Does where you live make you who you are?
If that’s true, most Sichuanese would be peace-loving, easy-going, gentle, and speak with soft voices. After all, they live in fairyland like this.
But then, that’s only true up to a degree.
Most Sichuanese are easy to get along with. They are generous. They invite strangers to their houses for meals (if you can drink). But that’s only if you haven’t encountered them on a mahjong or poker table.
Normally, they’re like this:
But if someone dares to cheat at mahjong or if there’s disagreement, they’re like this:
The fiery temper is partly due to the consumption of chilli pepper, and the other part is due to this.
They are green.
They are red.
They are prickly ash.
A plant that could have made a living by just being pretty, but insists on being useful.
Prickly ash trees survive in temperate climate.
Their small size means they have to be hand-picked. Imagine hand-picking wild roses.
This cultivar is called Dahongpao—Big Red Robe.
Harvested peppercorns must be dried before storage and transport.
There are different qualities of Dahongpao. The best are the ones split into five cloves.
The peppercorns give a numbing sensation. They don’t contain much nutrition, yet they’re a must-have on the dinner tables of Sichuanese, and an essential member of the five-spice powder.
Another type of prickly ash grows in the city of Emei, home to the eponymous mountain and the macaque gangs.
Dahongpao, the red peppercorns, are more commonly used in fried dishes, especially with fish and barbecue skewers.
Zhuyeqing, the green peppercorns, are used in salads and cold dishes.
Peppercorn ground into powder and then mixed with sesame oil makes for a spicy and fragrant vinaigrette.
But the most potent combination is between the peppercorn and the chilli pepper.
Chicken, no matter how it’s roasted, tastes more or less the same everywhere without condiments.
But this dish of peppercorn and chilli oil tells you you’re in Sichuan.
This man loves the peppercorns so much, he’s written an entire book about it.
Its history, its different varieties, and its uses.
Green peppercorns are also increasingly used in hotpot.
But no matter how popular they are, peppercorns are still condiments, not food. Like ginger, or garlic.
Unlike you’re like this girl, who treats anything in the hotpot as fair game, including a sprig of green peppercorns.
But there can be too much of a good thing. Like this customer, who used the peppercorns picked out from a dish to write out his feedback: too much peppercorn!