Sichuan Cuisine, Imperiled by Success

  • Level 3 - Captain

    Sichuan Cuisine, Imperiled by Success


    “Sichuanese cuisine really faces a crisis,” said Wang Kaifa, a 71-year-old chef who has been leading a campaign against what he sees as the creeping debasement of the region’s celebrated cooking. “The scene feels like it’s booming, but this is a chaotic boom that has had a lot of negatives,” he said, drawing out his vowels and emphasizing high notes in the region’s lilting accent. “Finally, they could become a sickness that brings down Sichuanese cuisine.”

    Sichuanese cooking has been conquering the world. It has become China’s favorite out-of-home dining, sold in countless restaurants that often advertise its trademark chile heat. It has made major inroads in New York, London and other intensely competitive dining cities abroad. But many cooks and food enthusiasts in Chengdu worry that, like a once-humble hometown band dazzled by sudden stardom, their tradition risks betraying its roots and selling out for easy but fleeting hits.

    Rapid growth, especially in the last decade, has debased much restaurant cooking, drowning the tastes and textures of dishes like fish-fragrant eggplant in gobs of acrid chile, oil and monosodium glutamate. Menus are often narrowed to dauntingly spicy dishes, like boiled duck-blood curd and tripe in chile broth, ignoring the great variety and nuance of the cuisine. “Our taste buds have been battered into decline so that we demand it to be spicier and spicier,” said Shi Guanghua, a gravel-voiced food writer and former restaurateur in Chengdu. “Sichuanese cuisine has become shallow and flattened.”

    Early this year, dozens of retired chefs formed the Sichuan Old Chef Traditional Artistry Society to restore time-honored ways they say are under assault. Its 160 members, most in their 60s and 70s, meet weekly in a clubhouse above a restaurant to swap recipes, promote traditional skills and play mah-jongg, even more of an obsession here than in much of the rest of China. They gripe about young cooks who use lashings of new ingredients, like mayonnaise, and recall neglected classics, like sliced pig kidneys fried in fermented bean paste. Mr. Wang said he was inspired to start the society after watching in dismay while a 30-year-old chef from a five-star hotel added celtuce, also called asparagus lettuce, to kung pao chicken. “I was furious,” he said with a grimace. The dish should be an uncluttered mix of chicken, peanuts, stubby dried red chiles and spices, he said. “Young chefs these days just don’t understand what tradition is.”

    Do you like Sichuan food? Do you agree that it is becoming “flattened”?

  • Level 1 - Sergeant

    @natalie_ng Yep, it’s a type of snack, usually sold by street vendors

  • @natalie_ng Yeah , I am from HK.Oh , we buy the sauces to make it at home , but its too far to buy often ; since the only place we can buy it is at asian grocery stores. Which are not convinent to go to

  • @suiko_no_shin Those look good! I’ve never had nor seen them, despite having lived in an Asian enclave for years, surprisingly :O Are they a type of snack?

    @neonfuzion You’re from HK?? That’s awesome! Do you come back often to visit? I’m surprise your family doesn’t buy the roast chicken/pork more often. My family loves that stuff, lol.

  • @natalie_ng said in Sichuan Cuisine, Imperiled by Success:

    my parents used to make me eat those almost everyday so I got kinda tired of them, lol.

    Lucky! Im from HK , so that type of food is soul food for me, I dont get to eat it often at home ; I often eat at HK Cafe restaurants.

  • Level 1 - Sergeant

    @natalie_ng I haven’t but I’ll try it now :) Also gotta find a way to get some of these: (Sugarcoated Haws/Tanghulu) alt text

  • @secondstrike & @neonfuzion You guys are seriously making me starving right now. If I had to judge though, I would say neonfuzion’s first dim sum photo and secondstrike’s set of photos are more my speed. The chicken and pork that neonfuzion posted in his 2nd set of photos…eh, my parents used to make me eat those almost everyday so I got kinda tired of them, lol.

    @suiko_no_shin Have you tried eating youtiao with noodle soup before? I love them best with noodle soup! You basically cut them up and dip them in the soup. Delicious!

  • Level 1 - Sergeant

    @secondstrike said in Sichuan Cuisine, Imperiled by Success:

    @suiko_no_shin That’s a Chinese fried doughnut. They’re awesome.

    found it, it’s called youtiao. I gotta get some next time I go to the Asian supermarket :) The latter one I was talking about is called sago soup (sai mai lou in Cantonese). I think that one is made with Taro but we make ours with banana (same exact recipe, just swap the ingredients)

  • administrators

    @suiko_no_shin That’s a Chinese fried doughnut. They’re awesome.

  • Level 1 - Sergeant

    What is that fried bread on #3 and #4 (sticking out of what looks to be congee)? I love that stuff, been eating it off and on since I was little. Usually alongside some coffee in the morning. Oh and the last item on neonfuzion’s post, we make ours with banana and serve it either hot or cold. It’s delicious! Not sure what it’s officially called and don’t know how to type out what we call it.

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