Restaurants spice up Szechuan specialties with their signature styles
Issue: Oct 2012
Szechuan Poached Chicken in Spicy Peanut and Sesame Sauce from Szechuan Court & Kitchen at Fairmont Singapore is quintessential Sichuan province fare
Szechuan cuisine is probably one of the most distinctive culinary traditions to emerge from China. Hailing from Sichuan province in the central western part of China, this style of cooking is heavily influenced by the hot and humid climate of the region. Because of the punishing weather there, food tends to spoil more easily. So, spices are generously used to make the food keep for longer periods. Other food preservation techniques include salting, pickling, drying and smoking. As a result, Szechuan food tends to be spicy and strongly flavoured.
Relying on heavy doses of chili oil to create a numbing heat called mala (literally numb and spicy), different types of sugars, vinegar, bitter melons, dried orange peel, garlic, ginger, sesame oil and bean paste, Szechuan specialties artfully balance the five flavours: sweet, sour, pungent, salty and bitter. If you want to set your taste buds tingling with a taste of some hot stuff from China’s western regions, there are some Szechuan restaurants within CapitaLand properties that you can visit to satiate your appetite.
Courting Szechuan Culture
Crabmeat and Sea Cucumber Hot and Sour Soup with Shredded Bamboo and Wood Ear Mushrooms (left) and Poached Prawn Dumpling in Szechuan Sauce with Chilli Oil (right) will heat up your taste buds
Szechuan Court & Kitchen at Fairmont Singapore serves some of the city’s finest Szechuan and Cantonese cuisine. Spread across the third level of the hotel, the lush interiors of the restaurant is a modern interpretation of rustic oriental charms. The Szechuan selections of the menu pay tribute to the culinary style of the province while being personalised for local palates
Start with Crabmeat and Sea Cucumber Hot and Sour Soup with Shredded Bamboo and Wood Ear Mushrooms. The steaming broth has the right balance of heat and tartness that does not overwhelm the sweetness of the generous serving of crab. What make this a substantial starter and add texture to the soup are the succulent sea cucumber, and crunchy shredded bamboo and wood ear mushroom. Another starter that is a Szechuan staple is Poached Prawn Dumpling in Szechuan Sauce with Chilli Oil. The fat dumplings, traditionally filled with meat, are stuffed instead with fresh prawns that make this especially indulgent; while the spicy sauce gives this dish an added kick. Szechuan Poached Chicken in Spicy Peanut and Sesame Sauce is a perfect blend of savoury, sweet, and spicy with the fragrance from the sesame.
Even desserts can be given the spicy Szechuan treatment like this House Special Chilli Padi Cherry Sherbet
At Szechuan Court, desserts may end a meal but they are certainly not an afterthought. A mainstay of Szechuan sweets is Pan-Fried Szechuan Pancake with Red Bean Paste. Their version comes crisp and hot off the pan on the outside and soft and doughy on the inside with plenty of bean paste. The sesame topping also makes each mouthful burst with fragrance. If you are adventurous, the House Special Chilli Padi Cherry Sherbet will definitely pique your interest. At first, it tastes like a regular cherry sherbet. But then, the heat from the chilli padi kicks in and makes you crave another mouthful. The hot-cold effect makes for an interesting dining experience.
Flowering Szechuan Cuisine
Not everything Szechuan is tongue-numbingly spicy and Peony Jade @ Clarke Quay’s Signature Camphor and Tea Smoked Duck is a fine example of a non-chili Szechuan dish
For a riverside dining experience, Peony Jade @ Clark Quay offers Szechuan delicacies with a delightful view of the iconic Singapore River. With a lush red carpet beneath your feet and elegant décor all around, dine on Szechuan Hot and Sour Soup. The soup is a fitting appetizer to the Fragrant Camphor Tea-Smoked Duck. This dish is proof that not every Szechuan offering relies on hot spices to provide strong flavours. The duck comes with steamed Chinese flower buns for you to make tiny smoked-duck burgers with.
Another main that surprises with its simplicity is Roast Crispy Chicken, one of the favourites of the restaurant. The chicken is roasted till the skin is crisp and crunches with every bite while the moist meat beneath remains tender. But what lifts this dish several notches above others is the sweet garlic and sesame seed garnishing that makes a perfect aromatic accompaniment to the dish. At Peony Jade, you can sample the strong flavours that Szechuan cooking is known for through masterfully prepared dishes that are seemingly simple.
A Paradise for Fans Szechuan Food
One of the 18 types of hand-pulled noodle dishes that Paradise Dynasty has, La Mian with Poached Marbled Beef in Szechuan Style is an ideal spicy comfort food
Part of the Paradise Group, casual dining restaurant Paradise Dynasty at ION Orchard takes you to imperial China through its décor replete with dark wood, deep reds and gold sculptures; as well as its interpretation of Chinese cuisines from across the regions of China. While it is not a Szechuan restaurant per se, it does have several Szechuan-styled dishes.
Among the creative flavours (and colours) of xiao long baos (mini steamed dumplings) that it has is a reddish Szechuan-flavoured one which introduces fragrant garlic to the meat-filled dumpling. The restaurant also has 18 different types of la mian (hand-pulled noodles), one of which is La Mian with Poached Marbled Beef in Szechuan Style. The silky smooth noodles are paired with a rich broth that is the right mix of spicy and sour; and slices of the softest beef.
Assorted Beef and Organs in Szechuan Sauce and Deep Fried Diced Chicken in Szechuan Style – whether as a cold dish or a hot main, Paradise Dynasty spices up its selections with Szechuan-styled cooking
Assorted Beef and Organs in Szechuan Sauce is a cold appetizer that is seasoned with peppercorns, sesame, peanuts and parsley to create a medley of tastes. Another dish that counts on a heavy dose of peppercorn is Deep Fried Diced Chicken in Szechuan Style. This is one dish that will give you the ma la (numbing spiciness) effect that Szechuan food is famous for. Featuring an equally bold use of spice is the Pork Dumpling with Hot Chilli Sauce. Mop up the sauce with the succulent meat and chives dumplings for a tongue-numbing experience.
One of the reasons why the residents of Szechuan enjoy spicy goodness in their food is because all that heat makes them sweat which, in turn, cools them down. Perhaps we can take a leaf from their books and try some Szechuan hot stuff to keep cool.
Szechuan Court & Kitchen
80 Bras Basah Road
Tel: 65 6431 6156 www.szechuancourt.com.sg
Peony Jade @ Clarke Quay
3A River Valley Road
Tel: 65 6338 0305 www.peonyjade.com