The spicy is life

There are very few sentences of five words or less that will make me drop what I’m doing and read something closely. “Sichuan Cuisine, Imperiled by Success” happens to be one of those sentences. The New York Times does a review of how the demand of extreme eaters for more and more spicy foods is imperiling authentic Sichuan cuisine.

This hits closely because Sichuan is a culinary discovery that has honestly revolutionized my palate. I used to be satisfied with mediocre American-Chinese dishes; I shudder to think how much fried rice I’ve consumed in my lifetime. Sichuan fills two voids for me. First, the strong flavors and unusual ingredients of many traditional dishes hit areas of my palate that no other foods can touch. Second, I feel as though it’s one “traditional” Chinese cuisine where I’ve learned enough to claim a small amount of expertise.

I owe any expertise I’ve accumulated to three local restaurants: Sichuan Gourmet, whose Framingham branch hosted my first Sichuan dinner but whose Billerica and new Burlington stores have seen much more of my custom; Szechuan’s Dumpling, who during its golden age could bring spicy deliciousness right to my front door; and the Baldwin Bar at Sichuan Garden, which combines superb Sichuan food with a world class cocktail bar. And that’s all without exploring Chinatown’s spicy offerings. But it’s probably the first one to which I owe the biggest debt. At Veracode, it’s so well loved that we don’t even call the restaurant by name anymore; it’s just Spicy, as in “let’s go to Spicy.”

I think it’s interesting that there’s a concern for authenticity emerging this early in Sichuan’s culinary history. As the article points out, most Sichuan dishes go back “only a century or two.” Of course, the history of French haute cuisine can be traced to the same period, thanks to Escoffier‘s codification and elevation of traditional French cooking. But I hope that I get a chance to explore more of the traditional cuisine before it gets “extremed” to death.