There are several regional Chinese cuisines becoming more prevalent in Sydney, Uighur and Hunan for example, have begun to find favourites among Sydney's dining population. Arguably of the first to start the trend would have to be cuisine from the Sichuan province, so here's the 411 on what you need to know:
Where is Sichuan? Sichuan is a landlocked province in the south west of China.
What are the key flavour elements? Sichuanese food is known for being super spicy, but it's more than that: Yes, there are a variety of chili peppers, peppercorns, Sichuan peppers (which are actually a fruit, not a pepper, and produce a numbing effect in addition to their warm flavor).
Sour elements come from pickled vegetables and vinegars and bitter melon is added to many dishes to offer the touch of bitterness that balances other flavors. Other spices and flavours include dried orange peel, garlic, ginger, sesame oil and bean paste. Salt is also incredibly important to Sichuan cuisine.
Kung Pao Chicken: This is spicy chicken fried with peanuts. The main ingredients are small chunks of chicken breast, with dry peppercorns and peanuts. Almost all local restaurants serve this dish.
Mapo Doufu: A beancurd dish, often containing pork mince. It's flavored with chopped spring onions, minced garlic minced fresh ginger, Chinese chilli-sauce of crushed dried red chilli peppers and Szechuan peppercorn.
Green Beans and Pork: Finding its way into the regular yum cha repertoire and Din Tai Fung-esque establishments, it's a simple dish of dry-fried green beans and pork mince with soy, vinegar and garlic.
Zhangcha duck, or tea-smoked duck: Prepared by hot smoking a marinated duck over tea leaves and twigs of camphor.
Where do I go?
1/8 Dixon St
Sydney NSW 2000
(02) 9262 7007
Wedged between the cluster of Uighur restaurants on this end of Dixon Street, pick over complimentary roasted peanuts while you peruse the extensive menu. They do a solid example of mapo doufu as well as spicy fried rabbit (it's bone-in, so watch out!). There are also a few odd items including mashed potato and gravy (KFC, eat your heart out) and don't pass up the preserved duck egg in chilli as a cold dish starter.
Red Chilli Sichuan Restaurant
3/51 Dixon St
Haymarket NSW 2000
(02) 9211 8122
One of the original Sydney Sichuan establishments, there's everything here from DIY steamboat-like chilli hotpots and traditional favourites done well. There's a helpful chilli-code for those who need to be treated with kid gloves when it comes to heat: One chilli symbol newbies, three for a kick in the pants. Start with kung pao chicken and pork mince green beans as well as fragrant lamb with cumin Head upstairs for hot pot action: choose your broth (mild or spicy), dipping sauce and your meats and veg of choice.
Spicy Sichuan Restaurant
9 Glebe Point Rd
Glebe NSW 2037
(02) 9660 8200
On the corner of Glebe Point Road and Parramatta Road, this authentic Sichuan restaurant also sits at the cross roads of 'ouch that hurts' and 'gimme more'. The kind wait staff can pick a newbie though, and the kitchen goes easy on them accordingly - so if you like it hot, let them know; the guys on the burners are only too glad to accommodate.
Start with the marinated pigs ear salad, served with cucumber and chilli oil to open up the palate..the texture of the pigs ear and the cucumber give crunch and the chilli oil is more about flavour than blatant burn.
The mapo doufu is a solid litmus test for any Sichuan restaurant and this joint deserves solid marks. Move onto the dry-fried barramundi and steamed pork belly for substantial mains with contrasting textures.