Sichuan Pepper – Huang Fei Hong

The Sichuan Pepper or Szechuan Peppercorn is a unique breed of spice. When eaten, it gives, not a spicy, nor savory flavor, but a distinguishing mouth numbing feel. This unsettling feeling is the basis for Sichuan Cuisine. Known as Chuan Cai (川菜), without the “Si”, is one of the 8 great Chinese Cuisines. I recently visited Yuxin, in Shanghai, for some of the best Sichuan cuisine.

Not really a peppercorn, since it looks like one, it is really is a spice, but often categorized as a spice, in its usage. It is called Hua Jiao 花椒.  This pepper has to be roasted for a bit to bring out its numbing taste/feel.

Lately, I have had a fascination with this strange but addicting spice. I have had this kick for this snack call Huang Fei Hong – named after a famous Chinese hero with the same moniker. Inside these snack bags, are peanuts, red peppers, and sichuan peppers. After ripping opening the bag, I will see ignore the peanuts and red peppers and go after the sichuan peppers, alone. I could pop a few of these in my mouth every 15 minutes or so. I think this physical addiction is similar to that of illegal substances or drugs, since after awhile you kinda crave this feel. You can find this snack in various stores in and out Shanghai – and I’m sure all over China.

Heck, you can even purchase them online in the US at

Yuxin 渝信川菜 [Shanghai]

Oh god, this place is good. Yuxin Sichuan Cuisine is where Sichuaners’ go to eat Sichuan food.

To be honest. . . I wasn’t a big fan of spicy food, or heck mouth numbing spicy sichuan food, before I moved to China. But after awhile, I realized that spicy food is actually pretty good. I almost crave for it. The thing about Chinese food is that it is all about taste. Not presentation – like the Japanese, nor heartiness, as Korean cuisine is. Hence, the delicate flavor, as I have said many times, and mouth feel experience, with the variety of different textures, has been the key aspect of Chinese cuisine.

Though a friend recommended this place, I still felt I had to do a little background research. Some of the expat sites indicated that people from Sichuan would go to Yuxin for a taste of their hometown cuisine. After reading that, it was determined. Oh this occasion, with some out of town friends, I found my reason.

The modest restaurant, located in an indoor shopping center, didn’t have the opulence of South Beauty or Lan. But on this weekday evening, the mostly Chinese and non-expat crowd, had filled the restaurant. I think Yuxin also has a couple other locations in and around the city.

The speciality of Yuxin is the famed mala spicy fish. Served in a big bowl, with vegetables, red peppers, and sichuan peppers swimming a oily clear broth. Though it seemed oily, it didn’t have the gross oily taste. The sliced fish, with only a few bones, decorated this great presentation. Lookingly spicy, it really was more Mala – meaning more mouth numbing that anything. The fish had the melded taste of the peppers, sichuan peppers, and vegetables. It was the long awaited last dish of the night.

In explaining what Mala from the resulting Sichuan pepper, it is a taste sense or almost a new flavor profile in itself. The sichuan pepper is slightly larger than a black peppercorn. Though only the husk is used, rather than the inner seeds. The husk produces a slight and temporary mouth numbing feel. In fact, I kinda like that mouth numbing feel. It almost mimics drug like addiction – since it is a sensory feeling.

Another dish that I liked was the steamed chicken in the spicy red sauce. The light chicken contrasted well with the thick spicy sauce. Known as Poor People Chicken, was served with mostly white meat.

I hope to return, soon. Yuxin is great for groups that like the spicy and numbing Sichuan food.


Yuxin Sichuan Cuisine Shanghai
ZhaoShangJu Square, 3F, Chengdu BeiLu No. 333, JingAn District, Shanghai +86 21-52980438