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Mar 17, 2010 05:07 PM

Ma La Props: A Sichuan Chowdown at S&W Pepperhouse in Burnaby.

S&W Pepperhouse (two locations) serves up some of the most robust and authentic Sichuan food in the area. The strong, bright, spicy flavours of the dishes were well matched by the skilled, yet rustic, no-nonsense presentation of the dishes.

Our table asked for the dishes "hot", and the kitchen delivered dishes replete with chilies and Sichuan peppercorns. Some of the diners were surprised that the dishes didn't seem "hot" - which can be partially explained by palate numbing effects of the Sichuan Peppercorns (called "ma la" in Chinese). Dishes which were literally swimming in a pool of lava hot chilies were actually quite easy to eat. Many lesser Sichuan joints omit the peppercorns and often add chili paste which makes dishes unbearably hot - thus overwhelming more subtle flavours. Good Sichuan cooking manages to retain all these nuances with a well-balanced heat.

We ordered the following:

Peanut-Cilantro appetizer, Shredded Potato appetizer, Twice-Cooked Pork, Chili-Chicken ("Chongqing Chicken") with Puffed Rice, Cumin Lamb, and the very spicy Pig's Blood and Offal Stew ("Feather, Blood, Prosperity" - but using pork blood instead of the traditional duck blood. (I think this dish was not on the menu.)

Their use of fresh ingredients (including a very good fresh Tilapia - often typically muddy in flavour and mushy in texture) elevates even the most simple of the dishes. The spicy and tart Peanut-Cilantro appetizer tasted complex and addicting despite its simplistic preparation.

The Tilapia dish was mentioned in a recent Conde Nast article as the "Single best culinary reason to fly to Vancouver" ( All hyperbole aside, it was a very good dish. Fresh deep-fried tilapia buried in relish similar to the Peanut-Cilantro appetizer.

The most challenging dish was the off-menu mao xue wang - Pig's Blood and Offal Stew (correct me if I'm wrong DylanK - I wasn't sure what this dish was exactly) - which is a stew of pork blood cubes, various offal, and Chinese house-made "spam". Delicious if you can stomach the stomach.

Just a few years ago, I was lamenting on the lack of authentic Sichuan cuisine here in town, but I am glad to say that things are definitely changing for the better. We now have quite a number of worthy restaurants - some I have yet to fully explore.


S & W Pepper House
4500 Kingsway, Burnaby, BC V5H2A9, CA

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  1. Great report! The food looks fantastic. I need a dose of "ma la" very soon!

    1. All those peppers are crazy! Looks so good though. Hmmm... the mao xue wang sounds like the Filipino dinuguan. Are they similar? If so, all of you should get the dinuguan badge by proxy. BTW clever title for thread

      9 Replies
      1. re: el_lobo_solo

        The blood is cubed (just like in a bun bo hue)...whereas dinuguan has the blood completely mixed in so the soup is black (as you know). There is a special Chowhound badge for pig stomach need it to get your Offal Sash.

        1. re: fmed

          This was a fun and informative meal for us. I thought the food here was better than at the Richmond location which we had tried the week before, but I am beginning to think that Sichuan is not my favourite style of Chinese cooking. I find some of the flavours too earthy and while I enjoy the tingle caused by the hua jiao I don't absolutely love the flavour of Sichuan peppercorn. That is taking nothing away from the quality of ingredients (fresher than at Rmd) and skill of cooking, just a personal preference. I think I will have to try the thousand chile chicken at Hot Luck as fmed has reported it has the facing heaven chiles and is also boneless which I like better. My favourite version of this dish so far is at Peaceful, where the peppercorns are always fresh and the chicken bone free. Thanks again fmed for organizing -- you are contributing to my modest knowledge base at each meal!

          PS I did not indulge in the tripe but I did try the pig stomach. I would like a blue sash please :-).

          1. re: grayelf

            Well...not that I want to know but I have to ask...what did the tummy taste like?

            1. re: ck1234

              It is "porky" with a bit of subtle "barnyard". The texture is soft and squishy with a just bit of resistance as you bite into it....almost like biting into a dental sponge. Sounds great doesn't it?! (I like it).

              1. re: fmed

                That description was a little too good fmed! Ewwww! I just noticed, the chowhound time clock on posts is still an hour behind, it did not spring ahead!

                1. re: fmed

                  Concurring with fmed -- deffo a bit of bunny hutch about it. Actually quite pleasing though (if you like pork) and less off putting in texture than say squid can be. Dunno if I'll be ordering up a big ol' plate of pig intestines anytime soon but it definitely lent itself to the dish, absorbing the flavours of the broth it was in. I really wish I had tried the "spam" but I missed out by taking too long to go fishing for it :-).

                  1. re: grayelf

                    The Flame Tossed Chitterlings at Peaceful are absolutely delicious, and are exactly what you described... a big ol' plate of pig intestines!

              2. re: grayelf

                If you do try Hotluck...make sure to have the Smoked Bacon with Smoked Tofu appetiser. Killer!

                (I should probably put this in a new thread.)

                1. re: fmed

                  Duly (or should I say drooly) noted, fmed. That looks like a grayelf-style dish for sure :-). Do we have it in us to do another Sichuan restaurant? If so, I say Hot Luck for a 'mini-down...

          2. The big bowl of guts is maoxuewang 毛血旺-- when I ordered it last night I said, guixuewang 鬼血旺, which is a less standard name for it, and the waitress was like, "Oh, you mean maoxuewang!" The barnyard flavor that someone mentioned comes from the dachang 大肠, large intestine, which is the star of the photograph, the big lumpy white thing. I'm usually not a big fan of dachang. It usually stinks even worse. But it's good when it's boiled forever and then dunked in chili oil.

            I'm not an expert on this stuff and this is just from a quick Google: Maoxuewang is from a town outside of Chongqing called Ciqikou. You know, someone could open a Ciqikou restaurant and fill a menu with local specialties. It's got a long food history. Anyways, the story is that, during the 1930s, a woman who ran a place that sold boiled sheep and oxen guts boiled with pork head meat tossed some blood into her mix one day and history was made. I was happy that S+W Pepperhouse had it on the menu.

            The meal was really good and I'd say everything hit the notes it should have! Good company, too. And thanks to Fmed for the invite. Hope we can do it again soon.

            1 Reply
            1. re: DylanLK

              Thanks DylanLK for the confirmation. I had to Google to find out what the dish was called and I Googled right.

              I'm thinking of hitting Chuan Xiang Ge soon actually. PM me if you are in.

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