Sichuan, a regional cuisine from the Sichuan province of China, is not for the faint of heart. It is known as one of the spiciest foods in the world, thanks to the regional Sichuan peppercorn which are actually the dried seed husks of the prickly ash tree. Sichuan peppercorns are called huājiāo in Mandarin which literally translates to “flower pepper.” This is also an accurate description of the taste profile which is that of a pepper with a slightly floral quality.
The intensity of the Sichuan peppercorn yields a unique sensory experience which called Ma La – it simultaneously feels like your mouth is numb but also on fire. “Ma” is the numbing part of the sensation which one feels in their entire mouth when eating the peppercorns – it protects the mouth from the heat, but not entirely. Which brings in “La” which is known to mean the ‘heat of a thousand chiles.’ The combination of the Ma and La sensations is called Ma La (pronounced phonetically).
PS. “ma la” can also mean ‘sexy’ in Mandarin Chinese slang which is akin to saying someone is ‘hot’ in English slangPin It