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Szechuan: all of the heat without the numbing effect?

I have a quandry when it comes to Szechuan cuisine, which is that I *love* the fiery hot chili-pepper element and the other flavors of these spicy dishes, but I just have not come to appreciate the numbing influence of the sichuan pepper. I have tried on numerous occasions to "get it", but it really has not improved for me - I just don't like it.

So my question is, can anyone recommend authentic Szechuan dishes that have all of the heat and complex flavors but lack the numbness? Alternately, is there a way to order dishes that are traditionally numbing with that aspect alone toned down? I have tried to broach the topic with our top-notch local establishement, but I wasn't able to get my point accross effectively.

I know to some this is an abominable question - my apologies in advance.

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  1. Instead of trying to find dishes that (1) don't have the numbing effect or (2) have a toned down numbing effect, I would suggest ordering other dishes that counterbalance the intrinsic spiciness of Sichuan cuisine.

    Try bitter melon -- either in soup or as a stir-fry. The bitterness of the melon acts as a natural "cooling agent" to the spiciness of the food.

    Also, try some of the braised dishes -- like pork and pork rump that are braised in a sweet, soy sauce concoction. One such dish is "Mao Tze-Dong Roast Pork".

    1 Reply
    1. re: ipsedixit

      "Mao Tze-Dong Roast (or braised) Pork" is a Hunan dish, not Sichuan. (Mao grew up in Hunan.) You'll often few a couple of Hunan dishes in Sichuan restaurants.

    2. There are a few dishes I've ordered at Szcechuan Gourmet (in NYC) that were spicy (kind of) but with no peppercorns -- braised fish with Szechuan chili miso, sauteed prawns with pork and asparagus, double cooked sliced pork belly with leeks, braised fish filets with tofu. I mention the specific restaurant because I'm not sure if there are variations with the restaurants out there.

      One thing is Mabo tofu in an authentic Szechuan resturant has peppercorns. In a non-Szechuan place -- it depends.

      1. When I lived with a girl from Sichuan, she cooked the peppercorns in hot oil with aromatics, took them out, then continued the dish. She said that they were there to flavor, not be eaten. If she didn't get all of them out, she would leave them on the rim of her plate as though they were bones. They still leave a bit of the numbing sensation, anyway.

        1. You could try saying, "Bu Tai Ma" - (not too numbing).

          1 Reply
          1. re: trentyzan

            Excellent - I will try that next time. Here's hoping I get the pronunciation right (with my luck, it will come out as, "I'd like live eels with that" ;-)


          2. I think if it is a szechuan place, then it is probably szechuan peppercorns providing the numb. Perhaps you can bring pictures with you. One pic of szechuan peppercorns with a line through and one pic of chili peppers with a check mark.

            1 Reply
            1. re: sweetie

              Looks like you answered my concern (below) before I even wrote it. Clever!

            2. What you're experiencing is "Szechuan Peppercorns," a spice being used with a much freer hand due to the new passion for 'authentic Szechuan.' They're a passion of mine, but definitely not to everyone's taste (they even make your tea taste 'fizzy'.)

              Anyway, I don't know how to ask in Chinese to have it omitted, but I'm sure there's a way - and I especially don't know how to ask in English, Chinese or anything else, how to explain that I like my food spicy, but with different spices.

              3 Replies
              1. re: wayne keyser

                Another reason we are seeing (eating) more Sichuan peppercorns these days is that, for a good while, they couldn't be imported to the US due to, IIRC, some insect issue. That problem was resolved a couple of years ago, and now they are easy to get, and thus considerably more common.

                1. re: johnb

                  It was a plant based disease, and IIRC the actual sichuan peppercorn never really had the disease, but related plants did.

                2. re: wayne keyser

                  Wayne, I like the "prickly ash" for its own sake, too, but another thing I've discovered is that it actually helps to alleviate the pain of capsaicin overload, i.e. too much chile pepper! I've gotten into the habit of keeping a good helping of our favorite Sichuan restaurant's pork ribs with prickly ash on my plate when I'm having a particularly hot other dish, such as any of the innocuous-sounding "water boiled" items.

                3. Some dishes, like dry fried green beans, can be prepared with or without the 花椒 huā jiāo, Sichuan pepper. Just depends on what recipe the cook is using. you can ask for them to use less with 少 一点 花椒. shào yīdiăn huā jiāo, or to leave it out with 请 不 用 花椒 qĭng bù yòng huā jiāo.