I noticed that there have been a mass springing up of mala xiang guo (麻辣香锅), otherwise known as hot numbing fragrant pot in English, in many hawker centres and food courts.
(Pictures of mala xiang guo 麻辣香锅 from Singapore)
Instead of dipping raw meat and vegetables into spicy soup (a la steamboat), diners can pick from a wide variety of seafood, meat and vegetables which are then stir-fried in chilli-laden gravy.
You can also choose the level of spiciness according to your liking as long as you remember that there’s a consequence to bear (please refer to end of the article) if you decide to be brave and choose the most spicy level.
So what exactly is ‘mala (麻辣)’?
From the Chinese characters, ‘ma (麻)’ means numbing and ‘la (辣)’ means spicy.
BUT, this is not just your normal belachan chili spiciness.
One bite and it’ll numb your tongue and make you cry for help. The reason for this is because the sauce contains Sichuan peppercorn! (otherwise known as prickly ash!).
The ‘numbing’ Sichuan peppercorn (not sure if one can use it as anaesthesia)
According to legend, ‘Mala’ was first consumed by boatmen plying along a river in Sichuan province, China. Taking water from the river and after boiling it, they will add vegetables, meat, chili and of course, the Sichuan peppercorn to make a pot of tasty mala soup.
Apparently, besides its tantalizing taste, ‘mala’ is very useful in helping people to purge the coldness from the body and to keep warm during winter.
I think that any forms of dishes cooked in ‘mala’ style can be enjoyed by a big group of friends as it sure helps to bond people through laughter and tears.
Just remember: you know you’ve thoroughly enjoyed yourself only if you are finishing your Mala in tears or if you’re sitting on the toilet bowl and cursing the Sichuan peppercorns.