Tongue-numbing peppercorns and a fiery layer of chilli oil. So far, the hot and spicy flavours of Sichuan cuisine have largely been appreciated by locals at traditional restaurants such as Si Chuan Dou Hua or popular hotpot joints such as Hai Di Lao.
Recently, however, Sichuan cuisine has graduated to the tables of hip cafes and is gaining international recognition. Just recently in 2016, Shisen Hanten at Mandarin Orchard Singapore was awarded two Michelin stars for its mastery of the south-western province’s complex fl avour profile.
Then, there’s new cafe-bar Birds of a Feather in Amoy Street, which is drawing crowds for its Western dishes with a pronounced Sichuan influence. The cheekily named dish Find the Chicken in the Chillies is a winning combination of fried chicken topped with a mound of dried chillies and Sichuan peppers. The peppers are also used to marinate succulent slices of pork belly which are then sandwiched with cabbage and cheddar cheese between thick slices of bread for a comforting grilled panini.
It’s not just savoury dishes that are getting a makeover. Over at Beast & Butterflies, a modern Asian restaurant at M Social Singapore Hotel, Sichuan peppercorns are turned into a sauce that adds some heat to a chocolate and banana sphere dessert.
Says He Ning, co-founder of Birds of a Feather: “The Singapore market has already seen many classic Sichuan restaurants, and Sichuan food is usually perceived as more traditional and one-dimensional. Namely, hot, spicy and numbing.” Both owners are also behind cafe chain Good Wood Coffee in Chengdu, China.
“We want to show diners that Sichuan fare is beyond just that,” she says. Indeed, the distinctive flavours of the cuisine are proving to be quite successful when fused with richer Western food. And it’s surely a welcome reprieve for diners who have never quite managed to handle the fiery numbing sensations all at once, too.
PHOTOGRAPHY Veronica Tay
ART DIRECTION Fazlie Hashim