Among the people I’ve talked to who know Chinese food, there’s a general consensus that the DC food scene, for all its strengths, is not a hotbed of Chinese cuisine. (Not counting Maryland or Virginia, where all the good stuff seems to live; I’m referring to within the District itself.) I just haven’t heard anyone getting worked up about Chinese food here the way they do about Ethiopian, Thai or Mexican.
So when I do read or hear anything positive, I make a mental note to check the place out. Which is what happened last weekend after my first Chinese language class. I was already in Chinese mode; eating the food seemed like the next logical step. It was also a nice day for a walk from Foggy Bottom to Logan Circle, although anyone spotting me on the street would have thought I was a crazy person, since I was practicing my Chinese phrases out loud over and over: “My name is Doug. And you?” and “I’m very glad to meet you!”
Great Wall Szechuan House has numerous raves on Yelp for its special ma la dishes, which are extremely spicy and made tongue-numbing by Szechuan peppercorns.
Ma po tofu is perhaps my favorite Chinese dish, so ordering that was a given.
The dan dan noodles also caught my eye.
Three points about eating ma la: 1) Set a whole packet of tissues on the table, because you’re going to need them; 2) Your tongue will start going numb almost immediately. It’s a strange feeling, a little like being at the dentist, but you’ll adjust to it; 3) You’re going to want a lot of rice. A lot.
In retrospect, I didn’t need two dishes off the ma la menu. One would have been plenty. The flavor of the Szechuan peppercorn is so prominent that after a while it can become overwhelming. But boy was it a relief to eat some honest to goodness fiery Chinese food.
I couldn’t quite work up the nerve to try my Mandarin out on the restaurant staff. Not sure how they would have reacted to a badly accented, “Hello. My name is Doug. And you?” Later in the semester though, I’ll give it a shot. Maybe I’ll say this: “Your ma la dishes are very good. And very spicy! Would you happen to have any tissues?”
Great Wall Szechuan House
1527 14th St. NW