So, you are planning to visit Sichuan for the pandas and you are wondering what you can eat there? Lucky you because Sichuan offers one of the best cuisines in China! You can find Sichuan food all over Chinese because of how tasty it is. Here is the ultimate Sichuan food guide that will help you discover what to eat in Sichuan!
Before we begin, here is a myth: Sichuan food is not all spicy! You can always ask for non-spicy versions of each dish. Likewise, you can definitely ask for an especially spicy version if you do not feel a thing.
1) Fish/pork cooked in chili soup (水煮鱼/肉 or Shui Zhu Yu/Rou)
Ok I was not totally honest. Not all dishes come in non-spicy forms. This dish is spicy and has a numb aftertaste. Cooked with dried chilies and Sichuan pepper, the fish or meat is absolutely fragrant and sweet. Grab a bowl of rice and tuck in, this is the best possible combination.
Comment: Oh how I love spicy Sichuan food! This is one of the ultimate spicy foods that you can find in Sichuan and it does not disappoint!
2) Fish/pork cooked with preserved vegetables (酸菜鱼/肉 or Suan Cai Yu/Rou)
For those who cannot take spicy food, this dish will suit you. Similar to the one cooked in chili soup, this one is cooked with preserved vegetables instead. Ask for a non-spicy version and you will have one that is extremely appetizing. The preserved vegetables give a sour and savoury flavour to the dish, and the sweetness of the fish or meat completes the taste.
Comment: This is actually very tasty! If a pot of chili oil scares you, this dish will be just right. It is light and it goes well with rice. Moreover, you can actually drink the soup in this one, unlike the one cooked in chili oil.
3) Mapo Tofu (麻婆豆腐 or Ma Po Dou Fu)
Yummy yummy! This tofu is simmered in a fermented bean paste and this gives it a savoury taste. The bean paste is extremely fragrant and also very addictive! The story of this dish is also equally interesting. A lady called Mapo invented this dish using cheap ingredients she could find at that time. It was so popular then as people never ate tofu that way. Its popularity continued for a hundred years up till today.
Comment: Mapo tofu is literally everywhere. You can find this signature dish in every Sichuan restaurant or eatery. Look for places where they make the fermented bean paste on their own. Those places cook up very delicious Mapo tofu!
4) Double-cooked pork (回锅肉 or Hui Guo Rou)
This is a staple, a must-have in every Sichuan restaurant. It is stir-fried firstly with fermented bean paste and rice, and the second time with chilies, soy sauce and sugar. This goes very well with rice, and you can even ask for it to be served with fried rice.
Comment: If you are not a fan of fatty pork meat, you will have problems with this dish. Chefs love using pork slices that have at least 50% fat on them. You could ask if they can cook it with lean meat, but they will probably stare at you in confusion! Nonetheless, if you can stomach fatty meat, this dish will probably be heaven for you.
5) Mala Hotpot (麻辣火锅 or Ma La Huo Guo)
You will be surprised to know that the Mala Hotpot originated from Chongqing and not Chengdu. Nonetheless, Chongqing used to belong to Sichuan, so all is well! If you cannot take the spiciness, you can order a split pot, with a non-spicy soup in addition to the mala soup. Order your food and throw it in the pot! Mala hotpot is great especially in winter, but Sichuan people eat it all year round, even in the humid and hot summers.
Comment: Great for a group meal, but not very feasible if you are eating alone. Be prepared for a lot of perspiring from all the spices! Mala hotpot is definitely a must-try when you visit Sichuan.
6) Chuan-chuan (串串香 or Chuan Chuan Xiang)
Chuan-chuan is somewhat like a hotpot, but not entirely as well! Many tourists confuse between chuan-chuan and hotpot because they look very similar. However, ask a local and he will tell you that they are not the same thing. Go to the raw food fridge in the restaurant and grab whatever sticks of food you fancy. You can find all kinds of meat, seafood, vegetables and soybean products. You will be served a pot of chili and all you need to do is dip the sticks of food in it. When the food is cooked, you can eat it straight from the stick!
Comment: Similar to Mala Hotpot, Chuan-chuan is great for a group meal, but not for solo eaters. Each stick of food might not be a lot and so you tend to take more than what you can actually eat. Eventually, you are left with dozens of sticks, which you have to stuff in your already-filled stomachs!
7) Maocai (冒菜 or Mao Cai)
So this again is very similar to Chuan-chuan, only that the food does not come in sticks. The variety of ingredients in Maocai is often standard, so if you do have a preference for specific types of ingredients, you must request beforehand. The ingredients are cooked in a pot of chili soup and usually served with rice. Not only is it very fragrant, it is also very appetizing! Dried chilies and Sichuan peppers make an amazing combination.
Comment: Finally, this is something that you can eat on your own! If you have friends who cannot stomach spicy food, you probably cannot go for hotpot or chuan-chuan. This is the perfect dish for those dying to have something spicy.
8) Porridge (汤饭 or Tang Fan)
Finally! A non-spicy option. Sichuan porridge is a famous dish that is mostly eaten with chili oil (of course). The porridge is simmered with beans and vegetables, which give the dish a flavourful taste. The perfect combination is a bowl of porridge with a plate of cold meat slices. The porridge is light while the meat is heavy, creating a perfect balance in taste!
Comment: I am not a fan of porridge, but I must say that the Sichuan porridge is amazing! Having something light like porridge is a great way to calm one’s stomach after days of chilies and peppers. It definitely is a refreshing taste to heavier Sichuan dishes!
There are just too many famous Sichuan dishes and you cannot possibly try them all at once. These eight dishes are very popular and definitely worth a try when you visit Sichuan. With this ultimate Sichuan food guide, you can now explore and discover what to eat in Sichuan. What are you waiting for? Time to head down to Sichuan and start eating!
If you are wondering where in Sichuan is a good place to start, do consider heading down to Chengdu and exploring the province from there. Here are some things you can do in Chengdu.
Did I make you hungry? If I did, do share this article with your friends so that they too can enjoy a few moments of food porn! I would love to hear your comments if you have any recommendations of food in Sichuan.