Dai Cooking and the Shuanshuanla (Ghost) Pepper in China

Southwestern China’s (sub)tropical Yunnan province, bordering on Southeast Asia, does not just hold great biological and cultural (ethnic) diversity (which it is well-known for) in general.

Interestingly for the chilehead, it is the one region in China where Capsicum chinense actually seems to have a traditional home – and the kind of C. chinense there is none other than the Ghost Pepper (Bhut Jolokia, Naga Jolokia) that had recently broken the records for the world’s spiciest chile pepper.

(Of course, then came the ‘discoveries’ of the Trinidad Moruga Scorpions and the developments of various strains of superhots with even higher pungencies, developed on the basis of those different varieties.)

The worldwide attention put on those peppers probably had a hand in the interest that was suddenly paid to the Shuanshuanla of Yunnan, that Chinese superhot.

Shuanshuanla, der chinesische Ghost Pepper
Shuanshuanla, the Chinese Ghost Pepper

It makes sense for it to have been there, however, as the different ethnic groups in that wider region have been interacting with each other for a long time, even before modern borders were established (and interchanges seem to take place, anyways… including that parts of these areas are in the infamous drug-producing and -peddling Golden Triangle)…

Now, of course, this pepper is marketed with reference to the World Record and all the stories around that, but it appears to have also been in traditional use.

Reportedly, “the Shuan Shuan La pepper is an important ingredient with an interesting story behind its name. Shuan means ‘to rinse’ in Chinese. ‘A family would stir the soup broth with the pepper, and that would make the soup very spicy,’ said Ma Shoubing. ‘They could give it to another family, and they would do the same. One pepper could make spicy soup for a whole village.'” (Quoted from: Escape to the Tropics: Dai Restaurant in Beijing, CRI, 2011-01-28)

Reads a lot like the tale told about the 7 Pot Pepper of Jamaica and how it got its name…

Of course, I did get myself a sample of that Shuanshuanla, and it is hot and habanero-aromatic, indeed. That would have been a Capsicum chinense I would have grown, for once, but it seems that those peppers were dried too hot for the seeds to have remained viable.

Oh well, I don’t have a whole village’s pots to spice up, anyways, and when it comes to aromas, as good as Dai food can be, I personally find little use for Capsicum chinense such as habanero…

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