Sichuan peppercorns

Inspired by this thread: In praise of habanero

I love Sichuan peppercorns in my Chinese food. I first had them when I was in Beijing last year. For those who have never had them, they’re not spicy, but they do cause your mouth to tingle when you eat them, much like when you put a topical anaesthetic in your mouth. They go great with spicy Sichuan food. For a long time, their importation into the US was banned, but now it is permitted as long as the peppercorns are heat-treated. Unfortunately, rare is the American Chinese restaurant that actually has these peppercorns. Sometimes I ask the waitress if they have them, but she usually doesn’t know what I’m talking about. I recently bought a bag at a Chinese market so I can add them to my food myself. Most American Chinese restaurants are a sad imitation of some of the food I had in Beijing.

Two questions:
Who else can’t get enough of these things? Why is it that so few American Chinese restaurants use them?

Why were they banned? Could that be why they’re not more popular?
Most Chinese places around here use those dried out pepper strips, which are spicy enough, but it’s like eating a piece of old leather.

They can harbor the bacteria that cause citrus canker that kills citrus trees. I’ve read that there was a black market for them during the ban.

If you don’t know what you are getting in to, they are pretty freaky. One minute you are eating, the next your mouth is numb and buzzing. It’s definitely an acquired taste/feeling.

I really liked ground Sichuan pepper mixed with salt–put a little pile of the mixture on your plate, then dip bites of roast chicken into it.

Is this the same as what some Chinese folk describe as “stupid tongue” ?

I’ve had that in some nice dishes and yeah it makes your mouth go oddly numb.

My four-year-old, who generally hates spicy food, puts Szechuan pepper-salt on all vegetables, and a lot of meats, too. I get it from Penzey’s.

An opposing point of view: Sichuan peppercorns are nasty, disgusting and horrid. They have a revolting taste, make your mout go numb, and if if uou eat them straight make you droo

revolting I say.

An opposing point of view: Sichuan peppercorns are nasty, disgusting and horrid. They have a revolting taste, make your mouth go numb, and if if uou eat them straight make you drool

revolting I say.

In Flushing, Queens there are quite a few restaurants that use them. I love the taste they add to dishes, but I always thought the point was not to eat them straight. Just biting down on one of the little berries makes your mouth go numb and gives you an odd metallic taste that lasts for a long time, and certainly detracts from the flavor of the dish (not to mention making anything you drink taste like metal, too.) So I eat around them.

Just wanted to add, that I have a cold now and am sucking on zinc pills. The zinc-y taste left in your mouth from the pills is similar, for those who have never tried a Sichuan peppercorn, to the taste of biting of of the peppercorns directly. But if you eat the rest a dish containing peppercorns, you get a nice numb and tingly feeling.

The first time I had them, I seriously thought I was having some sort of allergic reaction. I was excited to find them at the local Asian grocery store. They were just marked “peppercorns,” but I could tell by looking at them that they were Sichuan peppercorns. When I got home, I opened up the bag, popped a couple in my mouth, and savored the wild array of flavors. It started out herbal and floral, a mix of maybe mint and camphor, then moved on to the citrusy, watering-your-mouth flavors, and then…what the hell? Novocain? My mouth started going numb. I had no idea what was going on, I swigged a couple shots of bourbon, but I couldn’t get the weird feeling out of my mouth.

I googled for more descriptions of the peppercorns, and found out the numbness is perfectly normal and part of the signature ma la (“spicy and tingling”) flavor that is central to many Sichuan dishes. It’s common here to find Sichuan peppercorns used in the Chinatown Sichuan restaurants, but I don’t believe I’ve encountered peppercorns in the more Americanized Sichuan restaurants.

Now I want some. Don’t think I’ve ever experienced them.

Generally when eating Sichuan food you want to eat around the peppercorns. Biting in to them directly is a little to intense, and can cause stomach irritation.

I’ve come to like them in moderation. It’s kind of an extra dimension in taste for food. A Sichuan meal can fuck you up like nothing else- stumbling drunk from competitive toasting, tears rolling down your face from the hot peppers, and your lips numb and buzzing. It’s a total body experience.

I miss my host family’s cooking!

This is what was explained to me by a Sichuan chef from one of those Chinatown restaurants when I got a dish that must have had about three tablespoons of peppercorns in it.

I got a jar of them as a gift last year and tried them out on some noodles with pork I was making (toasted, crushed with a mortar and pestle and sprinkled all over the finished dish). I was wholly unprepared for the numb-y, tingly feeling.

Not unpleasant, but I haven’t wanted to try them since. I’ve never had anything like them and would like to try again, knowing what I’m in for.

There’s a variety of the same peppercorn that grows in India along the Konkan coast-we call them teppal (Konkani) or triphal (Marathi). It’s used mostly in goan fish curries to give them a particular aroma. They’re used differently so you don’t really get that mouth numbing sensation.

My parents were bringing them in for years. I didn’t realise until a few years ago that teppal is basically a variety of the sichuan peppercorn.

I don’t think they’re used in any other Indian cuisine than that of the Konkan coast. I wonder how they ended up there and not in other parts of India?

You left out the burning grand exit!

my first Sichuan hotpot experience with some wild tibetan truckdrivers in chengdu was an afernoon long event. one big hot pot full of boiling red water. wave after wave of different peppers were added for hours and of course handfuls of the dreaded peppercorns. whenever the water reduced, then more chili water. it was just inhumanely hot and all i could do was nibble all afternoon. The locals were scarfing it down like Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.

The Sichuan hot pot restaurant I went to was very good also. There was the spicy broth loaded with the peppercorns, and also a bland chicken broth or something. The two broths were in a divided pot shaped like the yin yang symbol. They told me that it had something to do with needing to eat the right balance of heating and cooling foods, and that in certain disease states, you need more of one than the other.