-starred Xu’s Cuisine in Chengdu, Sichuan cuisine has evolved into its modern form since the reform and opening-up. The current approach is to cook a variety of ingredients from around the world using traditional methods and present them with special Sichuan flavors. “Modern Sichuan cuisine is to inherit the tradition and keep innovating,” Xu says.
Xu also points out that the special geographic location of Sichuan, with its rivers, grasslands, mountains, ice floes, and snow mountains, has resulted in abundant natural resources. Xu, who began learning Sichuan-style cooking in 1991, says that each of the 24 basic flavors has its own evolutionary path. “It’s hard to find two restaurants that make the same dish exactly the same way, so the flavor of Sichuan cuisine is ever-changing,” he says.
The evolution of Sichuan cuisine can be attributed to its versatility and the openness and inclusiveness of the Sichuan people. Sichuan cuisine is known for having 24 flavors, 56 techniques, and over 3,000 classic dishes, making it one of the Chinese cuisines with a complete system. Each dish has its own flavor, allowing you to have a different meal every day for almost ten years.
Sichuan chefs, both veteran and novice, adhere to the traditional cooking methods and authentic flavors while innovating to develop new combinations of ingredients and fusing recipes with other domestic and overseas cuisines.
Furthermore, Sichuan food is quite compatible with the world’s other cuisines, according to Li Junjie, a chef who combines Sichuan and French cuisines. Li’s restaurant in Chengdu closed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but he currently runs two restaurants in Shanghai and Xi’an, Shaanxi province, both featuring modern Sichuan-style barbecue while waiting for the opportunity to return to Chengdu. He plans to fuse Sichuan flavors with Thai and Spanish cuisines.
Sichuan cuisine has come a long way and evolved into its modern form since the reform and opening-up. The abundance of natural resources in Sichuan, the versatility of the cuisine, and the openness and inclusiveness of the Sichuan people have contributed to its development. Sichuan chefs adhere to traditional methods and authentic flavors while innovating, resulting in a cuisine that is ever-changing and continuously evolving
Sichuan cuisine, known for its bold flavors and fiery spices, has undergone a transformation since China’s reform and opening-up policy. According to Xu Fan, founder of Michelin-starred Xu’s Cuisine in Chengdu, modern Sichuan cuisine is a blend of different flavors and ingredients, highlighting the best of both aspects in each dish. “Sichuan chefs are not just good at making spicy food, but can use chili, pepper, ginger, garlic, and many other seasonings well,” Xu says.
Xu, who started learning Sichuan-style cooking in 1991, emphasizes that each of the 24 basic flavors of Sichuan cuisine has a different evolutionary path, which makes it challenging to find two restaurants making the same dish in precisely the same way. This diversity in flavor is a testament to the ever-changing nature of Sichuan cuisine.
Xu has taken the traditional flavors of Sichuan cuisine and added two new flavors to the mix – the green Sichuan pepper flavor and the pickle flavor. Both these flavors have been well received by diners, and the combination of traditional and new flavors has proven successful for Xu’s Cuisine.
Another renowned chef, Lan Guijun, was named one of the ten inheritors of the national intangible cultural heritage “Sichuan cuisine cooking skills” in 2020, alongside his mentor Zhang Zhongyou. Lan explains that he aims to inherit all the traditional cooking skills of Sichuan cuisine, as the only thing that changes with time is the tools used. Speaking of innovation, Lan adds that if a new dish resonates and becomes a popular choice among diners, then it’s a successful creation.
Lan also acknowledges the influence of Cantonese cuisine on modern Sichuan cuisine, as it was the most popular food in China in the 1990s. In 1998, Lan created a new dish, chicken feet with pickled pepper, which is now a common and popular Sichuan snack nationwide. He was inspired by the stewed chicken feet in Cantonese cuisine and combined it with traditional Sichuan pickle pepper. The dish became an instant hit among diners.
At his new restaurant, Yong, in Guangzhou, Lan takes Sichuan cuisine at its core and incorporates local terroir and the rich culinary culture of Guangdong. According to Lan, Sichuan cuisine also blends well with traditional Chinese culture, such as ceramics.
Sichuan cuisine has evolved with time while maintaining its traditional flavors and cooking techniques. The addition of new flavors, such as the green Sichuan pepper and pickle flavors, has proven successful and added to the diversity of Sichuan cuisine. Moreover, the blend of Sichuan cuisine with other Chinese cuisines and traditional Chinese culture has helped it reach wider audiences and maintain its relevance in the modern culinary world.
Yong, a restaurant in Guangzhou led by Sichuan cuisine expert Lan Guijun, is not only about serving delicious food but also about celebrating traditional Chinese culture. One way Lan achieves this is by collaborating with skilled craftsmen, artists, and studios to create unique tableware inspired by ancient Tang and Song dynasties’ vessels, adding an extra touch of elegance to the dining experience. The restaurant also showcases antique ceramic art that complements the dishes served.
Lan’s reputation as a master chef of Sichuan cuisine precedes him, having gained two Michelin stars at his Yuzhilan restaurant in Chengdu. Yong, which opened recently, was named as a Michelin selected restaurant in just a month. Lan aims to win three Michelin stars for the restaurant in the future.
Lan sees gastronomy as a global connection, just like music. He believes that while European cuisine emphasizes ingredient combinations, Chinese cuisine focuses on presenting a unique and different side of the food, highlighting the perfect balance of various flavors and ingredients.
Overall, Lan Guijun’s passion for preserving traditional Chinese culture, combined with his culinary expertise, has brought unique and exciting flavors to the table, making him one of the most influential chefs in the culinary world.