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Three “Spicy” Provinces in China (Part I) – Sichuan

May. 13, 2015
红辣椒(hóng làjiāo) hot peppers

(Want to travel in China? Try a Travel Chinese lesson first!)

Mention of the word “spicy” often reminds people of hot peppers, which turn red when ripening. In China, red color is the color of auspiciousness and prosperity, symbolizing good luck, happiness, and a rich life.

Most people from southern China love spicy food, especially those from Sichuan, Hunan, and Guizhou provinces. These places frequently have wet and rainy days, and spicy food helps to eliminate moisture from the body, so people in these provinces naturally gravitate toward spicy food.

As the saying goes, “四川人不怕辣, 湖南人辣不怕, 贵州人怕不辣 (Sìchuānrén búpà là, húnánrén là búpà, guìzhōurén pà búlà.)” — Sichuan people are not afraid of spiciness, Hunan people don’t fear to eat spicy food, no matter how spicy it is, and Guizhou people are afraid of eating food that isn’t spicy. You can see how much they love spicy food!

We will introduce the spicy specialties in these three provinces in the following three issues.

The Tongue-Numbing “Flower Pepper” of Sichuan Province

花椒(huājiāo) Chinese prickly ash

“四川 (sìchuān)” is known as “川 (chuān)” for short, so Sichuan Cuisine is also called “川菜 (chuāncài).”

When it comes to “川菜 (chuāncài),” the first thing that comes to Chinese people’s minds is the “花椒 (huājiāo) flower pepper/Chinese prickly ash.” The Sichuan-style spiciness that comes from “花椒(huājiāo),” described as “麻辣 (málà),” is widely popular around the whole country. This special spiciness leaves a sensation on the tongue that is spicy, burns, and slightly numbs.

Sichuan people also have a number of recipes using “花椒 (huājiāo),” which really bring out its unique flavor and effect on the tongue.

When talking about Sichuan’s “花椒 (huājiāo),” we can’t go without talking about the number one specialty it is used in — “麻辣火锅 (málà huǒguō) spicy hotpot.”

Chinese spicy hotpot

The Chinese have strong family values and like to spend time with each other, so the most enjoyable meal for group bonding is eating hotpot with family and friends! (Learn more Chinese culture with our teacher!) When eating hotpot, we get to enjoy different kinds of foods, and it’s also a great chance to chat with each other during the dinner festivities; it’s certainly a good way to improve our relationships.

Many Sichuan families also love to eat “麻辣火锅 (málà huǒguō)” during the Spring Festival. 

“麻辣火锅 (málà huǒguō),” with “花椒 (huājiāo),” pepper oil, dry red pepper, etc. as the ingredients of its soup base, stands out with its fire-red color when boiling.

So, eating the red “麻辣火锅 (málà huǒguō)” is believed to bring a prosperous and lucky new year.

Chinese  麻辣火锅(málà huǒguō)

It is also important to pay attention to the “eating order” when having hotpot since a correct order makes the meal healthier. You can order mutton, beef, seafood, lettuce, tofu, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and more, but the healthiest way is to eat vegetables first and then meat.

Hotpot is loved by locals and foreigners alike. When visiting China in 2013, David Cameron, the British Prime Minister said that hotpot in Chengdu, Sichuan Province is what he most wanted to eat during that visit.

The good news is that hotpot has even made its way to a number of cities in out of China. So what are you waiting for? There might be a hotpot restaurant in your town, so go and taste this spicy Sichuan favorite!

Key Learning Point:

四川 (Sìchuān): Sichuan

川菜 (Chuāncài): Sichuan cuisine

花椒 (Huājiāo): Sichuan pepper

麻辣 (Málà): pungent and spicy, spicy and hot

麻辣火锅 (Málà huǒguō): spicy hot pot


1. The top 3 provinces whose people love to eat spicy food are Sichuan, _____ and Guizhou provinces.
A. Yunnan
B. Hunan
C. Hubei

2. What is the spicy specialty of “四川 (Sìchuān)”?
A. “麻辣火锅 (málà huǒguō)”
B. “辣椒火锅 (làjiāo huǒguō)”
C. “花椒火锅 (huājiāo huǒguō)”

3. What is the healthy way to eat hotpot?
A. To drink some water at the very beginning.
B. To eat some noodles or rice first.
C. To eat vegetables first and then meat.

See Answers

What Foods Do People Love to Eat in China?:

Three “Spicy” Provinces in China (Part II) – Hunan

Three “Spicy” Provinces in China (Part III) – Guizhou

“Taste” the 10 most popular Chinese dishes now!

Chinese Culture

General Chinese (Beginner Level) 

General Chinese (Intermediate Level) 

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