The Sichuan food festival at Holy Basil proves ‘hot and spicy’ are not the only flavours the cuisine has to offer

In Hyderabad, the word Szechwan or Sichuan - is commonly associated with the colour red - the deeper red of the Kung Pao chicken or the fiery hues of the Szechwan fried rice or noodles. Though originally known for fresh, spicy flavours, the cuisine has evolved to accommodate the generous use of red chilli that the Hyderabadi palette loves.

The Sichuan Food Festival at Holy Basil, Radisson Blu Plaza’s pan-Asian speciality restaurant, however, aims to set the record straight. “Most dishes do use a lot of chilli, but there is much more to it,” explains Food and Beverage Manager Tarun Varma, who spent five years working in China.

What sets Sichuan cuisine apart from other south east Asian food is the use of the Sichuan peppercorn, rather than the bird’s eye chilli. These peppercorns, which Radisson Blue has specially obtained for the festival, have a flavour that is quite distinct from that of the common chilli pepper we use in almost every Indian meal. Apart from that, it also contains sanshool, a chemical which creates a numb, tingling sensation in the mouth and lips, making it a spice that you can not only taste but also feel.

However,introducing authentic Sichuan cuisine to a local audience can be a bit of a challenge. “The task here is to make the dishes as authentic as possible but not so authentic that people here will not enjoy it,” explains Tarun.

The menu is therefore a carefully selected list that consists of the familiar and the novel. The appetizers consist of the Kung pao chicken and tofu, but Tarun recommends the Chongqing chilly fish, a preparation with spring onions and Sichuan chilli peppercorns. Those who enjoy soups have two varieties to choose from.

The list gets more interesting as we proceed to the main course. A section labelled ‘Staples’ offers you popular dishes like the Daandaan Mien – flat noodles with a spicy sauce – a popular street food in China. ‘Daandaan’ literally refers to a type of pole that vendors use to carry the bowls of noodles and sauce. While the dish is usually prepared with pork, the most common protein in China, it is available in lamb and vegetarian variations here. Another delicacy is the Twice cooked pork, pork belly that is over roasted, deep fried and then tossed in a spicy Sichuan paste – a technique that ensures that the meat is crisp on the outside and succulent on the inside.

Another dish that comes close to authenticity, according to Tarun, is the Chinese chilli beans. Made by stir frying the beans with Sichuan sauce and preserved or pickled vegetables, the dish can take some getting used to because of the pungent flavours of the pickled vegetables. The two options for dessert include a deep fried custard bun, which is a treat to the pastry lover and a sticky rice paste pancake.

Though the menu is limited, it displays a neat execution of a sub-cuisine that is new to many of us. By keeping the menu short, the hotel also ensures that we are not overwhelmed by the choice of unfamiliar dishes.