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Nov 11, 2010 05:37 PM

Can't seem to find authentic Sichuan in NYC - Where's the ma 麻???

Hey Everyone. I spent a year in China, a month of which was in Sichuan and Yunnan provinces. As expected, I became addicted to the "ma" (tingling, soapy-numbing) in the food.

However, I have been searching for ma ever since I got back and haven't found it. I tried a few places in Brooklyn and one place in Chinatown (never been to any of the Grand Sichuans, though). Now I live in Astoria, and I just got back from Flushing. Long story short, I got the twice cooked pork at Spicy & Tasty, then went over to Little Pepper. Nothing. At Little Pepper, I even spoke to the owner - in Chinese - and explained that I loved BOTH hot and numbing food, and could she please recommend something. She pointed to a lamb dish, and I said fine.

What the heck's going on? In Shanghai, not to mention Chengdu, every time I ordered Sichuanese cuisine I was smacked in the face with the ma. Around here, it seems lost. The flavors are fine, the heat is fine, but...

Can anyone empathize? Am I just unlucky? Are my standards too unreasonable? I've seen the huajiao peppercorns sold around here, so I know they're around.

Anyone have any suggestions?


Little Pepper
133-43 Roosevelt Ave, Queens, NY 11354

Spicy & Tasty
39-07 Prince St, Queens, NY 11354

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  1. Twice cooked pork doesn't have Sichuan peppercorns which cause the numbing-tingly sensation. I'm confused as to why you ordered it if that's what you wanted.

    Here's a review of Spicy & Tasty that indicates which dishes use the Sichuan peppercorns (a lot of them don't):

    Have you tried Chengdu Heaven?

    Spicy & Tasty
    39-07 Prince St, Queens, NY 11354

    5 Replies
    1. re: kathryn

      Well, I'm not familiar enough with the inner machinations of creating Sichuan cuisine to know which exact dishes contain the peppercorns and which do not. It just seemed that, in the past, whenever I ordered something Sichuanese, there they were. I've even tried cooking with huajiao peppers at home, but after many experiments (is ma fat soluble or water soluble?), I couldn't manage to extract the sensation from the peppercorns.

      Thanks so much for the info. I meant to stop by Chengdu Heaven tonight, but after my little culinary tour (I also popped into Nanxiang Xiaolongbao to see if the xiaolongbao were like the ones in Shanghai - they were delicious!), my stomach convinced me otherwise. Definitely next time.

      1. re: bht2109

        If you're curious about recreating the dishes you loved, pick up a copy of Fuschia Dunlop's Land of Plenty! She does a great job describing things like "The 23 Flavors of Sichuan" and "The 56 Cooking Methods of Sichuan," which explain the cuisine. BTW, in traditional Sichuan cooking, many dishes begin with heating oil, then dumping a bunch of peppercorns in to flavor the oil, then discarding them.

        Please report back if you get to Chengdu Heaven!

        1. re: kathryn

          Wow, I would LOVE to be able to cook my own Sichuanese at home. Thanks so much for the book tip!

          I'll check back in on this thread once I head over to Chengdu Tianfu. I've heard that their lamb is to die for, and given that lamb is my absolute favorite red meat, my journey there will surely be soon.


          1. re: kathryn

            That's right! Also the Sichuan Peppercorns can be dry roasted in a pan and then pulverized in a food processor.

            1. re: kathryn

              Yeah, all of Fuschia's books are great. They really helped me pick up my game in home cooking Sichuan and regional Chinese foods.

        2. There is a Szechuan Gourmet in Flushing and one in Manhattan in the '30's just east of Broadway which should suit you.

          Szechuan Gourmet
          135-15 37th Ave, Queens, NY 11354

          1. In the Golden mall, there is a place called Ma's Hot & Numbing. Not sure of the booth number but google it and it will pop up on some blog w/a map and menu.

            1 Reply
            1. There is ma la huo guo at I-baidu. At Spicy Tasty simply request they increase the ma la. The dishes I have tried at Little Red Pepper have more capsaicin than ma la and I can sympathize because I've requested heavy ma la at LRP and been disappointed by the lack of floral szechuan peppercorn. Tung Shing House has a chef that makes excellent use of ma la, some dishes have fresh szechuan pepper (very fragrant).

              Tung Shing House
              97-45 Queens Blvd, Queens, NY 11374

              2 Replies
              1. re: Pookipichu

                Tung Shing House still holding it down??? No way. I love hearing that.

                Tung Shing House
                97-45 Queens Blvd, Queens, NY 11374

                1. re: Pookipichu

                  Where and when did this idea that "ma la" refers to the flavor of 花椒 (the so-called Sichuan peppercorn) begin to arise? I first encountered it in Todd Kliman's article about Peter Chang, but it seems to be more commonplace than that.

                  If you look up the words in question, you'll discover that 辣 (la) is the flavor produced most commonly by capsaicin--what Americans call hot--and in fact hot peppers are often referred to as 辣椒 (la jiao.) 花椒 does not produce that sensation--it's never 'la' any more than sugar is sour.

                  If you want the numbing produced by huajiao, namely 麻, you may get further if you ask for your food 加 麻 (jia ma for extra ma) rather than 麻辣 which is often generically interpreted as "spicy".

                2. Both Udu Hotpot in Flushing and Grand Sichuan House in Bay Ridge have dishes with which the ma la cup floweth over.

                  Grand Sichuan House
                  8701 5th Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11209

                  Udu Cafe
                  37-04 Prince St, Queens, NY 11354