Do you eat dried Sichuan chili peppers?
Got take out from Shangri La in Belmont last night and tried the kung pao chicken, after recently enjoying the kung pao shrimp and kung pao beef. Each is slightly different as far as what veggies are used, but all feature the peanuts and lots of dried red chili peppers, the long, dark red ones frequently used in Sichuan food. By lots, I mean around three dozen or so. Of course I've had other dishes in other restaurants (such as Zoe's, which I hope returns soon) with equally large amount of these dried chilis, but last night I started wondering what other Chinese food fans do with them.
Now I like hot food and I enjoy the heat and flavor the peppers impart. But I don't eat them. Maybe one. And that's enough. More than enough. A little too hot and chewy for me. After downing one I do what everyone else in my family does: push the peppers to the side and throw them out when we clean our plates.
But I feel a little guilty. There are so many peppers in the dish it seems like they are meant to be consumed. Are they an acquired taste? Or are they supposed to be tossed? And if that's the case, then why put so many of them in a dish? Wouldn't, say, a dozen do the trick?
After many years and many discarded peppers, I'd really like to know.
The recipes I've seen for this type of dish indicate that the peppers are there for flavoring but not to be eaten as such. My general rule of thumb is that fresh peppers get eaten, dried whole ones do not.
But I'd be curious to hear from some Chinese 'hounds whether that is in fact traditional practice or not.
The first time I went to China, I had lunch with a bunch of coworkers. One of the dishes was kung pao chicken. I went to take a bite of a pepper (which I sometimes do-- I don't eat them all, but one or two is fine) and about 5 of them lunged at me to stop my eating it :).
I actually asked if they'd eat them (i.e. were they "protecting" the foreigner), and all of them said no, they don't eat them.
That's just an anecdote, though-- not a representative sample!
Funny - that reminds me of the first time I was in Taiwan, at a business lunch. I was the only Westerner at the table, and all the dishes were on a huge lazy susan. One dish got to me, and looked interesting, a plate of sliced green chilies accented by small dried fish (about 1" long), in some sort of sauce. As I reached to take some, several of my colleagues lunged at me to stop me - they eat it, but assumed it was too hot for Western palates. I smiled, spooned some up and chowed it down quite happily. I gained some face that day.
We call the little pieces "lurkers" :) We very carefully pick them all out, or what we think is all, and then occasionally a little pieces disguises itself as a little piece of pork and sneaks in. Gets our attention real fast.
Sichuan peppers as in 'facing heaven'? these are not long. 'facing heaven' is plump and smells nice. used whole for flavouring.
i like them (both fresh and dried) and do eat a few in the food but it is impossible to eat them all. i noticed (in China) they are left behind.
i on the other hand eat the peppercorns as a snack. a Sichuanese family with whom i shared a soft sleeper to Chengdu thought it was hilarious and strange to eat the peppercorns. so now i know they don't eat them as a snack.