In Chengdu alone, there are over twenty thousand hotpot restaurants.
You can see at least 7 restaurants along a 5-metre stretch of one street.
Before the introduction of chilli into China, traditional Sichuan cuisine was not spicy.
It’s sweet, like this.
Steamed glutinous rice, with red bean paste and pork belly.
Or sweet and sour, like sweet and sour pork ribs.
Or savoury, like stir-fried diced pork with celtuce.
Or salty, like stir-fried pork slices with salted pepper.
The place the produces the most peppers is also not Sichuan, but Guizhou.
Zunyi City of Guizhou Province sells over two million tonnes of peppers to the rest of the country.
There’s an entire market dedicated to the trade of peppers, with real-time updates on pepper price. Traders who specialise in pepper are called “pepper agents”.
Every dish comes with its own dipping sauce with varying degrees of spiciness.
Diced pepper in noodles.
Chilli oil in noodles.
Chilli oil with peanuts for tofu.
Whether it’s pork,
or fish, there’s always a saucer of chilli oil for it.
Restaurants in Guizhou also sell these jars of chilli oil.
In Sichuan, peppers can be made into sour and slightly sweet pickles.
Or turned into chilli oil that adds “hotness” to cold dishes.
And of course there is the match made in heaven, between peppers and Sichuan peppercorn, to form the unique Sichuan flavour of “mala” (numb and spicy).
In Heilongjiang, researchers in lab coats look busy.
The subject of their study?
They bring in napa cabbage by the truckload, to analyse the best way to make suancai—sour cabbage.
There’s a dish called 白菜包白菜—cabbage leaves wrapped in cabbage leaves.
Sour cabbage and pork with glass noodles
With glass noodles, tofu, pork ribs, pork slices, and so much more.
“Big bowl” casserole
Carrots, mushrooms, yam, tofu, squid, braised pork with preserved vegetables, popcorn chicken and other ingredients are added to the big bowl in layer upon layer.
This casserole-style dish is common in many parts of China, though ingredients and taste differ.