Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

cold noodles with actual sesame sauce


Fat Guy
 Share

Recommended Posts

In general, the recipes I've seen for cold noodles with sesame sauce are actually recipes for cold noodles with peanut-butter sauce flavored with a little sesame oil. This is also the case with all the examples I've been served in Chinese restaurants in the US. Is there such a thing as a recipe for sesame sauce that uses no peanuts? (This is an allergy-related request; not my allergy but I'm cooking to accommodate it.)

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Looking in my recipe collection seems to reveal the same thing - at least 1/4 cup of PB in the recipes. How about replacing the PB with tahini in one of those recipes?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I've made it with the thick sesame paste you can find in Asian markets, but I don't see why tahini wouldn't work just as well or why peanut butter would be a necessity. Here's Bittman's version which has chicken, but that seems optional, if you don't want chicken--

http://bitten.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/06/30...-and-cucumbers/

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Interesting. Bittman seems to consider peanut butter and tahini interchangeable. I find the tastes of those two products to be quite different. I wonder if, as part of the sauce, they're more similar.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Except that peanut butter appears, from my examination of dozens of recipes, to be the standard ingredient. Tahini seems to be the adaptation. Which is odd because the dish is called "sesame noodles."

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I do sesame noodles without peanut butter (husband is allergic, and I don't like peanuts). I don't have exact measurements, but it's pretty forgiving.

I start with a base of soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, and rice vinegar (maybe 2:1:1?) with grated ginger--I usually use a microplane so it's more like ginger pulp. I think I make about a cup of dressing for a pound of noodles, and I personally like it with a lot of ginger. I also usually add a dollop of chili garlic sauce and some chopped scallions. I toss this with the hot noodles, and the flavor soaks in as the noodles cool. After they're cool, I add toasted sesame seeds. You can also finish with some extra toasted sesame oil if you want more sesame flavor.

My favorite version also includes julienned cucumber and red pepper, and shredded chicken. Cilantro optional.

I believe you can also buy sesame sauce or sesame paste at an asian grocery, but many of these contain peanut powder, so you have to read the labels (if they're not in Chinese).

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I usually use peanut butter, but I also have a jar of Queen's brand sesame sauce, which claims to contain only white sesame and sesame oil (Blooming Import Inc, NYC).

When I first bought it, I made a batch of sesame noodles using it instead of peanut butter (along with soy sauce, red vinegar, sesame oil, garlic, ginger, a bit of sugar and chili garlic sauce), garnished with cukes and sometimes furikake. The sesame taste was pretty intense and not what I was used/addicted to. Now I sometimes use a couple of tsp. along with the peanut butter to deepen the flavor.

But it's been awhile and this makes me want to try another batch without the pb. I'm thinking that diluting the sauce with a bit of noodle-cooking water might mellow that SESAME taste.)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

They are. The paste I have is brown and tastes like it may be made from toasted seeds. That said, I suspect that all of the above could make a nice cold noodle dish with Asian flavors, if one isn't too concerned about authenticity, though I'm not sure what counts as authentic here, since peanut butter could be a Chinese-American adaptation.

Here's a recipe from a Chinese source (though I'm not entirely sure it's more Chinese than, say, Ollie's Noodle Shop on the Upper West Side, since the publisher--Wei Chuan--is an American manufacturer of Chinese food products) that uses only Chinese sesame paste--

http://www.americastestkitchen.com/ibb/pos...ter1-p=1#278895

Edited by David A. Goldfarb (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

China is the world's largest peanut producer, for what it's worth.

As I understand it, the difference between Middle Eastern-style and Asian-style sesame pastes is that the the Asian-style ones are made from unhulled seeds. Tahini, however, is not a monolithic product. I see it made from raw seeds and from roasted seeds, in a variety of darknesses and thicknesses. Package ingredient listings don't seem to specify hulled or unhulled, and I'm not sure what affect that has on flavor.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

In one of my many Chinese cookbooks, Mrs. Chiang's Szechwan Cookbook, there are a couple of recipes for dishes with sesame sauce, none of which contain peanut butter.

The sauce for the classic Don Don Noodles, for instance, has garlic, ginger, scallions, chili flakes, ground Szechwan peppercorns, sesame paste, sugar and soy sauce.

About sesame paste, Mrs. Chiang (or her interpreter) has this to say:

Although it rarely appears in the dishes of American Chinese restaurants, sesame paste is one of the most important and characteristic of all Szechwanese condiments.  It has a much stronger taste and more powerful aroma than the Middle Eastern variety, and appears most frequently as the basic component of this type of highly spiced sauce.

Fuchsia Dunlop, in Land of Plenty, has a recipe for the same noodles, also containing only sesame paste.

In Eileen Yin-Fei Lo's New Cantonese Cooking, her recipe for sesame noodles contains no peanut butter, only sesame oil.

And in Irene Kuo's seminal The Key to Chinese Cooking, her recipe for sesame paste contains both sesame oil and sesame paste, but no peanut butter. In her glossary on ingredients, however, she does mention that peanut butter creamed with a little sesame oil is a good substitute for sesame paste.

I get the feeling that true sesame paste is more of a Szechwan ingredient, and Bruce Cost in his book Asian Ingredients, seems to back this up:

The paste is the base for sauces, among them a spicy Sichuan dressing for a summer noodle dish.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I had a Chinese friend who used to use tea as the diluent to loosen sesame paste and/or peanut butter for cold noodles. Just a tiny, judicious amount; you may try oolong or green tea, to see which one suits your palate. The tea adds a little depth, astringency and complexity to the richness of the cold noodles. You may cut down on the soy sauce when you do so, leaving more of the seed flavor unalloyed.

Increase the quantity of tea until it is enough to make a slurry, if you feel that is to your taste.

Try it once, and let us know how it worked out. Pickled [Chinese style] gherkins & garlic cloves, & fresh Kirby/pickling cucumbers shredded, on the side, as mentioed upthread, are excellent.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I've been using the recipe for this from "The Chinese Cookbook" by Craig Claiborne and Virginia Lee (New York: J.B. Lippincott, 1972), for more than 30 years. The recipe calls for Asian sesame paste, though in a pinch I've used peanut butter, which isn't quite the same but still good. The recipe calls for the sesame paste to be thinned with tea or water. By time you add the other liquid ingedients (light soy, vinegar, hot oil, peanut oil), the sauce is plenty thin. Just takes a bit of elbow grease to get the thinning process started.

I think a lot of recipes call for peanut butter because they originated before the explosion of Asian groceries beyond the bounds of traditional Chinatowns.

Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

Robert's Market Report

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Are peanuts not a traditional Chinese ingredient? I thought peanut oil, crushed peanuts, et al., were common in various Asian cuisines. I think peanuts have been over there for hundreds of years -- probably for as long as hot peppers.

I'm also wondering if the choice to use peanut butter over sesame is more about cost than availability. Presumably, peanut butter is cheaper than sesame paste. Or isn't it?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Are peanuts not a traditional Chinese ingredient? I thought peanut oil, crushed peanuts, et al., were common in various Asian cuisines. I think peanuts have been over there for hundreds of years -- probably for as long as hot peppers.

I'm also wondering if the choice to use peanut butter over sesame is more about cost than availability. Presumably, peanut butter is cheaper than sesame paste. Or isn't it?

I think they're a traditional ingredient, but not necessarily as butter. Peanuts, roasted, crushed, boiled as well as peanut oil seem to show up fairly frequently.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Sort of going off on a tangent, here, but hopefully a helpful one:

While peanuts are used extensively in Vietnaese cuisine, there also seems to be some question as to the authenticity of peanut butter in such dishes as the peanut dipping sauce nuoc leo. See, for instance, the preface to this recipe:

... It seems that you can have the authentic one only in Vietnam or at home. Most of the time in Vietnamese restaurants, peanut butter is mixed with hoisin sauce and some ground peanuts are tossed in. The result is very pasty and not very refined. This peanut sauce is true to the original in Vietnam, being fluid and light.

... and this notation in the list of ingredients:

3 ounces unsalted roasted peanuts, 1 tablespoon chopped, the rest finely ground (but not butter)

At the same time, my web searches for nuoc leo recipes have turned up plenty of posts on food-geek boards saying things along the line of "hey, my family is Vietnamese and we always used peanut butter at home to whip up this sauce." Which comments led me to think of all the handy "this is far from haute, but boy is it guilty pleasure comfort food" shortcuts lots of American home cooks make in American recipes. :biggrin:

So--extrapolating to the peanut butter vs. sesame paste question with these noodles: hey, it sounds like the peanut butter may not have been the original tradition, but y'know, things happen, people and products emigrate around the globe, it's illuminating to know the history and to try the variants, but there's no harm in liking the modern adaptations.

P.S. re the nuoc leo -- the first time I made it, I hand-ground the peanuts. Every time since, I've substituted a good-quality all-natural (i.e. nothing but peanuts) chunky peanut butter. Works for me. :cool:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

If you toast the sesame seeds and make a sauce out of it, the sauce will have an incredible roasted nut flavor. Or so I discovered when I tried a recipe for baba ganouj from Peter Reinhart's Sacramental Magic in a Small-Town Cafe (an early cookbook from PR's restaurant days in Sonoma).

To make roasted tahini: Toast 1/4 cup white sesame seeds in a dry pan, moving the seeds around constantly, until they begin to brown. Combine with 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil in a food processor or blender. Taste and decide if you want to add any of the following: 8-10 cloves of roasted garlic, 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice, 1 tsp salt, chopped parsley for garnish. Add this sauce to roasted eggplant and you have baba ganouj. I really liked the sauce but I thought it overwhelmed the eggplant. For plain ol' noodles, it might be just the thing.

Funny, I've never liked the taste of peanut butter in Asian sesame noodles. But I do like fried or roasted peanuts in other Chinese dishes.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think that as Ellen says above, the quality of the peanut butter used is of prime importance, if you're using peanut butter as a sub for sesame paste. Freshly roasted peanuts freshly ground should give the best results.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Just now I pulled my copy of Barbara Tropp's Modern Art of Chinese Cooking off the shelf, and I found two recipes for sesame sauce made only with sesame, no peanut butter. Why didn't I look in this book first? Dunno. When I think of Asian sesame sauce, I think of peanut butter. Which tells you how entrenched peanut butter is in that sauce.

One of the recipes was printed in the NY Times ages ago. The recipe starts in the middle of the page here:

http://www.nytimes.com/1981/09/02/garden/c...l?&pagewanted=3

The Chinese sesame paste in the recipe sounds like tahini made from roasted sesame seeds.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

There are many variationx of tahina and Chinese sesame paste. Graded from very light to very dark. I prefer the toasted unhulled versions of both. I have used dark and light tahina in Chinese dressings/sauces with good results but the moment I use a Korean dark sesame paste. I have not come across peanut butter as an ingrediant in any of my chinese cookbooks, but peanut butter is cheaper/ more widely available in the west so I'm guessing its used as an aproximation. But is it works and it tastes good, its all liberty hall ;)

Edited by Mr Wozencroft (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

  • Similar Content

    • By liuzhou
      Way back in the 1990’s, I was living in west Hunan, a truly beautiful part of China. One day, some colleagues suggested we all go for lunch the next day, a Saturday. Seemed reasonable to me. I like a bit of lunch.
       
      “OK. We’ll pick you up at 7 am.”
       
      “Excuse me? 7 am for lunch?
       
      “Yes. We have to go by car.”
       
      Well, of course, they finally picked me up at 8.30, drove in circles for an hour trying to find the guy who knew the way, then headed off into the wilds of Hunan. We drove for hours, but the scenery was beautiful, and the thousand foot drops at the side of the crash barrier free road as we headed up the mountains certainly kept me awake.
       
      After an eternity of bad driving along hair-raising roads which had this old atheist praying, we stopped at a run down shack in the middle of nowhere. I assumed that this was a temporary stop because the driver needed to cop a urination or something, but no. This was our lunch venue.
       
      We shuffled into one of the two rooms the shack consisted of and I distinctly remember that one of my hosts took charge of the lunch ordering process.
       
      “We want lunch for eight.” There was no menu.
       
      The waitress, who was also the cook, scuttled away to the other room of the shack which was apparently a kitchen.
       
      We sat there for a while discussing the shocking rise in bean sprout prices and other matters of national importance, then the first dish turned up. A pile of steaming hot meat surrounded by steaming hot chillies. It was delicious.
       
      “What is this meat?” I asked.
       
      About half of the party spoke some English, but my Chinese was even worse than it is now, so communications weren’t all they could be. There was a brief (by Chinese standards) meeting and they announced:
       
      “It’s wild animal.”
       
      Over the next hour or so, several other dishes arrived. They were all piles of steaming hot meat surrounded by steaming hot chillies, but the sauces and vegetable accompaniments varied. And all were very, very good indeed.
       
      “What’s this one?” I ventured.
       
      “A different wild animal.”
       
      “And this?”
       
      “Another wild animal.”
       
      “And this?”
       
      “A wild animal which is not the wild animal in the other dishes”
       
      I wandered off to the kitchen, as you can do in rural Chinese restaurants, and inspected the contents of their larder, fridge, etc. No clues.
       
      I returned to the table with a bit of an idea.
       
      “Please write down the Chinese names of all these animals we have eaten. I will look in my dictionary when I get home.”
       
      They looked at each other, consulted, argued and finally announced:
       
      “Sorry! We don’t know in Chinese either. “
       
      Whether that was true or just a way to get out of telling me what I had eaten, I’ll never know. I certainly wouldn’t be able to find the restaurant again.
       
      This all took place way back in the days before digital cameras, so I have no illustrations from that particular meal. But I’m guessing one of the dishes was bamboo rat.
       
      No pandas or tigers were injured in the making of this post
       
    • By liuzhou
      Note: This follows on from the Munching with the Miao topic.
       
      The three-hour journey north from Miao territory ended up taking four, as the driver missed a turning and we had to drive on to the next exit and go back. But our hosts waited for us at the expressway exit and led us up a winding road to our destination - Buyang 10,000 mu tea plantation (布央万亩茶园 bù yāng wàn mǔ chá yuán) The 'mu' is  a Chinese measurement of area equal to 0.07 of a hectare, but the 10,000 figure is just another Chinese way of saying "very large".
       
      We were in Sanjiang Dong Autonomous County, where 57% of the inhabitants are Dong.
       
      The Dong people (also known as the Kam) are noted for their tea, love of glutinous rice and their carpentry and architecture. And their hospitality. They tend to live at the foot of mountains, unlike the Miao who live in the mid-levels.
       
      By the time we arrived, it was lunch time, but first we had to have a sip of the local tea. This lady did the preparation duty.
       

       

       
      This was what we call black tea, but the Chinese more sensibly call 'red tea'. There is something special about drinking tea when you can see the bush it grew on just outside the window!
       
      Then into lunch:
       

       

      Chicken Soup
       

      The ubiquitous Egg and Tomato
       

      Dried fish with soy beans and chilli peppers. Delicious.
       

      Stir fried lotus root
       

      Daikon Radish
       

      Rice Paddy Fish Deep Fried in Camellia Oil - wonderful with a smoky flavour, but they are not smoked.
       

      Out of Focus Corn and mixed vegetable
       

      Fried Beans
       

      Steamed Pumpkin
       

      Chicken
       

      Beef with Bitter Melon
       

      Glutinous (Sticky) Rice
       

      Oranges
       

      The juiciest pomelo ever. The area is known for the quality of its pomelos.
       
      After lunch we headed out to explore the tea plantation.
       

       

       

       

       
      Interspersed with the tea plants are these camellia trees, the seeds of which are used to make the Dong people's preferred cooking oil.
       

       
      As we climbed the terraces we could hear singing and then came across this group of women. They are the tea pickers. It isn't tea picking time, but they came out in their traditional costumes to welcome us with their call and response music. They do often sing when picking. They were clearly enjoying themselves.
       

       
      And here they are:
       
       
      After our serenade we headed off again, this time to the east and the most memorable meal of the trip. Coming soon.
       
       
    • By liuzhou
      It sometimes seems likes every town in China has its own special take on noodles. Here in Liuzhou, Guangxi the local dish is Luosifen (螺蛳粉 luó sī fěn).
       
      It is a dish of rice noodles served in a very spicy stock made from the local river snails and pig bones which are stewed for hours with black cardamom, fennel seed, dried tangerine peel, cassia bark, cloves, pepper, bay leaf, licorice root, sand ginger, and star anise. Various pickled vegetables, dried tofu skin, fresh green vegetables, peanuts and loads of chilli are then usually added. Few restaurants ever reveal their precise recipe, so this is tentative. Luosifen is only really eaten in small restaurants and roadside stalls. I've never heard of anyone making it at home.
       
      In order to promote tourism to the city, the local government organised a food festival featuring an event named "10,000 people eat luosifen together." (In Chinese 10,000 often just means "many".)
       
      10,000 people (or a lot of people anyway) gathered at Liuzhou International Convention and Exhibition Centre for the grand Liuzhou luosifen eat-in. Well, they gathered in front of the centre – the actual centre is a bleak, unfinished, deserted shell of a building. I disguised myself as a noodle and joined them. 10,001.
       

       
      The vast majority of the 10,000 were students from the local colleges who patiently and happily lined up to be seated. Hey, mix students and free food – of course they are happy.
       

       
      Each table was equipped with a basket containing bottled water, a thermos flask of hot water, paper bowls, tissues etc. And most importantly, a bunch of Luosifen caps. These read “万人同品螺蛳粉” which means “10,000 people together enjoy luosifen”
       

       
      Yep, that is the soup pot! 15 meters in diameter and holding eleven tons of stock. Full of snails and pork bones, spices etc. Chefs delicately added ingredients to achieve the precise, subtle taste required.
       

       
      Noodles were distributed, soup added and dried ingredients incorporated then there was the sound of 10,000 people slurping.
       

      Surrounding the luosifen eating area were several stalls selling different goodies. Lamb kebabs (羊肉串) seemed most popular, but there was all sorts of food. Here are few of the delights on offer.
       

      Whole roast lamb or roast chicken
       

      Lamb Kebabs
       

      Kebab spice mix – Cumin, chilli powder, salt and MSG
       

      Kebab stall
       

      Crab
       

      Different crab
       

      Sweet sticky rice balls
       

      Things on sticks
       

      Grilled scorpions
       

      Pig bones and bits
       

      Snails
       
      And much more.
       
      To be honest, it wasn’t the best luosifen I’ve ever eaten, but it was wasn’t the worst. Especially when you consider the number they were catering for. But it was a lot of fun. Which was the point.
       
    • By liuzhou
      Chinese food must be among the most famous in the world. Yet, at the same time, the most misunderstood.

      I feel sure (hope) that most people here know that American-Chinese cuisine, British-Chinese cuisine, Indian-Chinese cuisine etc are, in huge ways, very different from Chinese-Chinese cuisine and each other. That's not what I want to discuss.

      Yet, every day I still come across utter nonsense on YouTube videos and Facebook about the "real" Chinese cuisine, even from ethnically Chinese people (who have often never been in China). Sorry YouTube "influencers", but sprinkling soy sauce or 5-spice powder on your cornflakes does not make them Chinese!
       
      So what is the "authentic" Chinese food? Well, like any question about China, there are several answers. It is not surprising that a country larger than western Europe should have more than one typical culinary style. Then, we must distinguish between what you may be served in a large hotel dining room, a small local restaurant, a street market stall or in a Chinese family's home.

      That said, in this topic, I want to attempt to debunk some of the more prevalent myths. Not trying to start World War III.

      When I moved to China from the UK 25 years ago, I had my preconceptions. They were all wrong. Sweet and sour pork with egg fried rice was reported to be the second favourite dish in Britain, and had, of course, to be preceded by a plate of prawn/shrimp crackers. All washed down with a lager or three.

      Yet, in that quarter of a century, I've seldom seen a prawn cracker. And egg fried rice is usually eaten as a quick dish on its own, not usually as an accompaniment to main courses. Every menu featured a starter of prawn/shrimp toast which I have never seen in mainland China - just once in Hong Kong.

      But first, one myth needs to be dispelled. The starving Chinese! When I was a child I was encouraged to eat the particularly nasty bits on the plate by being told that the starving Chinese would lap them up. My suggestion that we could post it to them never went down too well. At that time (the late fifties) there was indeed a terrible famine in China (almost entirely manmade (Maomade)).

      When I first arrived in China, it was after having lived in Soviet Russia and I expected to see the same long lines of people queuing up to buy nothing very much in particular. Instead, on my first visit to a market (in Hunan Province), I was confronted with a wider range of vegetables, seafood, meat and assorted unidentified frying objects than I have ever seen anywhere else. And it was so cheap I couldn't convert to UK pounds or any other useful currency.
       
      I'm going to start with some of the simpler issues - later it may get ugly!

      1. Chinese people eat everything with chopsticks.
       

       
      No, they don't! Most things, yes, but spoons are also commonly used in informal situations. I recently had lunch in a university canteen. It has various stations selling different items. I found myself by the fried rice stall and ordered some Yangzhou fried rice. Nearly all the students and faculty sitting near me were having the same.

      I was using my chopsticks to shovel the food in, when I noticed that I was the only one doing so. Everyone else was using spoons. On investigating, I was told that the lunch break is so short at only two-and-a-half hours that everyone wants to eat quickly and rush off for their compulsory siesta.
       
      I've also seen claims that people eat soup with chopsticks. Nonsense. While people use chopsticks to pick out choice morsels from the broth, they will drink the soup by lifting their bowl to their mouths like cups. They ain't dumb!

      Anyway, with that very mild beginning, I'll head off and think which on my long list will be next.

      Thanks to @KennethT for advice re American-Chinese food.
       
       
    • By liuzhou
      Your wish is my command! Sometimes! A lot of what I say here, I will have already said in scattered topics across the forums, but I guess it's useful to bring it all into one place.
       
      First, I want to say that China uses literally thousands of herbs. But not in their food. Most herbs are used medicinally in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), often in their dried form. Some of the more common are sold in supermarkets, but more often in pharmacies or small specialist stores. I also often see people on the streets with baskets of unidentified greenery for sale - but not for dinner. The same applies to spices, although more spices are used in a culinary setting than are herbs.
       
      I’ll start with Sichuan peppercorns as these are what prompted @Tropicalsenior to suggest the topic.
       
      1. Sichuan Peppercorns
       
      Sichuan peppercorns are neither pepper nor, thank the heavens, c@rn! Nor are they necessarily from Sichuan. They are actually the seed husks of one of a number of small trees in the genus Zanthoxylum and are related to the citrus family.  The ‘Sichuan’ name in English comes from their copious use in Sichuan cuisine, but not necessarily where they are grown. Known in Chinese as 花椒 (huājiāo), literally ‘flower pepper’’, they are also known as ‘prickly ash’ and, less often, as ‘rattan pepper’.
      The most common variety used in China is 红花椒 (hóng huā jiāo) or red Sichuan peppercorn, but often these are from provinces other than Sichuan, especially Gansu, Sichuan’s northern neighbour. They are sold all over China and, ground, are a key ingredient in “five-spice powder” mixes. They are essential in many Sichuan dishes where they contribute their numbing effect to Sichuan’s 麻辣 (má là), so-called ‘hot and numbing’ flavour. Actually the Chinese is ‘numbing and hot’. I’ve no idea why the order is reversed in translation, but it happens a lot – ‘hot and sour’ is actually ‘sour and hot’ in Chinese!
       
      The peppercorns are essential in dishes such as 麻婆豆腐 (má pó dòu fǔ) mapo tofu, 宫保鸡丁 (gōng bǎo jī dīng) Kung-po chicken, etc. They are also used in other Chinese regional cuisines, such as Hunan and Guizhou cuisines.

      Red Sichuan peppercorns can come from a number of Zanthoxylum varieties including Zanthoxylum simulans, Zanthoxylum bungeanum, Zanthoxylum schinifolium, etc.
       

      Red Sichuan Peppercorns
       
      Another, less common, variety is 青花椒 (qīng huā jiāo) green Sichuan peppercorn, Zanthoxylum armatum. These are also known as 藤椒 (téng jiāo). This grows all over Asia, from Pakistan to Japan and down to the countries of SE Asia. This variety is significantly more floral in taste and, at its freshest, smells strongly of lime peel. These are often used with fish, rabbit, frog etc. Unlike red peppercorns (usually), the green variety are often used in their un-dried state, but not often outside Sichuan.
       

      Green Sichuan Peppercorns
       

      Fresh Green Sichuan Peppercorns

      I strongly recommend NOT buying Sichuan peppercorns in supermarkets outside China. They lose their scent, flavour and numbing quality very rapidly. There are much better examples available on sale online. I have heard good things about The Mala Market in the USA, for example.

      I buy mine in small 30 gram / 1oz bags from a high turnover vendor. And that might last me a week. It’s better for me to restock regularly than to use stale peppercorns.

      Both red and green peppercorns are used in the preparation of flavouring oils, often labelled in English as 'Prickly Ash Oil'. 花椒油 (huā jiāo yóu) or 藤椒油 (téng jiāo yóu).
       

       
      The tree's leaves are also used in some dishes in Sichuan, but I've never seen them out of the provinces where they grow.
       
      A note on my use of ‘Sichuan’ rather than ‘Szechuan’.
       
      If you ever find yourself in Sichuan, don’t refer to the place as ‘Szechuan’. No one will have any idea what you mean!

      ‘Szechuan’ is the almost prehistoric transliteration of 四川, using the long discredited Wade-Giles romanization system. Thomas Wade was a British diplomat who spoke fluent Mandarin and Cantonese. After retiring as a diplomat, he was elected to the post of professor of Chinese at Cambridge University, becoming the first to hold that post. He had, however, no training in theoretical linguistics. Herbert Giles was his replacement. He (also a diplomat rather than an academic) completed a romanization system begun by Wade. This became popular in the late 19th century, mainly, I suggest, because there was no other!

      Unfortunately, both seem to have been a little hard of hearing. I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked why the Chinese changed the name of their capital from Peking to Beijing. In fact, the name didn’t change at all. It had always been pronounced with /b/ rather than /p/ and /ʤ/ rather than /k/. The only thing which changed was the writing system.

      In 1958, China adopted Pinyin as the standard romanization, not to help dumb foreigners like me, but to help lower China’s historically high illiteracy rate. It worked very well indeed, Today, it is used in primary schools and in some shop or road signs etc., although street signs seldom, if ever, include the necessary tone markers without which it isn't very helpful.
       

      A local shopping mall. The correct pinyin (with tone markers) is 'dōng dū bǎi huò'.
       
      But pinyin's main use today is as the most popular input system for writing Chinese characters on computers and cell-phones. I use it in this way every day, as do most people. It is simpler and more accurate than older romanizations. I learned it in one afternoon.  I doubt anyone could have done that with Wade-Giles.
       
      Pinyin has been recognised for over 30 years as the official romanization by the International Standards Organization (ISO), the United Nations and, believe it or not, The United States of America, along with many others. Despite this recognition, old romanizations linger on, especially in America. Very few people in China know any other than pinyin. 四川 is  'sì chuān' in pinyin.
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...