Expats in China react to Sichuan cuisine

Published:  25 Nov at 6 PM
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Tagged: USA, China
Of all the diverse cultural differences between China and the West, its exotic range of regional cuisines is one of the most controversial for expats.

New arrivals from Western countries believe they are familiar with Chinese cooking due to the growth of Chinese restaurants across the entire Western world. What they maybe don’t appreciate is that said eateries tend to cut back on certain ingredients in order to satisfy Western tastes.

Sichuan cuisine is the perfect example of a regional culinary tradition modified to suit those unused to fiery dishes redolent with fierce red chillies and causing a major shock to the foreign digestive system when eaten in the province itself. Adventurous expats who’ve learned to cope with the spicy dishes in their home countries may need practice before they can appreciate or even digest the real thing.

Fortune follows the brave, but so do symptoms such as the buzzing, tingling and numbing sensation of Sichuanese peppercorn, usually along with an equally devastating amount of red-hot chilli peppers. Raw garlic may be very good for the immune system, but takes around the same time to get used to as do the chillies once you’ve arrived in the region.

One expat who’s lived in China for three years is well used to his native Hungarian spicy foods, but found that paprika is child’s play against the hit from a typical Sichuan dish. In the course of his acclimatising himself to the spice, he regularly got hiccups which prevented him from eating at all, but is now shaking hot chilli sauce all over his food like his Chinese friends.

An American expats from Louisiana, well-known for its spicy stews, hasn’t been so lucky with Sichuan dishes as his tolerance of fiery flavours seems to be decreasing, ruling out enjoying most local dishes. He described his first try at hot pot with chilli seeds and peppercorns which rewarded him with 10 full minutes of pain, sneezing, sweating, tears and coughing.

Those who can take the heat are also getting major health benefits, according to several Chinese studies. Chili speeds up the metabolism, aids longevity and provides massive doses of vitamin C. For those who simply can’t cope, no matter how hard they try, they’re missing out on one of China’s cultural, culinarydelights.
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