My neighborhood Chinese restaurant (Columbia Cottage, 111 & Amsterdam) boasts a respectable Sichuan and Shanghai menu and I have found their dishes to be above par for adventurousness and heat for a restaurant north of Houston Street. On the Sichuan side, though, I have only found a couple of dishes made with Sichuan peppercorns, which I love, and want to try the rest. I have tried asking for Sichuan peppercorns, describing the peppercorns themselves, and asking for "ma" and "ma la." Not getting through. Can someone advise me (short of taking a handful of peppercorns with me) how to phrase my question? Thanks!
I would like to make one clarification.
When referring to Szechuan Peppercorns, you may want to remove the character 鹽 or 盐 (yan) and just say 花椒 (huajiao)... because 鹽 means "salt" and Szechuan Peppercorn Salt (花椒鹽 / "huajiaoyan") is often used in deep fried dishes as a dipping salt/condiment. For Szechuan cooking, Szechuan peppercorns (minus the salt) and red pepper are mixed with heated oil to make the hot and spicy "red oil" (紅油 / "hongyou"), which is used in dishes such as Dan Dan Noodle, Spicy Szechuan Wontons or other cold appetizers (like Red Oil with Tripes or Red Oil with cold mung bean jelly, etc). Other times, they are just mashed up and fried in oil as part of a hot and spicy dish.
I thought I will point it out to you....otherwise the waiter/waitress you speak to might bring you a fried fish or meat with a small dish of Szechuan Peppercorn Salt for dipping instead.
Wouldn't you just be better off going to one of many excellent sichuan places in Manhattan? As kathryn notes, most are located north of Houston.
I'm just a beginning student of Chinese, but you probably want to say something like:
translation: I really like the flavor of Sichuan peppercorns. Do you have other dishes with Sichuan peppercorns?
Don't bother trying to pronounce it, Chinese is a tonal language (with tons of regional variation) and you need a little instruction to get something understandable. Just print out the characters and show them.