When most think of Sichuan (or Szechuan) cuisine, visions of fiery red dishes come to mind. But this cuisine is no one-trick pony. You may have already enjoyed some of the more popular dishes already: kung pao chicken, mapo tofu, dan dan noodles – just to name a few.
The province of Sichuan is located in the middle of China and is known for its broad spectrum of land including mountains, plains and a basin, reflective of the many ingredients readily available in Sichuanese cuisine. Rice is grown in the basin, herbs and mushrooms are plentiful at higher elevations and the main protein staples consist of pork, beef and rabbit. The province is nicknamed the “Province of Abundance” for this very reason. Some ingredients (such as walnuts) made their way through trade routes, much like many other parts of China.
While the cuisine is traditionally known for being hot and spicy, while producing a numbing effect, there are so many more components to each dish that keeps it fairly balanced. It is the balance of salty, sour, sweet, floral, bitter and smoky that makes each dish so tantalizing to each of our senses. Many believe that you can go through a hundred dishes and have a hundred different flavours – no one dish tastes the same.
The most popular seasonings include the use of broad bean chili paste, garlic, chili pepper, star anise, shallots and of course, the Sichuan pepper. The Sichuan pepper is fragrant, producing a floral type taste to it and is well-known for its tingling and mouth numbing sensations. It’s not at all like other peppers that produce a heat that burns for a long time or that is instantaneously spicy, but just a peculiar numbing taste that lingers as you continue eating your meal and then takes its leave.
Sichuan cuisine is extremely popular outside of China – it’s not too difficult to find restaurants here in Richmond that serve it either as it’s main offerings or variations of popular dishes. However, it’s harder to find authentic and well balanced flavours that the cuisine is known for. Many restaurants live by the heat and mouth numbing quality of the Sichuan peppers, but lack the complexity of other flavours.
Golden Sichuan Restaurant located on No. 3 Road is an upscale Sichuan restaurant. While the prices are a little higher than most places, the quality and flavours are very authentic in taste.
You’ll find some of the more popular dishes here, including Boiling Fish and dan dan noodles.
The Boiling Fish dish can also be made with Beef (like the picture above). Boiling Beef is a concoction of heat, smokiness, bitterness and a blizzard of Sichuan peppers that produce that numbing feeling in your mouth. While just the look of the dish might be shocking or off-putting to some, once you begin to taste the dish and it produces all these flavours and feelings, you begin to crave more of it. Whether it’s the curiosity of it leaving such a strange feeling in your mouth or your tastebuds drooling for a second bowl, you’ll be keen to have yet another go.
Golden Sichuan is part of the Dumpling Trail. The trail highlights the restaurant’s shui jiao – or water boiled dumplings. These dumplings are wonderful little pockets of meat in wrapper that is slightly more doughy than a wonton or gyoza.
But it’s the garlic wontons here that blew me away. A bit of a play on the traditional shui jiao served in Sichuan cuisine (Zhong shui jiao), the wontons are drizzled with soy sauce, chili oil and garlic paste. The sweetness and slight spicy flavour mixed with the garlic paste makes this dish one of the highlights of the evening and gets my stamp of approval as a must-order appetizer.
The Dumpling Trail contest is still open until the end of December: you can win 2 return tickets to Richmond, a 2-night stay at a Richmond hotel and a guided dumpling tour with a Chinese food expert! Tourism Richmond also has an Instagram contest running through to the end of the year as well where they draw a winner every month.