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

the_dying_gaul Oct 25, 2013 03:15 PM

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?

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  1. c oliver RE: the_dying_gaul Oct 25, 2013 03:25 PM

    Where have you tried that you didn't find what you're looking for?

    1. d
      Dustin_E RE: the_dying_gaul Oct 25, 2013 03:34 PM

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

      3 Replies
      1. re: Dustin_E
        the_dying_gaul RE: Dustin_E Oct 25, 2013 05:31 PM

        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
          hyperbowler RE: the_dying_gaul Oct 25, 2013 06:13 PM

          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
            Dustin_E RE: the_dying_gaul Oct 28, 2013 08:27 AM

            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. s
          sfchris RE: the_dying_gaul Oct 25, 2013 04:05 PM

          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. e
            ernie in berkeley RE: the_dying_gaul Oct 25, 2013 04:07 PM

            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. c oliver RE: the_dying_gaul Oct 25, 2013 04:11 PM

              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. chefj RE: the_dying_gaul Oct 25, 2013 04:12 PM

                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. g
                  goldangl95 RE: the_dying_gaul Oct 25, 2013 04:21 PM

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

                  1. Ruth Lafler RE: the_dying_gaul Oct 25, 2013 04:25 PM

                    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
                      c oliver RE: Ruth Lafler Oct 25, 2013 04:30 PM

                      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
                        the_dying_gaul RE: c oliver Oct 25, 2013 05:33 PM

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

                    2. y
                      yasker RE: the_dying_gaul Oct 25, 2013 05:16 PM

                      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
                        the_dying_gaul RE: yasker Oct 25, 2013 05:32 PM

                        Looking forward to trying this! Cheers!

                        1. re: yasker
                          Ridge RE: yasker Oct 27, 2013 08:31 AM

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

                          1. re: yasker
                            hyperbowler RE: yasker Nov 3, 2013 03:03 PM

                            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
                              RWCFoodie RE: hyperbowler Nov 3, 2013 06:22 PM

                              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
                                yasker RE: RWCFoodie Nov 3, 2013 07:08 PM

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

                                1. re: yasker
                                  RWCFoodie RE: yasker Nov 3, 2013 07:35 PM

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

                              2. re: hyperbowler
                                yasker RE: hyperbowler Nov 3, 2013 07:06 PM

                                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
                                  Ridge RE: yasker Nov 3, 2013 07:45 PM

                                  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
                                    RWCFoodie RE: Ridge Nov 3, 2013 07:49 PM

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

                              3. re: yasker
                                sfchris RE: yasker Nov 3, 2013 05:02 PM

                                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
                                  eatzalot RE: sfchris Nov 3, 2013 05:37 PM

                                  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. h
                                hyperbowler RE: the_dying_gaul Oct 25, 2013 05:54 PM

                                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. Robert Lauriston RE: the_dying_gaul Oct 26, 2013 10:02 AM

                                  Sha Bistro in Union City
                                  Little Sheep Hot Pot in San Mateo

                                  Some past sightings:


                                  1. eatzalot RE: the_dying_gaul Oct 26, 2013 10:28 AM

                                    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. m
                                      ML8000 RE: the_dying_gaul Oct 26, 2013 03:37 PM

                                      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
                                        Robert Lauriston RE: ML8000 Oct 26, 2013 04:05 PM

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

                                      2. r
                                        Ridge RE: the_dying_gaul Oct 27, 2013 08:29 AM

                                        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
                                          ernie in berkeley RE: Ridge Oct 27, 2013 10:56 AM

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

                                        2. Tripeler RE: the_dying_gaul Oct 27, 2013 05:40 PM

                                          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?

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