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Apr 19, 2011 12:09 PM

Anywhere local to buy Sichaun Peppercorns?

Surprisingly I've never been able to find these at 99 Ranch. Even when I ask for "Ma La" the workers say that they don't carry them. Does anyone know of another store in San Diego where I can find Sichaun Peppercorns and/or other ingredients for Sichaun cooking?

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  1. I have bought Sichuan peppercorns at Ranch 99 several months ago and have seen them on many visits. They are in the aisle with the other spcies in 1/2 lb bags.

    8 Replies
    1. re: honkman

      Interesting. Last time I was I looked up and down the spice aisle and didn't see them. I'll have to take another look I guess. Thanks.

      1. re: mliew

        Not surprising, it's very hit and miss at Ranch 99 with this product, and most times a miss. But when you do time it right you'll find more than you'll ever need for what seems like too low a price...

        However here's a tip: you'll find it in very consistent supply at Nijiya Market. I don't recall off-hand what was written on the packaging, but it could very well have said something like "Sansho no Mi", which means the seed of the Sansho. But it won't be Romanized so you'll have to recognize the Kanji...

        It's sold right where all of the regular Sansho is sold, but packaged completely differently. Look for lightweight and flat sealed plastic packs of perhaps only several ounces, with a viewable window with the whole Szechuan peppercorns inside. I actually never used the pack I bought at Nijiya, but gave it to a friend since I found the much larger pack at Ranch 99. But I can assure you that it's the same thing...

        Nijiya Market
        3860 Convoy St # 109, San Diego, CA

        1. re: cgfan

          Thanks for the great tip cgfan :-). I would never think they would carry them at Japanese supermarkets. As long as I can see the actual peppercorns I think I should be able to identify them even if I can't recognize the Kanji.

          As a side note are Sichaun peppercorns used in Japanese cooking? I've never seen them in any dish before.

          1. re: mliew

            Yes and no; I don't know of any use of the whole Szechuan peppercorn as one sees in Szechuan cooking, but the crushed/powdered form of the berry is in widespread use and is called Sansho. It shows up most often as the preferred condiment to sprinkle on top of an Unagi Donburi (fresh water eel rice bowl), but can be used anywhere where its unique fragrance and lemony taste is a benefit.

            It is also one of the 7 ingredients in the traditional Shichimi Togarashi, which can be used in many applications such as sprinkled into one's dipping sauce for Soba, or on top of a Oyako Donburi (chicken and egg rice bowl).

            The trick, though, to getting a good Sansho or Shichimi Togarashi is freshness, something that is hard to come by stateside. However I'm now starting to see some very well packaged product come in multi-ply foil packs, though I haven't tried them. I'm sure they'll be quite good. In Japan it's quite easy to get them from a specialty shop or even custom made (in the case of Shichimi).

            Another culinary use is in Kinomi, which is the small leaves of the prickly ash tree. This is most often used in Osuimono, or clear broth soups.

            1. re: mliew

              I just thought of one more culinary use in Japanese cuisine, perhaps in a rather surprising way...

              The typical mortar and pestle used in Japan, the Suribachi and Surikogi, uses the wood from the prickly ash for the pestle, mainly for its aromatic qualities, but to a lesser extent for the flavor that it imparts. A good sign you have a traditional prickly ash pestle would be the bark that is typically left on most of the length of the actual pestle, and its uneven, organic profile.

              1. re: mliew

                BTW here's a picture I took on a recent trip to Nijiya. It's packaged as "Sansho no Mi" in Kanji ("山椒の実").

                1. re: cgfan

                  Awesome! Thanks for the picture, that should help a lot. :)

          2. re: honkman

            I've never bought them myself, but I'm pretty sure I saw them in the place where honkman is describing.

            On a separate note, I've found Tuan Phat (sp?) market in Linda Vista is larger and tends to have more selection than Ranch 99.

          3. Just to be clear, Szechuan peppercorn in Mandarin is "hua jiao" (Cantonese = "fa jiew"). You might have more luck at 99 Ranch asking for it that way.

            "Ma la" is the feeling you get from eating them, although it can refer to various mixtures containing Szechuan peppercorns.

            3 Replies
            1. re: shouzen

              Ah thanks. I'm an ABC so my Chinese is pretty bad :). Will try to remember that for next time.

              1. re: mliew

                If it makes you feel better, I'm so out of practice that my Chinese vocabulary has devolved to ingredients, dish names and expletives :)

                1. re: shouzen

                  So just the essentials then? :)

            2. I made a special trip to Ranch 99 a couple weeks ago specifically for sichuan peppercorns. I turned that place upside down and could not find them. I then made attempts to communicate with staff. In the end I was able to piece together that they have not had them in a while and did not know when they would get them again. boo!
              This forced me to go home and tear up the kitchen to find the stockpile I had tucked away. Luckily these things seem to last pretty long, so my chicken came out great.