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If you have had Sichuan food in America during the past few years made the Sichuan way (vs. The reason is fairly obvious, since almost all of America’s Chinese restaurants were historically run by immigrants from Canton and other southern China provinces.
Their cuisines don’t even make use of chilies, much less Sichuan pepper.
It will indeed numb your tongue and mouth, and while that is not totally unpleasant, it is weird.
Like the hot sensation of chili pepper, the numbing of Sichuan pepper is detected not by the sensory nerves for taste but by those for touch.
Those tastes were just too overwhelmingly bold for their liking, so when they made Sichuan dishes they cut down on the chilies and jettisoned the Sichuan pepper altogether, robbing the food of its kick and, therefore, its true identity.
Another reason “Szechwan” food in America was long missing it mala mojo was that the Food and Drug Administration banned the Sichuan peppercorn from importation from 1968 to 2005, fearing it could carry a citrus canker that could spread to citrus crops.
However, I knew she liked spicy food, so after a couple of months I made that mala cabbage, stir-fried with dried chili peppers and Sichuan peppers.
The bride of the chili pepper in many Sichuan dishes, it is the má—numbing—to chili pepper’s là—spicy hot—in the word málà, which is practically synonymous with Sichuan food.
Like any ground spice, it will lose its punch before long, so don’t store too long.
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While many cuisines make use of the chili pepper, no other cuisine features Sichuan pepper—which the Sichuanese call hua jiao, or flower pepper, because of its flowery shape when dried—so abundantly and unabashedly.
My daughter Fong Chong came to us straight from Canton (Guangzhou) at age 11, and we assumed that she would shun Sichuan pepper.
But I used too much and it was too numbing, even for me.