Gourmet Traveller

Life of spice

Sichuan cuisine has become the new champion of Chinese food abroad. While once the lighter flavours of Cantonese cooking held sway in global Chinatowns, this spicy upstart has conquered hearts and palates not only in great cities like Melbourne, London and New York, but all over the world. Classic Sichuan dishes like ma po tofu and dan dan noodles are no longer toned down for Cantonese or Western palates, but served up in all their fiery, lip-tingling glory. The rapidity of this Sichuanese takeover has been astonishing.

When I applied for a scholarship to study in China in the mid-1990s, I was strongly influenced by Sichuan’s gastronomic reputation, but knew almost nothing about the region’s cuisine. At that time, there were no genuine Sichuan restaurants in London, and while the names of a few classic dishes popped up from time to time on Chinese restaurant menus, they were pale imitations of the authentic versions. In 1993, however, a trip to the Sichuan capital Chengdu had opened my eyes to the scintillating flavours of the local food, and

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