History of Sichuan Food

In Qin and Han Dynasty (300BC to 100AD)

Sichuan Food Container
Food Container in Han Dynasty

At the beginning of Qin period in Sichuan, there were no distinct features of Sichuan Food. The food people eat and cook then were no difference than the people from Chang’an, the former capital of China in Shan’an Xi province. After the Old Shu Kingdom was taken by Qin, came the immigrants from the north and that was when the first boom of economy in Sichuan mainly in northern Sichuan. Hence came the development of food cooking. It was recorded in Shudu Record by Yangxiong: Five flavors processed, Peony-like-smelled food tasted, using fish from far east in the river and using sheep from west to Gansu on the mountain. Shudu is the old name of Chengdu 2000 years ago. Yangxiong was a writer. The Chinese work of DELICIOUS is made of a fish and a goat. So this quote was believed to be a compliment to Sichuan Food by the royals 2000 years ago. But this was only limited to the higher class people because not everyone can afford “Fish from far east in the river” nor “Sheep from west to Gansu on the mountain”. Looking at today’s Sichuan Food, its popularity is mainly because it is easy to make and it is for every family, cheap materials and easy making. So By this time of period, Sichuan Food was not today’s Sichuan Food, it was more of a transformed version of Five-Flavored cuisine from the capital.

From End of Han to Jin Dynasty(100AD to 500AD)

The occurrences of a different Sichuan Food came by the end of Eastern Han Dynasty according to the historical record. In Eastern Han Dynasty, Sichuan was under a relatively peaceful time for a long time and that gave the time for people in Sichuan to make food! But it was until Three Kingdom Period when Chengdu became the capital of Shu, one of the three kingdoms that Sichuan Food starts to have its distinct features. The son of King Liubei, Liuchan, was a food lover. “Travel constantly, much music, dance, drinks and food required” was the description of Luchan’s travel around Chengdu. According to more than one books’ records, people have tried to make different dishes and eating has become something you see everywhere. Strong flavors became popular in Chengdu and strong flavors were against the food in Chang’an, the central part of China. So you can say Sichuan Food originated from Liuchan’s Time around 1800 years ago.

Sui and Tang Dynasty (500AD to 900AD)

Sichuan Food History
Sichuan Food History

After the peaceful time by the former part o f Jin Dynasty, by the end of Jin Dynasty, there was a war for decades and many people moved to the east to Sichuan. It was in Sui Dynasty when the governor of Shu liked food and women that lots of chefs were hired again back into the royal kitchen. And the city of Chengdu was expanded by the governor too, making more people coming back. After worth Chengdu was rebuilt and expanded two times again. And Chengdu became a temporal capital during Anshi Rebel in Tang Dynasty. Many food that were used by the royals made available for everyone. Restaurants became normal due to the expansion of the city. Restaurant then was called “Jiuguan”, meaning shop for drinking wine. A lot of records of such prosperity of Chengdu and people eating have shown in the poets and medicinal books in this time.

Song Dynasty

Sichuan Food in Song Dynasty
Sichuan Food in Song Dynasty

Song Dynasty was the highlight of Sichuan Food in its history. It is when Sichuan Food recognized nationally as an independent Cuisine in China. In Song Dynasty, economy and people’s life had been largely improved. “Travel and Feast” had become very popular in Song Dynasty and Chengdu was one of the top cities in China by that time. Books and poets were written by educated people and in Song Dynasty, the people are fairly educated and lots of people could read and write. Su Dongpo was from Sichuan a very talented poet who left a lot of works. And he was a food-lover. Dongpo Pork was named after him. Lots of “Strange” food and cooking skills were founded in Song Dynasty. Sichuan Food was first exported to other parts of China in Song Dynasty due to its good taste and easy way of making. Sichuan Food was called Chuan Fan in northern Song Dynasty. It became popular as it was people’s food: easy to make, cheap materials and good taste.

Mongolian Time (Yuan Dynasty)

There was a half-century long war in Sichuan between Sichuan people and the Mongolians. In this period of time all the way to beginning of Qing Dynasty in 17th Century, Sichuan Food was forgotten due to wars and loss of population. During this part of history, population in Sichuan was not even half of that in Song Dynasty.

Latter Part of Manchurian Time – 19th Century

Sichuan Food in Qing Dynasty
Sichuan Food in Qing Dynasty

In the history of Sichuan Food, this period of relatively peaceful time is believed to be a developing time. The population went back to it was in Song Dynasty and agriculture was widely developed. Sichuan became the biggest supply of food to Beijing. The tradition and skills of making food by the families were inherited as well. “People in Sichuan are happy for what are supplied and having an obvious happy life here, unlike the people from east part of China.” Ding Baozhen, the inventor of Kung Pao Chicken, was the governor of Sichuan for a while by that time. Sichuan Food was developed systematically due to progress in agriculture and economy. But lots of food were still similar to food from Hubei and Zhejiang.

First half of 20th Century

It is the time came the modern Sichuan Food. Pepper from South America was introduced in Sichuan Food. Since then Sichuan Food had its golden time until today. In Chengdu Record, a historical record of Chengdu published in 1908, a total sum of 1328 different Sichuan dishes were recorded. And it has three major styles in cooking and flavor: Shanghe, Xiaohe, Xiaohe.

Shanghe Sichuan Food

Shanghe Sichuan Food
Mapo Tofu

Shanghe Sichuan Food indicates the food from around Chengdu includes food from Leshan. Shanghe Sichuan Food is less spicy, traditional and family-friendly. Dishes of Shanghe Sichuan Food include Plain-cooked Cabbage, Rice-wine Stewed Pork, Mapo Tofu, Kang Pao Chicken, Fuqi Feipian, Ants Climbing Trees, Chicken Slices with Garlic Mash, Fried Bread with Pork Slices, Shaobai, White Oil Tofu, Fish-flavored dishes, Dongpo Pork Stews, Xiba Tofu, Qiaojiao Beef, Ya’an Fish. And for the hot pot food of Shanghe Sichuan Food, there is Chuanchuan, Dry Pot. Snack is part of Sichuan Food and the snacks in Sichuan Food are mainly from the Shanghe Sichuan Food: Bean Puddings, Northern Sichuan Rice Noodles, Sweet Potato Noodle, Guokuo, Bean Curds, Dandan Noodle, Sichuan Sausage, Baked Egg Bread, Leave-covered Sticky Rice Bread, Sanda Pao, Pickled Pepper with Chicken Feet, Yanbian Beef, Sweet-skin Duck, Bangbang Chicken, Bobo Chicken, Tea Duck, Rabbit Head, Lai Sweet Dumplings, Zhong Dumplings, Dragon Wontons, Han Baozi, Laoma Pig Feet, Qingchengshan Bacons.

Xiaohe Sichuan Food

Xiaohe Sichuan Food
Boiled Spicy Pork

Xiaohe Sichuan Food include food from Zigong, Luzhou and Yibin, the southern part of Sichuan. These dishes are usually considered strange and sometimes upper-class due to the rich salt business people in Zigong. Spicy, sour and spicy are the main feature of Xiaohe Food. Different cooking skills are found in Xiaohe Sichuan Food. Dishes of this style of Sichuan Food include Boiled Spicy Beef/ Pork, Fushun Bean Curds, Flour-coated Beef, Stir-fried Cow Stomach, Cold Rabbit, Yibin Kindling Noodle, Lizhuang White Meat, Hejiang Roasted Fish. And this part of Sichuan is also home to Cold Fish Pot, Rabbit Pot.

Xiahe Sichuan Food

Xiahe Sichuan Food
Hot Pot

Mainly Xiaohe Sichuan Food are found in eastern Sichuan in Dazhou and Chongqing. This style of Sichuan Food changes quickly and people are very creative to make new food. Xiaohe Sichuan Food includes Sour Raddish with Duck Soup, Strewed Chicken, Mao Blood Pudding, Fish with pickles, Koushui Chicken, Spicy Chicken/Rabbit/ Dices. And its snacks include Zhangfei Beef, Dengying Beef, Laoma Wontons, Chongqing Xiao Noodle. And among them the most famous one is Hot Pot. Sichuan Hot Pot is actually from Chongqing, Chongqing is the origin place of Spicy Hot Pot.

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