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Szechuan Peppercorns- Who piles them on?

ScotchandSirloin Feb 29, 2012 08:23 AM

I'm getting more and more obsessed with Szechuan peppercorns (Let me be the first to predict, unless others have done it first, that we are going to see these becoming a hip ingredient outside of Chinese restaurants soon). I'd love to know what what restaurants really put a ton of them on certain dishes. Ideally the dish would leave me with no feeling in my tounge for like 48-72 hours. I'm told you can put too much Szechuan peppercorn on a dish, but if you keep adding heat to offset the numbing, I'm not sure that is possible (but would like to find out). Thanks.

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  1. MC Slim JB RE: ScotchandSirloin Feb 29, 2012 08:34 AM

    I haven't seen the kind of mega-dosing you describe, but the last couple of times I felt really numb and mentholated was at Sichuan Gourmet in North Billerica and Thailand Cafe in Central Square (which, if you hadn't picked it up here by now, balances a crappy Thai menu with a very fine Sichuan menu). Dan dan noodles at the former, double-cooked pork belly at the latter.

    Sichuan Gourmet has three other outlets: Brookline, Framingham, and Sharon. I haven't been to the Sharon one, but I'd say the other two are quite similar to the original in terms of heat levels. You might have to lobby a bit more for heat in Brookline.


    4 Replies
    1. re: MC Slim JB
      Bob Dobalina RE: MC Slim JB Feb 29, 2012 08:37 AM

      Fuloon uses a pretty fair amount in some of their dishes.

      1. re: MC Slim JB
        ix9 RE: MC Slim JB Feb 29, 2012 05:44 PM

        have only been to sharon. love those charred almost black bird chilis. some dishes seemed a bit dry - not a prob with the spicy fish soup @ gourmet dumpling house, with a ~50% sichuan peppercon ~50% chili-pepper broth

        1. re: MC Slim JB
          Foodie_BBQ RE: MC Slim JB Mar 9, 2012 01:07 PM

          I've been going to the Sharon SG 3 or 4 times a month since it opened. For the locals... no more Chinatown or Alice's for me with SG available! I used to work near the Framingham SG (never been to Brookline or Billerica) and it's exactly the same food. The manager in Sharon told me early on that their goal was to exactly replicate the food across the restaurants.

          The spiciest thing I've eaten there are the Napa Cabage dishes (beef or Chix). The Hot & Sour soup is killer also - I've never finished a bowl. For great taste/med-high spice I recommend the Dan Dan Noodles, Sichuan Dumpling in Chili Sauce, and the Dried Chicken w/ Chili Sauce. All show the red pepper, but I assume have the ground peppercorn.

          Also, my kid loves the 5 Flavored Beef cold app. Anyone know what cut of meat that is? My guess is an organ, not a muscle.

          1. re: Foodie_BBQ
            KWagle RE: Foodie_BBQ Mar 10, 2012 01:56 AM

            I think their five flavor beef might be tongue--it often is. I've only had it once, so my memory is vague, but I'm pretty sure it's neither an organ nor smooth muscle (such as intestine, as opposed to striated muscle such as steak.)

            As for consistency, my experience is that the dishes at the three newer locations are pretty much the same, although Framingham has some specials that the others don't, and Brookine has even more of those. When last I spoke to Chef Liu (the master chef) he was splitting his time between Sharon and Framingham. Having an actual cook as a partner does seem to give the chain a reliability over the past 5 years that many other Chinese restaurants can't maintain for even a few months.

            (I've never been quite as happy with the original location--I feel as if the spicing is somewhat less complex and I don't get as much ma as I like. If I want a meal on the north side, I go to Sichuan Garden 2 or Chilli Garden.)

        2. Luther RE: ScotchandSirloin Feb 29, 2012 09:05 AM

          Search for KWagle's posts, he has a 麻 fetish and has made some very detailed posts about who does and doesn't pile it on.

          6 Replies
          1. re: Luther
            ScotchandSirloin RE: Luther Feb 29, 2012 10:32 AM

            Thanks guys. I was exaggerating about the no feeling in the tounge for 2 days thing, but KWagle's description of Chongqing chicken at Sichuan Garden seems promissing, as does Sichuan Gourmet. Now I just need to get over my aversion to ever leaving downtown.

            1. re: ScotchandSirloin
              ebaba RE: ScotchandSirloin Feb 29, 2012 12:25 PM

              The Chongqing chicken at New Shanghai in Chinatown packs a wallop and you can stay downtown -- the chicken is actually difficult to find buried in the mass of peppercorns.

              1. re: ebaba
                ScotchandSirloin RE: ebaba Feb 29, 2012 12:59 PM

                Oh, I like me some New Shanghai, but never had the Chongquing chicken there. Will try.

                1. re: ebaba
                  gourmaniac RE: ebaba Mar 1, 2012 07:07 AM

                  I like this dish and it does have a high number of red chili pepper pods but not so high in sichuan peppercorns (the little round guys) when I've had this dish. Their mapo tofu does have a good amount of these and there is that nice ma la tingle from that dish.

                  1. re: ebaba
                    melon RE: ebaba Mar 2, 2012 06:33 AM

                    I love New Shanghai but the last time I was there I got the Chongqing chicken and was a little disappointed. They really piled on the dried chilies and chili flakes, but there weren't a ton of peppercorns and not much flavor. There is another spicy chicken dish on the menu with virtually the same (English) name that has more ma la, fewer chili flakes. I think it's the "Stir Fried Chicken with Spicy Capsicum" or 三 椒 煸 雞

                  2. re: ScotchandSirloin
                    nsenada RE: ScotchandSirloin Feb 29, 2012 07:34 PM

                    I had that at SG Framingham. It was really excessive on the peppercorns. Made me realize the taste is similar to cardamom.

                2. l
                  liangpi RE: ScotchandSirloin Feb 29, 2012 10:44 AM

                  One of the Kind is not stingy with the ma la

                  One of the Kind
                  1095 Commonwealth Ave, Boston, MA 02134

                  1. chickendhansak RE: ScotchandSirloin Feb 29, 2012 12:42 PM

                    The "dry diced chicken with hot peppers" and the "chicken chong style" (preferred dish) at Zoe's usually have noticeable amounts. I'll take noticeable, because some places don't even manage that.

                    Personally I think they are more effective ground into a powder. When I make these kinds of dishes at home I amp up the recipes that call for whole peppercorns by also adding some ground powder to the dish.

                    1. c
                      Chef Bwana RE: ScotchandSirloin Feb 29, 2012 12:59 PM

                      If you really are into szechuan peppercorns, try making a vodka infusion. 1/2 tbsp to a pint ratio, steeped for a day, is a place to start. Try a splash in a martini.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Chef Bwana
                        Trumpetguy RE: Chef Bwana Feb 29, 2012 03:17 PM

                        I like your style, Chef!

                      2. j
                        joth68 RE: ScotchandSirloin Mar 1, 2012 06:39 AM

                        Chili Garden in Medford always leaves my mouth tingly and I have a pretty high tolerance. Try the cilantro and green pepper salad for some real zing.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: joth68
                          owades RE: joth68 Mar 1, 2012 09:59 AM

                          The dry bean curd and celery salad at Chilli Garden also does the trick.

                          Chilli Garden
                          41 Riverside Ave, Medford, MA 02155

                          1. re: owades
                            Aromatherapy RE: owades Mar 2, 2012 01:21 PM

                            yes, and it's peppercorn-only. The beef tongue app is analogous.

                        2. t
                          tamerlanenj RE: ScotchandSirloin Mar 1, 2012 10:03 AM

                          Which one is in Brookline Village (as opposed to St. Mary's). Sichuan Garden, right? Anyway, when I got the chonqking fried chicken it was literally smothered in those peppercorns. The waiters were laughing at me.

                          Also, I want to give a plug for Fu Loon's steamed beef sichuan style, a huge pot of beef, chilis, and peppercorns that would not be out of place at Hell Night.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: tamerlanenj
                            MC Slim JB RE: tamerlanenj Mar 1, 2012 02:13 PM

                            Brookline Village = Garden #2. (The superior, in my experience) #1 is N. Woburn, the old Baldwin House mansion. The very popular bartender from #1 is working on a Tiki-ish bar in the South End, in the basement of Jae's, to be called Hair of the Dog.

                            St. Mary's = Gourmet #3. #1 is N. Billerica, #2 is Framingham, #4 is Sharon.


                            1. re: MC Slim JB
                              tamerlanenj RE: MC Slim JB Mar 2, 2012 08:09 AM

                              Oy, that gave me a headache.

                          2. t
                            tamerlanenj RE: ScotchandSirloin Mar 1, 2012 10:07 AM

                            Here's a whole thread on the chonqking chicken at sichuan garden.


                            7 Replies
                            1. re: tamerlanenj
                              ScotchandSirloin RE: tamerlanenj Mar 1, 2012 10:24 AM

                              Anyone know what this dish is called at GDH, or if they even have it? They have something called D43 * 四川幹煸雞 Fried Chicken Szwchusan Style. Not sure if that translates correctly.

                              1. re: ScotchandSirloin
                                tammyh RE: ScotchandSirloin Mar 2, 2012 07:48 AM

                                That would be my guess ... best literal translation I can come up with is "sichuan dry-fried/stir-fried chicken."

                                1. re: ScotchandSirloin
                                  KWagle RE: ScotchandSirloin Mar 7, 2012 12:23 AM

                                  I don't think I've seen Chongqing chicken on the menu at GDH, but they will add absurd amounts of huajiao to anything, if you ask them to. I made this mistake at least once. Their twice cooked pork was excellent and could certainly stand up to the peppercorns. You'll want to learn the Chinese phrase "jia ma" which means "extra numbing." ("Jia la" means extra hot.)

                                  I did once get Chongqing chicken at Sichuan Garden *1* in Brookline. It was smothered in a red-pepper and huajiao paste which I saved and used on pizza. I don't think they make it this way in general, but they made it extra strong after I asked for the house special chicken (whose name I forget but it's on the laminated special menu) from Sichuan Garden *2* in Woburn. Unfortunately that was the only good thing about the Brookline experience, while the Woburn location has produced consistently good to great food, including some awesome tea-smoked duck.

                                  A bit further down nightsky mentions the gan guo beef at "Sichuan Gourmet" in Brookline. I had that in late January and it is indeed heavy on the huajiao. I didn't think it was good enough to order again, but I was glad to have had it once. The xiang la fish is not bad in this department, but the gan guo fish in Framingham is much better. I don't know if they have that at the other locations (they'll try to sell you the xiang la instead.) It's worth reiterating that Brookline now has some very good specials that are not available at the other locations.

                                  And, Chilli Garden in Medford has a consistently noticeable amount of huajiao in all of the dishes on their menu that are supposed to have it. It's not a mind numbing experience, but instead just the right amount, and you don't have to ask for it.

                                  BTW, if you want to be certain what dish you are actually getting (things like feiteng fish and shui zhu fish are quite similar, and of course translations are all over the map) it's worth learning to read some restaurant Chinese. Touch-based apps like eStroke and Pleco can make this task quite tractable. In fact, if I were writing this on my iPad I would include the Chinese in the text.

                                  1. re: KWagle
                                    jgg13 RE: KWagle Mar 9, 2012 12:07 PM

                                    There's an old book called something like "eaters guide to chinese". The one negative is that it doesn't have the simplified characters, but it's still interesting to poke through.

                                    1. re: jgg13
                                      KWagle RE: jgg13 Mar 9, 2012 12:30 PM

                                      I've owned that book for many years. It's much harder to use than an app with handwriting recognition or OCR. There's a newer book of the same sort called "Eating Out in China" which might be easier to use. The authors of that have been promising that "Chinese-English Menu Gude" is "due out shortly" for at least a year now.

                                      1. re: KWagle
                                        jgg13 RE: KWagle Mar 10, 2012 07:59 AM

                                        Yeah, I've been meaning to check out the various OCR based apps out there, which seems a lot easier than me pouring over some book w/ traditional characters.

                                        The benefit of the app-based approach is that they don't need to be specific to a single language.

                                        1. re: jgg13
                                          KWagle RE: jgg13 Mar 10, 2012 12:40 PM

                                          I suppose that's true, but in practice good apps don't try to do everything, but to do a few things well. Pleco is truly excellent and worth at least as much as you pay for its various components (only the basic dictionary is free) and for me has been worth the price of the hardware I run it on. (People apparently felt the same way about the Windows Mobile and Palm versions too.)

                              2. 9
                                9lives RE: ScotchandSirloin Mar 1, 2012 11:19 AM

                                Here's a pic of beef with Napa cabbage from Sichuan Garden in Brookline Village...covered with the peppercorns.

                                New Shanghai in CTown does a similar dish...oddly labelled as "Boiled Beef Fillet/red Pepper and bean Sprouts...B139 on my takeout menu...loaded with Szechuan peppercorns.

                                I think this is what you're looking for.

                                Many spicy dishes usethe charred bird chiles but the peppercorns have that numbing quality,,asGourmaniac says, "little round guys."

                                Give it a shot and you don't even have to leave downtown....:) I think you'll really enjoy it.


                                3 Replies
                                1. re: 9lives
                                  ScotchandSirloin RE: 9lives Mar 1, 2012 12:40 PM

                                  What is the spice that you see on the bottom rim of the bowl? (Very bottom of the picture)

                                  1. re: ScotchandSirloin
                                    Luther RE: ScotchandSirloin Mar 1, 2012 01:09 PM

                                    ground sichuan peppercorn

                                    1. re: Luther
                                      ScotchandSirloin RE: Luther Mar 1, 2012 02:10 PM

                                      That's what I thought. To my tounge I feel like the highly ground peppercorns tend to cause more of the numbing feeling then the little round guys.

                                2. h
                                  hargau RE: ScotchandSirloin Mar 1, 2012 03:43 PM

                                  I think many is this conversation are confusing the Szechuan peppercorns that look like this:
                                  with the peppers that look like thes

                                  Sichuan Gourmet for example uses a LOT of the 2nd one but not so much of the 1st.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: hargau
                                    nightsky RE: hargau Mar 1, 2012 08:25 PM

                                    Sichuan Gourmet has a generous amount of the peppercorns in Jiang La Fish Filet and Gan Guo Beef.

                                    I'm never sure what to do with the dried red chilies; do people eat these? I like the heat and smoky flavor they impart but eating them can be unpleasant due to the texture. They're often too numerous to pick out though.

                                    1. re: nightsky
                                      hargau RE: nightsky Mar 1, 2012 09:55 PM

                                      I eat some of the dried chilis but not all of them. Some dishes just have too many to eat them all. The flavor is mostly in the contents of them (the seeds).. so busting them up is often a good strategy if there are a lot of whole ones.

                                  2. s
                                    ScotchandSirloin RE: ScotchandSirloin Mar 9, 2012 11:21 AM

                                    I fought the "ma" and the "ma" won. I took KWagle's suggestion and asked for "jia ma" at GDH. After the waitress and the tw teenage girls at our table laughed at my accent (I'm not sure why I thought that since it was only 2 syllables I could get away with it), my dish came out with a TON of Szechan peppercorn. Needless to say, you can have too much of a good thing. On a different note, I want to highly recommend the Qing Dao spicy clams which we also had, but I can't because my tongue was so numb I'm not sure what they tasted like (actually, I'm pretty confident they were really good, but would love to hear from others who have had them in a less compromised state).

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: ScotchandSirloin
                                      Luther RE: ScotchandSirloin Mar 9, 2012 12:28 PM

                                      Not accent. Tones!

                                      1. re: ScotchandSirloin
                                        KWagle RE: ScotchandSirloin Mar 9, 2012 12:33 PM

                                        I made the mistake with the shredded pork and potatoes.

                                        It seems to me that the cook should know whether a dish *should* be ma or not. That's what I pay him for, after all. But that never seems to work, which is why I end up preferring places like "Thailand Cafe" and possibly "New Shanghai" where they clearly just don't care if their American customers enjoy their meal and come back. Other places like "Sichuan Gourmet" do care about that and admit they pull their punches if they don't know you.

                                        1. re: ScotchandSirloin
                                          Bob Dobalina RE: ScotchandSirloin Mar 9, 2012 12:46 PM

                                          Google translates "jia ma" as "overweight" - that's a good one...

                                          Among the other translations:

                                          jia = Home, plus, false, price, good....

                                          ma = Horse, you, well, curse, mom...

                                          1. re: Bob Dobalina
                                            KWagle RE: Bob Dobalina May 3, 2012 04:06 PM

                                            Surely you don't mean that Google translates 加麻 as "overweight"?!?

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