There’s a pleasantly stubborn hole in the wall restaurant in Washington D.C.’s Logan Circle neighborhood that serves Szechuan cuisine, with an ingredient missing on most menus. For the longest time at Great Wall Szechuan House you could only find this mouth numbing taste in Chinese, at the back of the menu.
These days though, the special Ma-La section is on the first page of Great Wall’s menu but as the surrounding shops and restaurants reflect the new money in Logan Circle, it’s still something of a secret to outsiders. You can watch my video above or read on.
Give Me The Ma
Szechuan food originates from the Chinese province of the same name and most distinctly distinguished by it’s brightly colored punch you in the face sort of spice, which is the “la”. A great number of Chinese restaurants around the world are typically based around the Szechuan name but don’t often include the “ma” part of the equation.
The “ma” is a mouth numbing effect that comes from a naturally occurring chemical in the Szechuan peppercorn (hydroxy alpha sanshool in case you were wondering). Combined with garlic, fennel, and a few other ingredients mala dishes likely originated as a working class food to add flavors to the bland original ingredients.
Great Wall’s Secret
Mala dishes have evolved since then but remain a mind-body experience of heat, not for timid tongues. In the kitchen of Great Wall Szechuan House’s small dining area (seats around 40 maximum) is a chef who knows Szechuan (also spelled Sichuan) flavors and has the spices to implement them. Locals living around the area are familiar with Great Wall but visitors and newly implanted government-corporate types are likely to pass it by for the larger, more polished hipster-elite restaurants all around.
Right on the first page of the menu is where you’ll find the once secret Ma-La Specials at Great Wall. Order your choice and great ready for a hot roller coaster. If “hot roller coaster” sounds frightening to you, go with some of the blander, more traditional international Chinese restaurant choices on the menu. But if the thought of assaulting your senses with mouth fire and sweat as flavorful chilies seep into your skull sounds like fun, Great Wall Szechuan House is the restaurant for you.
Doorstop To A Shift
Great Wall Szechuan House reflects the steady movement of investment and gentrification up into the north-central part of Washington D.C. area from downtown. A little over a decade ago, a lot of the places around Logan Circle and Adams Morgan a few blocks up were hole in the walls. New residents with higher rents have lead to a changing face of the eateries here. Amid its polished upscale neighbors, Great Wall Szechuan House stands out where it matters most, on the menu.
You can find Great Wall Szechuan House at 1527 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20005, open everyday from late mornings to late evenings.