A mutual friend introduced my wife and me while we were working at a government lab NIST. She always liked to share her Chinese culture with me. One night we went out to eat Chinese food. The menu had a spiciness scale for their dishes:
* : Spicy
** : Very spicy
*** : Extremely spicy
# : Numbing
“#? Numbing? What is that?” I though. That must be super spicy!
A few weeks later, this Chinese girlfriend brought me a real Chinese lunchbox that she had cooked herself. How romantic!
In our large NIST cafeteria maybe there are a few hundred people eating lunch and two microwaves to heat up lunchboxes. So, typically, there is a lot of waiting for the microwave.
My wife (girlfriend at that time) brought me a hot lunchbox and went back to heat up a second lunchbox. She told me to start eating and let her know what I thought. I opened the lid of the glass lunchbox and the steamy rice and veggies looked pretty good. There was a spice scent inside I did not recognize and so I started eating. About the fourth or fifth bite, something inside my mouth stuck me like a needle. I stopped chewing. Was it a piece of broken glass? What was this sharp thing? I spit out the food into a napkin. Then, my mouth started becoming numb. It felt like a dentist had given me a shot of anesthetic. I must be having some kind of food allergy! I stood up to find my girlfriend (wife) and she was already on her way back with lunchbox #2. I said “something is wrong, there was a sharp thing in the food, and now my mouth is going numb”. She just said “yes, that’s flower pepper.” At this point I still don’t know what flower pepper is, so I am still pretty worried.
I said – “I don’t know what is happening to me, my mouth is going numb.”
She said again, “oh, that’s just flower pepper. It is a little numbing”
“Numbing?” I asked “The food is numbing?”
Fun fact: Numbing is a hard word to say in English when your mouth is numb.
And then she added “maybe I added too much? I don’t really know how to cook with it.”
Well, it turns out I survived the flower pepper. She showed me what the flower peppers look like and it turns out about 1/5 of the dish was flower peppers. Some of them when dried can be quite sharp! All in all I learned that flower pepper is actually numbing, and that dried flower pepper can be quite sharp. And that Sichuan people are pretty bold.
You can read more about this spice here: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/why-szechuan-peppers-make-your-lips-go-numb-5668606/
“#?” “麻辣？” 我觉得很怪，不懂它的意思。应该是非常非常辣的。