What Is Sichuan Food? 16 Most Popular Sichuan Dishes To Try!

Feb 19, 2024

Sichuan food has a special place in Chinese cuisine, and is often celebrated for its bold and spicy flavours.

As spice lovers, we love what Sichuan food can bring to our own tables. In particular, we always enjoy dishes with plenty of dried chilli peppers and Sichuan peppercorns.

Join us as we journey through the appetising world of Sichuan cuisine. Discover what makes it so special and learn about the most popular Sichuan dishes that you must try!

→ Shop now: Our handpicked range of Chinese products

What is Sichuan Food and Style?

Sichuan food is a type of Chinese cuisine from Sichuan Province in southwestern China. Known for its rich history as well as bold and spicy flavours, it has captured the imagination of food enthusiasts worldwide.

Sichuan cuisine uses a variety of cooking techniques such as pickling, braising, smoking, and stir-frying. It's also well known for the ingredients it uses which include garlic, ginger, chilli peppers and Sichuan peppercorns. Not to mention flavourful Chinese sauces like fermented bean paste.

Each method and ingredient contributes to the bold tastes of Sichuan food. This includes everything from numbing hotpot, to spicy Mapo tofu, and even a satisfying bowl of dan dan noodles.

Sichuan cuisine's cultural significance extends beyond its delicious dishes. An interesting fact is that it is one of eight key Chinese cuisines, and has positively influenced other regional cuisines.

What Makes Sichuan Food Special?

We first tried Sichuan food when living in Asia. Being lovers of spicy food, it quickly became one of our favourites types of Chinese cuisine. In our opinion, there's several unique reasons why Sichuan food is truly special.

The Ma La Sensation

At the heart of Sichuan cuisine lies the "Ma La" sensation. This word is derived from the combination of numbing (Ma) and spicy (La) flavours which comes from two core ingredients in Sichuan cooking:

  • Sichuan Peppercorns: These tiny reddish-brown seeds are not actually peppercorns, or even related to peppers, but come from the dried husks of seed pods from the prickly ash tree. Sichuan peppercorns provide a tingling and numbing sensation which sets Sichuan dishes, such as mapo tofu and kung pao chicken, apart.
  • Dried Red Chillies: Sichuan cuisine doesn't shy away from heat. The liberal use of dried red chillies gives every dish it's served with a fiery kick.
The Ma La Sensation

Delicious Trademark Flavours

Sichuan cuisine thrives on using delicious trademark flavours which are core to many dishes. In addition to Sichuan Peppercorns and Dried Red Chillies, here are some of our favourite Sichuan ingredients we love and want to highlight.

  • Sichuan Chilli Oil: This chilli oil isn't just about heat. It's absolutely briming with flavour as it comes infused with spices, such as star anise, cinnamon, bay leaves and of course Sichuan peppercorns, enhancing everything it touches.
  • Fermented Black Beans: These umami-packed beans add depth and a complex savoury flavour to sauces and stir-fries.
  • Pickled Vegetables: Tangy and crunchy, they provide contrast and reinvigorate your senses. 
  • Garlic, Ginger, and Green Onions: Key to Sichuan cooking, enhancing both the aroma and taste of the dishes.

Balancing of Distinct Flavours

The Sichuan cooking philosophy isn't just about heat, it's also about achieving a balance of flavours to create dishes that are bold, exciting and satisfying.

Sichuan chefs are skilled at combining ingredients such as soy sauce, Shaoxing sauce, sesame oil and Sichuan peppercorns in such as way to balance its seven distinct flavours:

  • Salty
  • Sweet
  • Sour
  • Bitter
  • Numbing
  • Fragrant
  • Spicy

    How to Eat Sichuan Food?

    Whether you’re a seasoned foodie or a curious beginner, here’s a few tips for you to enjoy Sichuan food to the fullest.

    Eat with a Bowl of Rice: Pair your spicy dishes with steamed rice. The neutral rice complements the spice by soothing the heat if it becomes overwhelming.

    Embrace the Aroma: Sichuan food isn't just about taste, it's about aroma too. Inhale deeply to broaden your experience.

    Enjoy with a Cooling Drink: Have a drink of water, tea, peanut milk, juice or even beer on the side to cool you down or reset your taste buds.

    Share with Friends and Family: Sichuan food is a communal experience, best shared with family and friends. Some Sichuan restaurants have big round tables with turntables in the middle to facilitate this. 

    Don't Forget Chilli Sauce: If you like spicy food, remember to add as much chilli oil as you want to all your dishes. Also pass the spare red chillies around the table to those who dare.

    Popular Sichuan Dishes to Try

    Below is a list of our favourite Sichuan dishes that we have experienced over the years.

    #1 Kung Pao Chicken (宫保鸡丁)

    A stir-fried dish with diced chicken, peanuts, vegetables, and chilli peppers. It's known for its bold flavours and slight numbing spiciness.

    Kung Pao Chicken (宫保鸡丁)

    #2 Mapo Tofu (麻婆豆腐)

    Silky tofu in a chilli-and-bean-based sauce, often topped with minced meat. It's both spicy-hot and aromatic.

    Mapo Tofu (麻婆豆腐)

    #3 Sichuan Hotpot (四川火锅)

    A communal hotpot where diners cook raw ingredients in a spicy broth at the table. It's a flavourful and interactive dining experience.

    Sichuan Hotpot (四川火锅)

    #4 Dan Dan Noodles (担担面)

    Noodles served with a spicy, savoury sauce made from chilli oil, Sichuan peppers, minced pork, and preserved vegetables.

    Dan Dan Noodles (担担面)

    #5 Twice Cooked Pork (回锅肉)

    Slices of pork belly first boiled, then stir-fried with leeks, garlic, and chilli bean paste. It's crispy, savoury, and spicy.

    Twice Cooked Pork (回锅肉)

    #6 Sichuan Aubergine (鱼香茄子)

    Aubergine stir-fried with a flavourful sauce made from garlic, ginger, soy sauce, and chilli bean paste.

    Sichuan Aubergine (鱼香茄子)

    #7 Bang Bang Chicken (棒棒鸡)

    Shredded poached chicken served with a spicy sesame-peanut sauce. The name comes from the traditional method of pounding the chicken to shred it.

    Bang Bang Chicken (棒棒鸡)

    #8 Spicy Fried Chicken (辣子鸡) 

    Crispy fried chicken pieces seasoned with Sichuan peppercorns and dried red chillies. It's fiery and addictive, a real personal favourite of ours.

    Spicy Fried Chicken (辣子鸡)

    #9 Sichuan Beef (四川牛肉)

    Tender beef slices stir-fried with garlic, ginger, and Sichuan peppercorns. The dish is aromatic and boldly spiced.

    Sichuan Beef (四川牛肉)


    #10 Sichuan Pickles (泡菜)

    Fermented vegetables, often cabbage or radish, with a spicy kick. They add tanginess and heat to meals.

    Sichuan Pickles (泡菜)

    #11 Braised Pork Belly in Garlic Sauce (蒜泥白肉)

    Slices of succulent pork belly served cold, topped with a garlic-infused sauce. It's rich and garlicky.

    Braised Pork Belly in Garlic Sauce (蒜泥白肉)

    #12 Sichuan Style Dumplings (红油抄手)

    Dumplings filled with minced meat, served in a spicy chilli oil sauce. They're both spicy and aromatic and come with a distinct savoury-sweet taste.

    Sichuan Style Dumplings (红油抄手)

    #13 Fish Flavoured Shredded Pork (鱼香肉丝)

    Thinly sliced pork stir-fried with a sauce that mimics the flavours of fish dishes -salty, sweet, sour, and spicy.

    Fish Flavoured Shredded Pork (鱼香肉丝)

    #14 Fried Tofu with Spicy Sauce (麻婆豆腐)

    Crispy tofu cubes in a fiery chilli and black bean-based sauce. It's a classic Sichuan comfort food.

    Fried Tofu with Spicy Sauce (麻婆豆腐)

    #15 Hot and Sour Soup (酸辣汤)

    A tangy soup with a balance of spicy and sour flavours featuring ingredients like tofu, mushrooms, and bamboo shoots.

    Hot and Sour Soup (酸辣汤)

    #16 Sichuan Cold Noodles (四川凉面)

    Chilled wheat noodles tossed in a spicy, garlicky sauce with sesame paste and vinegar. Perfect for hot days.

    Sichuan Cold Noodles (四川凉面)

    Final Word

    We've now discovered what Sichuan food is all about and what makes it so popular. This includes everything from its bold, spicy flavours, how it uses red chilli peppers and Sichuan peppercorns, as well as ma la which gives it a unique numbing sensation. These all combine together to create an unforgettable experience.

    Don't let your Sichuan adventure end here. Get started, and embrace the rich and spicy world of Sichuan food for yourself!

    → Shop now: Our handpicked range of Chinese products

    Leave a comment

    Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

    This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.