Do you remember Space Dust? It was a sherbet-y, crackly sort of powder that fizzled on your tongue and made your lips tingle. Last night we had the same experience thanks to an amazing takeaway feast (even KitchenMaids need a break from cooking occasionally).
We’ve become addicted to the food at a new Szechuan place in town. We’re usually the only non-Chinese in there and the sweet lady behind the counter always looks a bit concerned when we order, asking if “hot is ok?”
Their Szechuan dumplings, silky little envelopes of minced pork drizzled with a sweet, gingery sauce, are a must, but last night we branched out and ordered ‘chicken with Szechuan pepper’.
When we unpacked it I thought there had been a mistake. There were two enormous boxes, filled to the brim with glistening dried chillies and chunks of spice-coated chicken. We tucked into one, searching out nuggets of chicken buried beneath the chillies. It was hot, but not chilli-hot. Instead, there was this weird sensation, a kind of tingling that started on your tongue and spread to the rest of your mouth.
I’d read about Szechuan pepper before, in Fuschia Dunlop’s amazing memoir, Sharks Fin And Sichuan Pepper, but never tasted it. She describes it in the book:
That incomparable tongue-numbing sensation of Sichuan pepper, a fizzing that starts stealthily and rises to a mouth-streaming, breathtaking crescendo that can last for twenty minutes before it slowly, gradually dies away.
During her time in China Fuschia even searched out fresh Sichuan pepper and ate it straight from the tree. In China, it is venerated not only as a condiment and flavouring but also as a medicinal herb and a symbol of fertility. In remote parts of the Szechuan province the peppercorns are thrown over newlyweds as a sort of confetti. Let’s hope no one gets it in their eyes.
Anyway, it’s the most amazing taste sensation. Needless to say, we devoured every last bit.