I have this confession to make. I have become addicted. Everyday I dream of its seductive fragrance. I wake up wanting to get my fix as soon as possible. Not a day goes by without having it. I am not talking of a drug. It’s this “hate me or love me” spice called hua jiao that adds to Sichuan cuisine its traditional flavor.
Those who have had Chinese food outside China may have heard of Sichuan food. It’s often horrifyingly passed off as Schezhuan food. Nothing that you have had outside comes close to the real thing. The food is spicy, and the gals here are spicier, says Lonely Planet China. I can’t disagree. I am not one to look out for girls, but this is a land fabled to have the prettiest girls in all of China. And indeed they are. It’s even ingrained into their speech. Mei niu or beautiful girl is how they address you here. And the food. Which reminds me of my addiction. Hua jiao is not really spicy – not in the Indian spicy sense – it literally means flower pepper, and comes disguised in little pods. The pods are not meant to be eaten, but guess what? I do. That’s how much I love them. When you have them, it leaves you with a numbing sensation. Have a lot of it, and you cannot feel your tongue anymore. I have read that this pepper is available in India as well – in Konkani it’s called tephal. Has anyone tried it? Let me know, please! I did read though that the Indian variety is not exactly the same…but still I would love to try even a stripped down version of it, if it’s available in India!
It’s the aroma that drives me crazy – when I visit the supermarket here, there are piles of hua jiao. I don’t buy them since I don’t cook here, but I just pick up a handful, crush them in my hands, and inhale. Heaven…….
Hua jiao is also used in other forms – in oil – much of the Sichuan hotpot experience comes from dunking varied meats and veggies into a steaming cauldron on which float my dear little peppers. The experience – the oil, the peppers, the heat from the bubbling pot – can drive your already heightened senses to further ecstatic stages. I can’t write anymore – lunch is approaching and I must go and place my usual order – a bowl of stir-fried noodles with vegetables sprinkled liberally with….