Jenny Song and her partner John run China Spice from a base in West Sussex. Jenny is a well established Chinese cook with a wealth of experience cooking authentic Chinese food, which is nothing like the takeaways we indulge in here in the UK. China Spice are importers of Chillies and Spices from China, specifically the Chengdu, Sichuan region of China which is where Jenny grew up.
This region of China is well known for its Chillies, something I was not aware of until I had the opportunity to visit Jenny & John last year at their base. There are incredible photos of the Chinese drying chillies in their millions, chillies on rooftops, hanging off anything which will allow them to dry evenly.
The region is known for its Dragon Back Chillies, which are named after the man made terracing of the steep hills to accommodate the growing of rice, these contoured hills have been around for over 700 years and from a distance resemble the scales on a Dragons back. These Chillies are very much sought after in China and are an ingredient in the main chilli sauce made in the region called Pixian Douban. This sauce consists of broad beans and chillies and sits in clay pots until it has fermented.
China Spice also sell authentic kits to enable people to create the authentic tastes of Sichuan, with no sign of any MSG. The most famous of these is the Huo Guo or Hot Pot, cooked in a round metal dish which is divided in two in a “Ying and “Yang shape.
The sauce that comes in the kit goes in one side after cooking in a wok to create a fiery hot dipping style sauce and the other made to be milder, ideally heated at the table but can be heated in the kitchen, other ingredients can be added or pre cooked and dipped into the sauce/stock, meat, vegetables, the list is endless.
They also sell a Mapo Doufu sauce, which is as authentic to the Chengdu region as it could be as the recipe came from there and the restaurant that first served it is still open for business. This sauce is made to go with Tofu but other ingredients can be added, and can make a relatively bland ingredient come to life.
Here’s Carl Anderson demonstrating how easy this is to cook
Now in the video Carl talks about Sichuan Flower Peppers, not to be confused with normal peppercorns or even supermarket Sichuan Flower Peppers. These are a fairly unique ingredient and something I had never come across until I saw China Spice at the Fiery Foods UK Chilli Festival in Brighton last year. These are not actually a pepper but related to the Citrus family. They grow like berries and are dried.
These are not spicy in the Chilli sense but give a fizzing numbness around the mouth like nothing else, they stimulate your saliva glands and the effect can last 30 minutes or more. The effect can be likened to licking a battery (not that I would advise that!) and is very potent, and works like a mild anesthetic, apparently in China, they are used to reduce tooth ache.
People have described these as having the “Willy Wonka” effect and I can see why. From the photos you can see that they are actually the husks from around the seeds which are black. China Spices Sichuan Flower Peppers have minimal seeds and according to Jenny, less reputable sources will have lots to seeds in the bag which adds to the weight. If you have never tried these then I would urge you to contact China Spice and buy a small bag to try them, they are certainly unique!
So pay China Spice’s website a visit and maybe buy a bag of Flower Peppers, you really should try them once!