Sichuan-style food originates from the West of China in the hills and mountains of Sichuan. The food is quite unique in that it makes use of not only over 20 different cooking techniques (including dry-frying, explode frying etc) but also showcases a flavour sensation known as ‘ma la’ which translated means ‘hot and numbing’. This sensation is created through the use of Sichuan pepper, sometimes called fagara, which is actually a minute husk that is toasted over heat before being ground to a fine powder and sprinkled over many Sichuanese dishes. The flavour is zesty lemon, and the sensation is difficult to describe – I liken it to a cross between Bongela and the gush of your tastebuds when your mouth starts to water…It also makes grand use of the dried Sichuan chilli – both small that are left whole and large that are sliced up into pieces. The idea is not to eat the chillies, they are just there to impart flavour during the cooking process and to make the dish look attractive when presented. Only fools eat them when they reach the table!
So, which one threw the best punches? Well it’s a toughie. Sichuan has always held a place in heart and I love the unusual ‘ma la’ flavour. However, the lesser known Hunan cuisine, I have to say wins out. The punchiness of the ‘yang’ fresh chillies hit you around the head but are perfectly balanced with the crisp ‘yin’ or cooling note of coriander, which is lacking in Sichuan (or less flavourful as they favour cucumber as the balancing ‘yin’ note). So there it is. Hunan wins – but Sichuan puts up a jolly good fight. Three cheers to the victor….’hip,hip, Hunan’!!!!