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 Amazon.com.