You can pre-order your Spicy Seiso here.
I couldn’t feel my tongue. Or my lips.
That’s not completely true. I could feel something-- A heat, a tingling, an electrifying sensation that sent pulses of endorphins through my nerves and made me sweat, tore my breathing ragged and made my hands shake.
And I wanted more.
See, when we first started talking to Onigiri about the flavor she wanted, she was worried that what she wanted would be too divisive, too bold, and too much for people. After all, true Sichuan cuisine isn’t for everyone, and isn’t for the faint of heart.
But if this was going to be her flavor?
Full send, no holds barred, was our recommendation. Let people experience Ma La Sichuan cuisine like never before.
But hold on, what is Sichuan cuisine? What’s Ma La? I’m glad you asked, hypothetical reader.
Let’s take a step back.
Introducing - Spicy Seiso
Sichuan Cuisine is one of the 8 Great Cuisines Of China, and definitely one of the most popular in the west. It’s well known for its spicy fare, rich in strong flavors like chili, garlic, and ginger, but an oft neglected point is the Sichuan Peppercorn, that special pepper which makes your mouth go numb.
I’ll go over the base points briefly, but if you want a more in depth explanation, check out the previous blog post we did here: https://shop.viteramen.com/blogs/news/why-does-this-spice-make-my-mouth-go-numb
Now, here’s the thing. That article was written for the FlyByJing Chili Crisp and the Sichuan Chili Edition. It has a little bit of numbing in it, but it’s been tuned more for western tastes, to be not as intense and more approachable.
With Onigiri’s Spicy Seiso flavor... we’re cranking it to the next level.
See, the thing is, the more spicy you get, the more endorphins, or happy chemicals, you get. If you numb your mouth? You can eat more spicy... And get more endorphins...
But wait, there’s more.
The special compounds in Sichuan Peppercorn, or in this case, the special varietal called Tribute Pepper that we use(Shoutout to FlyByJing again for getting us the highest quality stuff in the world, once given as a tribute to emperors, hence its name), also elicit an endorphin response by themselves... or, in other words, will jump-start the happy brain juice process by itself.
Combine the two?
Baby, you got a happy brain soup going.
That’s the flavor profile called “Ma La”; 麻(Ma), or numbing, and 辣(La), or spicy.
As the spicy triggers endorphins, then gets numbed by the Tribute Pepper, which helps release its own endorphins, that lets you eat more spicy which gives you more endorphins which means this Spicy Seiso flavor literally forces your brain to be happier.
There’s actually an even cooler trick you can employ to amplify those effects even more, but I’ll talk about that later. Trust me, it’s worth it.
Onigiri’s request was to be able to emulate a dish from her hometown that she loved, a variation on a cold noodle dish called liangpi mian(凉皮面). Normally, this is a cold noodle dish, and uses a wide, flat, steamed noodle, which is very different than our curly, alkaline ramen noodles. While the smooth texture of the lianpi mian is definitely a big draw, the variations of sauces and tastes that can be used to coat these noodles makes it popular all across China.
Onigiri described the version she wanted, and we got to work sourcing ingredients. Our R&D head Philena hadn’t had too much experience with Sichuan cuisine before, so the first thing we did was to order an absolutely staggering amount of Sichuan food from one of my favorite places(Chengdu Style in Davis, if anyone was wondering), and go through them, having Philena taste test each while I rambled on about flavor profiles and other things.
Next, after the ingredients had arrived, Onigiri gave us her secret recipe that’s made out of a combination of fresh and sauce ingredients, and would be the target taste to replicate. While I can’t give out the recipe here... it involves things like peanut butter, sesame paste, garlic, chili, black vinegar, spices, and other ingredients. Absolutely delicious, but... runs into some problems.
First, we can’t use peanuts in our facility. It’s one of the most difficult allergens to control and clean, as even tiny trace amounts could potentially trigger an allergy, so we simply avoid ever using it. Peanut is heavily used in Sichuan Cuisine, and made up a solid portion of the recipe, so we had to find a workaround.
Second, half the ingredients were sauces or pastes. While things like soy sauce we have high quality powder versions of, other things, like sesame paste are a nightmare to package even if we were able to use the paste, since it’s reaaaaally thick and viscous. If you’ve ever had non-homogenized peanut butter before, imagine that, but even more difficult to handle. The extremely high fat content of sesame means you can’t just simply grind the seeds and get a powder out of it, like you’d be able to do with a lot of other ingredients. It’d make, well, sesame paste instead.
Third, there were some very specialized ingredients in the recipe, like some fermented tofus that I know aren’t currently possible to get dry forms of. Similarly, how were we going to get the best spices around that were as true to Sichuan cuisine as possible?
But hey, it wouldn’t be Vite Kitchens if we didn’t have some impossible challenges to face and then overcome, right?
The first problem was relatively easy to solve-- Peanut butter gives nuttiness(duh) and fattiness, and while it does increase complexity in a recipe, a few other ingredients that help round out the lost flavor profile of peanut could easily be added, and the remainder replaced with sesame instead.
Except, wait. Then we have our second problem-- Sesame powder is really hard to get right. Specifically, what’s usually sold as “sesame flour” is a powdered version of sorts, but has kind of an awful taste, since it’s not toasted. This meant the additional challenge we had to tackle was getting not just a sesame powder that worked for us, but a toasted sesame powder, which is an even greater challenge.
None of the suppliers we worked with had any, or knew of where to get any. This part of the story is kind of boring, so I’ll just speed past it-- Simply, we just spent a whole crapton of time searching and talking to people until we were able to get a source. Not much to say there except a lot of disappointments and weird things we had to taste... which, all in all, is a pretty regular day in R&D.
Let’s break down the flavor profile of fermented tofu.
While there’s definitely more to it, a simplified version would break down into something like this. Next, we’d begin to figure out a blend of other ingredients that could make a rough 1:1 powder comparison.
- Umami - Shiitake, MSG, soy sauce can all assist with increasing umami.
- Funky/Fermented - Red Miso, fermented rice, fermented black bean powder
- Briney - Salt, kombu powder
- Creamy - ...Sesame paste takes care of that
Play around with these ingredient bundles enough and while it won’t exactly match the flavor, it can fill in what the ingredient was otherwise providing! Especially since we have so many other flavors going on, and strong flavors at that, it works especially well, and side by side comparisons don’t see any differences.
And last, but not least, how did we get the best, authentic, true Sichuan taste?
Well, okay, that one’s really easy-- Just continue working with one of the best Asian Entrepreneurs in the space, who also happens to be a specialist in spicy, numbing, tingling Sichuan Cuisine, Fly By Jing!
In Spicy Seiso, just like Sichuan Chili Edition, we’re utilizing chili sauces, peppers, and other things sourced in partnership with Fly By Jing to make sure our flavors are as delicious as possible.
Note how I didn’t say the word “authentic”?
As a quick aside: authenticity of cuisine is an oft debated and contested topic, and my take on it(and I think Jing as well), is that “authentic” is overrated and misrepresented. After all, Fly By Jing stands by one of the slogans of “Not Authentic, But Personal,” and I wrote a bit about our Beef Pho being far from authentic as well.
Authenticity falls into the “no true scotsman” fallacy, as who really determines what “authentic” is or not? Food changes over the course of history as we interact and learn-- Tomatoes, as present as they are in Italy, aren’t natively Italian, for instance.
So would I say Spicy Seiso is authentic to Sichuan Cuisine? No, because there is no such thing. But would I say that we made Spicy Seiso in a way that speaks to what Onigiri has experienced with Sichuan food, and is close to her heart?
Oh, and the secret trick to even more Ma La goodness? Alcohol. Which, seems obvious to some extent, but here’s the thing-- Alcohol is a solvent that bonds with and helps wash away some of those spices, but not before hitting them even harder and setting your mouth on fire. Once it’s gone, it washes away some of those spice molecules that were bonded to your tongue... letting you get back to eating more spice, with more endorphins, and hitting a triple synergy of delicious, delicious endorphins.
Here’s a quick little description of the flavor:
“The aromas assault the senses, pulling you deep into the complex aromatics hidden within! Fried garlic, ginger, and spices boldly declare their presence, while the spice ignites the taste buds with flavor. This is truly the essence of Sichuan cuisine, a beautiful, harmonic interplay of 麻(Ma), or numbing, and 辣(La) spicy. A nutty, savory sesame undertone intertwines with the floral and electric tribute pepper that heightens the senses and pushes the endorphins into overdrive, giving anyone who eats it a tantalizing rush of adrenaline and happiness.
麻(Ma) and 辣(La).
Neither can eclipse the other, and this Spicy Seiso flavor harmonizes the two in a truly unapologetic, Sichuan style that's unlike anything you've ever tried before.”
You can pre-order yours today here: https://shop.viteramen.com/pages/spicy-seiso
Thanks for reading! Let me know if you have any other questions about how the flavor was made, but for now, I hope you enjoyed this peek behind the scenes!
-Tim, CEO/Founder Vite Kitchens