Choose 1 of the following statements:
I love it.
I hate it.
That seems to be the divide for people’s take on Mission Chinese Food in NYC.
I am saying right now that I’m in the “loving it” category. Part of my vote is due to a really great understanding of flavours and textures. The featured ingredient in my post today is the Szechuan Peppercorn, which isn’t a peppercorn at all. How fitting for a place that puts a spin on all things Chinese Foody.
The peppercorn is floral and spicy, and the taste is …. electric. It numbs the mouth, and imparts a woodsy, sweet bite of heat. It is unlike any other “hot” I have tasted, and is very hard to describe. It has been compared to juniper and novocaine, but neither of those really capture its magic. It’s most often paired with chili peppers, in Szechuan cuisine, to create an effect called ma la, often translated as spicy and tingly.
The Szechuan peppercorn is technically the dry berry husk of the prickly ash tree. The seeds of the berry themselves are tasteless; it’s the fragrant pink husks of the peppercorn that are valuable. Like some other habit-forming items, Szechuan peppercorns are actually toxic when ingested in large quantities! The good news is that you really don’t need much for serious flavor!
Physiologically, the compounds in the peppercorn “appear to act on several different kinds of nerve endings at once, induce sensitivity to touch and cold in nerves that are ordinarily nonsensitive, and so perhaps cause a kind of general neurological confusion,” according to food scientist Harold McGee. He compares the buzzing, numbing effect to touching the terminals of a nine-volt battery to the tongue.
Mission Chinese Food is in New York’s Lower East Side
154 Orchard St between Rivington and Stanton