It took three tries to figure out what all the excitement was about. An ardent lover of Chinese food, I drooled my way through Fuchsia Dunlop’s three cookbooks on the subject. Two of them are devoted to Sichuan cookery, a cuisine famous for its extensive use of chili and Sichuan peppercorns.
Dunlop’s rapturous descriptions of the Sichuan peppercorn’s mysterious tingling and numbing effects piqued my curiosity. My quest took me to the local 99 Ranch, the West Coast chain of Chinese supermarkets. No Sichuan peppercorns. I did, however, find a dusty canister at my local American market. When I opened it, I found what looked and tasted like brown woodchips. I tossed them, rooted around in another market, bought another packet. More woodchips. On my third attempt I ripped open the tiny bag and popped a couple into my mouth while unloading groceries.