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Sichuan Cuisine Facing an Identity Crisis

Culinary innovation can take many shapes and forms. But sometimes, this tinkering can have the unintended consequence of straying too far from the original. Such is the dilemma that faces China’s Sichuanese cuisines.

Though Chendu, the hub of Sichuan Province is abuzz, some say it’s all a facade.

“Sichuanese cuisine really faces a crisis,” 71-year-old chef told the New York Times. “The scene feels like it’s booming, but this is a chaotic boom that has had a lot of negatives. Finally, they could become a sickness that brings down Sichuanese cuisine.”

The focus seems to be on presenting diners with incredibly spicy dishes, overwhelming the nuance of their ingredients.

Chendu-based food writer and former restaurateur Shi Guanghua told the newspaper: “Our taste buds have been battered into decline so that we demand it to be spicier and spicier.”

The trend has not only spawned satire websites but also the gaze of the Chinese government which does its best to promote this spiced-up version of Sichuanese cuisine domestically and abroad, commercializing it in the process.

Those who practice the newer style maintain that while tradition must be respected, innovation can also be a recipe for success.

Vietnamese could potentially be facing a similar existential crisis. Its popularity abroad has led to some interesting takes on the cuisine - from pho burritos to phumplings – especially in the US.

Check out some old school Sichuanese chefs cook up some of the classics and discuss the opposing culinary forces.

[Top photo via the New York Times]


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