Szechuan Cuisine is a style of Chinese cuisine originating from Szechuan province in southwestern China. It has bold flavors, particularly the pungency and spiciness resulting from liberal use of garlic and chili peppers, as well as the unique flavor of the Szechuan pepper. There are many local variations within Sichuan province and the Chongqing municipality, which was part of Szechuan until 1997. Four sub-styles include Chongqing, Chengdu, Zigong, and Buddhist vegetarian style.
UNESCO declared Chengdu to be a city of gastronomy in 2011 in order to recognize the sophistication of its cooking. Szechuan in the middle Ages welcomed Near Eastern crops, such as broad beans, sesame, and walnuts, and starting in the 16th century its list of major crops was lengthened by New World newcomers. The characteristic chili pepper came from Mexico, but probably overland from India or by river from Macao, replacing the spicy peppers of ancient times and complementing the Szechuan pepper (huajiao). Other newcomers from the New World included maize (corn), which largely replaced millet; white potatoes introduced by Catholic missions; and sweet potatoes. The population was cut by perhaps three quarters in the wars from the Ming to the Qing dynasty and settlers from nearby Hunan province brought their cooking styles with them.
Szechuan is colloquially known as the “heavenly country” due to its abundance of food and natural resources. One ancient Chinese account declared that the “people of Szechuan uphold good flavor, and they are fond of hot and spicy taste.” Most Szechuan dishes are spicy, although a typical meal includes non-spicy dishes to cool the palate. Szechuan cuisine is composed of seven basic flavors: sour, pungent, hot, sweet, bitter, aromatic, and salty. Szechuan food is divided into five different types: sumptuous banquet, ordinary banquet, popularized food, household-style food, and food snacks. Milder versions of Szechuan dishes remain a staple of American Chinese cuisine.