Sichuan 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 Sichuan 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. According to at least one Chinese culinary writer,[who?] Szechuan cuisine is composed of seven basic flavours: sour, pungent, hot, sweet, bitter, aromatic, and salty. Szechuan food is divided into five different types: sumptuous banquet, ordinary banquet, popularised food, household-style food, and food snacks. Szechuan cuisine has changed little over the years, and milder versions of Sichuan dishes remain a staple of American Chinese cuisine.
A chilli hot pot characteristic of Szechuan cuisine
Szechuan cuisine often contains food preserved through pickling, salting, and drying and is generally spicy owing to heavy application of chili oil. The Sichuan pepper (Chinese: 花椒; pinyin: huājiāo; literally "flower pepper") is commonly used. Sichuan pepper has an intensely fragrant, citrus-like flavour and produces a "tingly-numbing" (Chinese: 麻; pinyin: má) sensation in the mouth. Also common are garlic, chili peppers, ginger, star anise and other spicy herbs, plants and spices. Broad bean chili paste (simplified Chinese: 豆瓣酱; traditional Chinese: 豆瓣醬; pinyin: dòubànjiàng) is also a staple seasoning in Szechuan cuisine. The region's cuisine has also been the source of several prominent sauces widely used in Chinese cuisine in general today, including yuxiang (魚香), mala (麻辣), and guaiwei (怪味).
Common preparation techniques in Szechuan cuisine include stir frying, steaming and braising, but a complete list would include more than 20 distinct techniques. Beef is somewhat more common in Szechuan cuisine than it is in other Chinese cuisines, perhaps due to the prevalence of oxen in the region. Stir-fried beef is often cooked until chewy, while steamed beef is sometimes coated with rice flour to produce a very rich gravy. Szechuan cuisine also utilizes various bovine and porcine organs as ingredients such as intestine, arteries, the head, tongue, skin, and liver in addition to other commonly utilised portions of the meat.