In the Sichuan Province of China, the culinary scene has reached a boiling point—and not just within its signature hot pots. The southwestern region is home to the wildly spicy and fragrant dishes that have built a rabid following worldwide, and eaters from around the globe have begun flocking to cities like Chengdu to get an authentic fix. And while this means more tourist dollars going into the Chinese economy, many local chefs and residents say the cuisine's popularity has taken a major toll on the region's cooking.
"Sichuanese cuisine really faces a crisis," says local chef Wang Kaifa, who at 71 is leading a campaign against the "debasement" of the area's food. In an interview with The New York Times, Kaifa says that while the Sichuan scene is booming, it's "a chaotic boom that has had a lot of negatives."
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The Times piece makes clear that Kaifa is not alone in his skepticism. In the town of Chengdu, which alone is home to thousands of restaurants and eateries, those who have been raised on the Sichuanese style of cooking feel that the subtler flavors of the cuisine are being drowned out by relentless heat. Excessive amounts of chile and oil have reduced menus to a frenzy of overwhelming heat, eliminating any nuanced dishes that once balanced out the area's offerings.