HOME > Chowhound > San Francisco Bay Area >


The Real Thing - Looking for a restaurant that cooks with Szechuan Peppercorn.

There are plenty of Chinese restaurants with Szechuan in their name and on their menus, but they almost never actually use this exotically floral and hot spice. I realize that most of the Chinese food in the US is heavily influenced by southern China where many immigrants came from, but I'm dying for some authentically prepared Szechuan dishes with real Szechuan peppercorn. Anyone know of a restaurant worth recommending?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Where have you tried that you didn't find what you're looking for?

    1. have you tried z&y? interesting if you don't consider them authentic.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Dustin_E

        Wow. Thanks! I didn't know about Z&Y. Looks just like the grub I had my first night In Chengdu. (I also had an unforgettable hot pot dinner with eel blood smeared on the plates.)

        1. re: the_dying_gaul

          Sichuan peppercorns aren't in every Sichuan dish, so if that's specifically what you're looking for, make sure to ask the servers for dishes that have lots of "ma la" (numbing spiciness). Also, put on your phone or memorize this combination of characters for Málà : 麻辣 . They're typically at the beginning of a dish's name, and sometimes differentiate the traditional version of a dish versus the westernized.

          1. re: the_dying_gaul

            fish in flaming chili oil
            spicy special tofu
            dan dan mien

            are dishes i often get, that have this numbing sensation.

            green onion pancake
            beef pancake roll
            shrimp with egg yolk

            are dishes there that i like that don't have the numbing sensation, but might be a nice counter-point to some of the dishes i mentioned above.

            there are also full threads in the archives about what to order at z&y.

            you seem to know this type of cuisine, so please report back what you liked if you give it a try.

        2. You might have to specifically ask your waiter for the chef to use more of the spice. I would not call it hot, it is strangely alkaline/chemical, tastes like anise, and makes your tongue tingle. I can see why they don't use a lot of it when preparing food for non-chinese or even chinese people not from sichuan. When I was in china I regularly got soups etc with 20 of those little devils floating in them and I just could not eat it and I am a person known for his love of extremely spicy food.

          1. I'm surprised that you don't see it around, but then I live five minutes from China Village in Albany, where it's a staple ingredient.

            1. I've had great dan dan noodles at Bund Shanghai. I assume other of their dishes use Sichuan peppercorns. I've never found them lacking in appropriate dishes.

              1. All of the Spices! franchises, China Village, Z&Y and Little Sichuan to name a few.
                This link will lead you to the many places that use Szechuan Pepper in the Bay Area,

                1. Da Sichuan in Palo Alto, if you really like the tingling, ask for extra peppercorns.

                  1. Spicy Empire in San Mateo. As others have noted, it doesn't hurt to specifically mention you want the peppers. I think a lot of people don't like the numbing sensation and/or don't understand it's part of the way the dish is supposed to be.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                      I can see where the numbing sensation could be a bit disconcerting if you didn't know what was happening :) It's my fave part.

                      1. re: c oliver

                        Agreed, there's nothing quite like it...

                    2. Chili Garden in Milpitas.

                      BTW, if you do like it, buy some "Huangfeihong spicy snack peanuts" from Chinese supermarket, it contained some very good quality Szechuan peppercorn, really spicy and addiction!(of course I meant the peanuts, don't put peppercorn in mouth directly...)

                      Seems Amazon have it: http://www.amazon.com/HuangFeiHong-Sp...

                      11 Replies
                      1. re: yasker

                        Looking forward to trying this! Cheers!

                        1. re: yasker

                          I am addicted to these. We eat them with cocktails and there is an interesting interaction with the drink.

                          1. re: yasker

                            Holy cow, yasker, you weren't kidding about the quality of the Sichuan peppercorns. The peanuts are pretty good, and when I got to the bottom of the package, I found brightly colored opened husks of red and green Sichuan peppercorns. A single green one numbed my entire mouth and throat for several minutes. These are higher quality than than what's on most US shelves and/or restaurants.

                            There's MSG, chilies, and salt in this product, but it wouldn't be wrong to fry these up as aromatics for a dish.

                            1. re: hyperbowler

                              hpb or yasker: if you still have the pkg from the peanuts, could you snap a pix for me? Also at which store did you find them? I too am addicted to the ma la thing & would like to try them. Picture of pkg is usually very helpful...

                              Also, tks for the characters to look for in menu item names!

                              1. re: RWCFoodie

                                RWCFoodie, just check above amazon link or google for "huangfeihong peanuts", there are tons of picture for it. :)

                                1. re: yasker

                                  Tks yasker, I didn't notice the Amazon link...

                              2. re: hyperbowler

                                Haha, I glad you like it. I was very disappointed by quality of the Sichuan peppercorns in the US's supermarket(even in Chinese ones), but later found this Huangfeihong peanuts, then I was very satisfied.

                                For a quite period of time, I always have a small box of dry chili and Sichuan peppercorn(leftover from the peanuts) in the kitchen, ready for really hot dishes. :P

                                1. re: yasker

                                  You can sometimes find them at 99 ranch market in Richmond. But be careful because there are similar looking nuts that are not as good. According to a friend of mine the Huangfeihong peanuts are from a part of China famous for high quality peanuts.

                                  1. re: Ridge

                                    Tks Ridge, I'll look for them - I took a screen shot of the Amazon product to help with the hunt...

                              3. re: yasker

                                When whole peppercorns are in snacks or in dishes, are people expected to not eat them? I was wondering about that because just one peppercorn is pretty overwhelming. I can't imagine eating the 30 or so that are in some dishes.

                                1. re: sfchris

                                  Just as a general comment, Sichuanese cooking authors (including the Mrs Chiang whose recipes were translated by the Schreckers in a famous 1976 US cookbook) remark that in slow-cooked dishes like stews, the whole spice is sometimes used, while in quick-made dishes like ma po tofu (doufu) or dàn dàn miàn, the hua jiao more often is roasted and ground, then sprinkled on, sometimes as a final touch. The latter is how I see it in some dishes from good Bay Area Sichuanese chefs. It is easy to do at home also.

                                  See also current thread on ma po tofu, one of the best-known of all Sichuanese dishes using this spice: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/922472

                                  Part of the confusion created by the "peppercorn" nickname in English is that hua jiao's subtly aromatic and numbing flavor (which isn't "hot," though often it is combined with hot peppers in Sichuanese recipes, creating the one-two punch described so well in the Chiang cookbook) is in the outer husk of the peppercorn-like seed kernel. The kernel by itself can seem gritty and distracting unless long-cooked or ground up, as above.

                              4. You might also look into Japanese restaurants that have dishes with sansho pepper, a sichuan peppercorn relative that's even more citrusy. Nojo in Hayes Valley serves some crushed sansho pepper in a heap for dipping next to their "chicken thigh oyster."

                                  1. gaul, such restaurants are all over the Bay Area and have been since the 1970s. All you need is to find restaurants with Sichuanese chefs (not all such restaurants bill themselves as Sichuanese _restaurants_). I have been recommending places for years in the S. Bay and lower peninsula, such as Chef Zhao Bistro in MV (one year old, VERY skilled Sichuanese chef). I also have cooked with this spice for many years at home. If necessary (and it often is NOT necessary), emphasize to the servers that you like the dish (e.g. ma po tofu or dàn dàn miàn) done authentic Sichuan style and that you like "hua jiao."

                                    And for some particular mentions of it in restaurants, search THIS board under "hua jiao" or variations on that spelling (pinyin), such as hua qiao. It's the real name of the spice.

                                    I've always disliked the badly misleading nickname Sichuan "peppercorn" (one Chinese spice packager even labels them in English "Black Peppercorn" which is more confusing still.) It isn't a pepper plant, isn't hot (it's a citrus seed, the plant is also called prickly ash), and the part of it with the flavor and intense citrus aroma isn't even the seed kernel, but its leaflike hull.

                                    The dried spice itself is in most Chinese markets. Chinese herbal stores also routinely carry them in bulk.

                                    (The "Southern Chinese" tradition in US restaurants was historically true, going back to SF's Canton shipping trade and Chinatown in the 1860s-70s. But starting in the 1960s, large new waves of immigrants from agriculturally rich provinces -- not just Canton, but Sichuan and Hunan -- began opening restaurants, which rapidly diversified the Bay Area Chinese restaurant repertoire. I watched it happen. That also incidentally led to a new diversity of recipes in Chinese cookbooks for US readers, conspicuous after 1970. I have many of those books.)

                                    1. MIssion Chinese probably uses them...but the food might/might not meet your expectations. I'd research it, call or email.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: ML8000

                                        They do and it might not. Dishes are discussed in one or more of the topics I linked to.

                                      2. One of the strongest Sichuan peppercorn dishes is the beef tendon appetizer at China Village in Albany. I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Ridge

                                          Also their two fried chicken dishes, Chong qing and "Szechuan-Style Spicy Dry-Cooked Chicken" (diced wing and breast, respectively). Fiery ma la!

                                        2. I wonder if any artisinal cheesemakers have thought of adding szechuan peppercorns to mild cheese like gouda. Of course, there are cheeses which contain cumin, caraway, and other spices. I wonder what it would do to cheese?