She extols its simple joys: unlike Cantonese or Shandong food, Sichuan cooking doesn't require costlier raw ingredients.
"This is the greatness of Sichuanese cuisine, to make the ordinary extraordinary," Dunlop noted.
How is the food like?
Guo Kui: The twirly flatbreads stuffed with minced pork, spring onion and Sichuan pepper, drift out heavenly scent. They are crunchy, chewy and savoury, and the Sichuan pepper makes your lips dance and tingle.
Fish-fragrant Aubergines: The golden, buttery fried aubergines cooked in a deep-red, spicy sauce, with no actual fish but seductive hints of sweet and sour.
Cold Chicken: It is tossed in a piquant dressing of soy sauce, chilli oil, and Sichuan pepper. If one seasoning was out of proportion, the flavour would jangle.
Spicy Chicken: Dry, crisp, sizzling pieces of chicken is buried in an improbable mound of seared chilies.
Fried Aubergine Pies: A pile of succulent aubergine fritters is stuffed with minced pork and bathed in a luxuriant sweet-sour-spicy sauce.
Hui Guo Rou (Twice-cooked Pork): Fat pork is stir-fried with Chinese leeks in an indescribably delicious chilli bean sauce.
Zhong Shui Jiao (Zhong Boiled Dumpling): A tender pork-filled crescent is bathed in spiced, sweetened soy sauce and chili oil, and finished off with a smattering of garlic paste.
Lai Tang Yuan: The squidgy glutinous rice balls are stuffed with a paste of toasted black sesame seeds and sugar.
Fu Qi Fei Pian (Sliced Beef and Ox Tripe in Chili Sauce): Slices of beef offal is tossed with celery and roasted nuts in a fiery dressing of spiced broth, chili oil and Sichuan pepper.
Fried Rabbit-heads: They are cleft in half and tossed in a wok with chili and spring onion. I won't begin to describe the silky richness of the flesh along the jaw, the melting softness of the eyeball, the luxuriant smoothness of the brain.
Dan Dan Noodles: A small bowlful of noodles topped with a spoonful of dark, crisp minced beef. But as soon as you stirred them with your chopsticks, you awakened the flavors in the slick of spicy seasonings at the base of the bowl, and coated each strand of pasta in a mix of soy sauce, chili oil, sesame paste and Sichuan pepper. The effect was electrifying.
Pig's Brains: They were as soft as custard, and dangerously rich.
Hotpot: Sichuan peppercorns and other spices were stuck in a thick, pasty layer of fat. Every morsel emerged from the pot in a slick of fiery oil, studded with spices. By the end of the meal, I was almost delirious with heat. My mouth burned and tingled, my body ran with sweat. I felt ragged and molten; pain and pleasure were indistinguishable.
A small taste of the 'complex flavors' of Sichuan, home-style flavour: Typical of the hearty tastes of domestic cookery, home-style flavour is salty, savoury and a little hot. Seasonings used include chili bean paste, salt and soy sauce, perhaps with the addition of pickled red chilies, fermented black beans and sweet fermented paste.
Example: Twice-Cooked Pork
Fish-fragrant flavour: Another celebrated Sichuanese invention, "fish-fragrant flavour", is based on the seasonings used in traditional fish cookery; it combines salty, sweet, sour and spicy notes, with the rich fragrance of garlic, ginger and spring onions. The core seasoning is pickled red chilies.
Examples: Fish-Fragrant Pork Slivers, Fish-Fragrant Aubergines
Strange-flavour: This flavour relies on the harmonious mixing of salty, sweet, numbing, hot, sour, umami and fragrant notes. No individual flavour should clamour for the attention at the expense of any other.
Example: Strange-Flavour Chicken
Hot-and-numbing flavour: Sichuanese cuisine owes its notoriety to this powerful combination of chilies and Sichuan pepper. The level of fieriness varies widely from place to place.
Examples: Pock-Marked Mother Chen's Beancurd (ma po dou fu), Sichuan Hotpot
Red-oil flavour: This describes a delicious mixture of ruby-red chili oil, soy sauce and sugar, perhaps with a little sesame oil for extra fragrance. Used in cold dishes.
Example: Chicken Chunks in Red-Oil Sauce
Garlic-paste flavour: A scrumptious combination of mashed garlic, chili oil and sesame oil with a special soy sauce that is simmered with brown sugar and spices until it is dense and fragrant. Used in cold dishes.
Example: Cold Pork in Hot-and-Garlicky Sauce
Scorched chilli flavour: Derived from frying dried chilies in a wok until they are just turning colour; other ingredients are then added and tossed in the fragrant oil. Sichuan pepper is typically used in conjunction with the chilies.
Example: Spicy Cucumber Salad