Landlocked Hunan's chilli-rich cuisine is similar to that of western China's Szechuan province. Chilli, garlic and the unusual "strange sauce" enliven many dishes. Mustard sauce complements duck's tongues, and minced bean paste forms a pungent and powdery coating for fish or scallops. Honey sauces are favoured for desserts such as water chestnut or cassia-flower cakes. Hunan's range of soups includes noodles in soup, mashed pigeon in consomme and a salty, thin version of the West's pea soup. Although rice is Hunan's staple, northern-style bean-curd "bread" rolls or dumplings and savoury buns are also popular.
Bursting with flavour, Szechuan food includes some of the spiciest dishes in China, so check the chilli content on the menu. The zest of dishes is flavored with star anise, fennel seed, chilli, coriander and other spices. Chillied bean paste, peppercorns and garlic are also widely used.
Not all food is spicy. Common cooking methods include smoking and simmering, which allow peppers and aromatic seasonings time to infuse food with unforgettable tastes and aromas. Traditional dishes include crispy beef, deep fried with tangy kumquat peel, and duck, the premier Szechuan specialty. The duck is flavoured with peppercorns, ginger, cinnamon, orange peel and coriander, marinated in Chinese wine for 24 hours, steamed for two hours, then smoked over a charcoal fire with camphor-wood chips and red tea leaves added.
Chicken, pork, river fish and shellfish are popular ingredients, and noodles or steamed bread are preferred to rice. smoked in camphor wood and tea leaves are recommended for any palate.