1) see if i can find where to buy Sichuan peppercorns
The peppercorn actually is the husk of prickly ash berries. In 1968, the U.S. Agriculture Department banned importation of the Sichuan peppercorns. Last year, the ban was lifted as long as the imported peppercorns have been heated to 140 degrees or higher to kill any spores.
2) find where i can buy Sichuan food and Sichuan restuarants
'Hot' and 'numbing' cuisine from Sichuan sears palate
Tim Johnson Knight Ridder Newspapers Mar. 12, 2006 12:00 AM
CHENGDU, China - One bite into the chili-strewn dish known as Water Boiled Fish, and your mouth explodes. Your forehead erupts in beads of sweat, eyes water, the nose runs, and the tongue and lips go prickly.
Sichuan food isn't just hot and spicy. Some of it is numbing.
Hardly anywhere else in China does one encounter such innocent-looking but searing food. Nor can one find a people who eat blisteringly hot food with such gusto.
"Our endurance for spicy food is higher than yours," a lunch companion, poet Guan Wuzhao, said out of compassion for a wincing visitor during a culinary visit to this provincial capital.
Sichuan, a huge province nearly the size of France on the eastern flanks of the Himalayas, is home to one of China's great regional cuisines. Sichuan food is renowned worldwide for its use of hot chilies and anesthetizing Sichuan peppercorns, which until last year had been banned for import into the United States for more than three decades.
Why spicy is good
Locals offer a number of explanations for why Sichuan dishes contain such an array of hot and unusual flavors. Invariably, they describe the spiciness as good for their constitutions.
"The climate of Sichuan is cold and humid, and there is not much sunshine. The human body naturally desires something that will warm it up. If you eat hot pepper frequently, it's good for your health," explained Li Gaoxia, a doctor of traditional Chinese medicine.
According to Li, the chilies and peppers also help salivation and digestion, fight infection and dilate the blood vessels.
"That's why it makes you red," Li said, noting the rosy cast of a foreigner not fully acclimated to the Sichuan palate.
But spiciness isn't Sichuan food's only characteristic: Experts in the province point out that only a quarter of traditional Sichuan dishes provide a nuclear kick. Instead, Sichuan partisans take pride in the cuisine's use of multiple pungent flavors at once, giving rise to such items as "fish-tasting spicy" dishes and the aptly named "strange-flavor" dishes, which mix five to seven seasonings.
Discerning diners can pick out all five flavors in "strange-tasting shredded chicken" or other "strange-tasting" dishes, which are unlike anything in Western cookbooks.
Cuisine's colorful names
Colorful names offer half of the delight in consuming Sichuan cuisine. One is known as "Ants Climbing Trees." It's composed of bean thread noodles, minced pork seasoned with soy sauce, and, naturally, numbing peppercorns.
There are also Old Tofu Crab and Stewed Pig Blood Curd, as well as Three Gorges Stones Crispy Intestines and Pockmarked Lady's Bean Curd. One can hardly shy away from eating organ meat in Sichuan. One dish was made from pigs' ears.
The hot chili peppers in Sichuan dishes are large red fruits that have a citrus-like flavor after the initial searing sensation. They're also used elsewhere in China.
In contrast, the "numbing" small Sichuan peppercorns produce a biting, tickling taste that's an essential sensation for Sichuan cooking. They numb the lips and tongue, in fact. When the chilies and peppercorns are combined, the hot-and-numbing sensation isn't easily forgotten.
The peppercorn actually is the husk of prickly ash berries. In 1968, the U.S. Agriculture Department banned importation of the Sichuan peppercorns because it was thought that they might carry citrus canker spores, which could harm the American citrus industry. Last year, the ban was lifted as long as the imported peppercorns have been heated to 140 degrees or higher to kill any spores.
People from other parts of China, which also have distinct cuisines, sometimes can't easily tolerate large quantities of Sichuan food.
"If people in Guangdong eat Sichuan food, they say they feel uncomfortable the next day," said Zheng Jing, a 22-year-old graduate student.
Locals say some discomfort is to be expected. At the end of one Sichuan meal, a waitress inquired how a foreigner liked the food. Told that it was, er, special, she offered an apt summation.
"The consuming of Sichuan food is both painful and happy together!" she said, trotting off.