Go gaga over hot new mala trend
Look no further for Sichuan flavours outside the ubiquitous hotpot
Mala seems to have overtaken salted egg yolk as the flavour of the moment.
Mala originates from Sichuan cuisine, with peppercorn as the key ingredient.
It is both numbing (the "ma", in Mandarin) and spicy ("la"), and for the uninitiated, it can be a painful experience. But for fans, the sensation is heavenly.
Mala is usually associated with hotpot and xiang guo (fragrant pot, or ingredients fried with mala spices), but as it grows in popularity, people have become more creative.
Now, you can find it in chips, fish skin and even drinks.
The latest to the market is Yolky.
They offer delicious salted egg chips but have launched mala chips and mala fish skin, with spices sourced directly from China.
The halal-certified products will be available soon from RedMart, Naiise and the Yue Hwa emporium at Chinatown, so you'll have to stalk Yolky's Instagram page (yolkychips) for updates.
It sells for $8 a pack.
I had a preview of the products. The burn is great for the chips, but less dominant for the fish skin. Theirs is of the higher-on-spice, lower-on-numb variety.
I really love the mala chips from Ooh. They hit a sweet spot between spicy and numb, which makes it incredibly addictive. I ordered five packs through online shopping site Shopee and finished my stash within a week.
It all started because owner Gervor Quek is obsessed with mala xiang guo, and turned his passion into a thriving business.
Besides cassava chips, it is also available in potato chips form ($6 each), and this month, you can find them at Plaza Singapura (Level 6 kiosk outside Kopitiam) and Raffles Place (Change Alley). It is also available via www.ooh.sg and Lazada.
If you like a choice of spice levels, the Mala Mala range of potato wedges ($8) or mushroom chips ($9) comes in either Mild Spicy, Super Spicy or Crazy Spicy.
If you like any sort of spice, forget the Mild Spicy version because the spice is almost absent. The other two varieties fare better in the heat department but can get quite spicy, so expect a burn all the way.
What I like though, is that within each bag, there are smaller-sized packs. You can buy it online at malamala.com.sg or at its store at Paragon (#B1-32).
Most of Koh-Kae's coated peanut snacks are on the sweet side, but Koh-Kae Mala Coated Peanuts ($1.65, at selected Cold Storage supermarkets and $1.70 at Market Place by Jasons) is for those who like a hit of spice.
It is milder than most of the mala products I've tried, and the peppercorn is more a hint than a presence, but this is great for those who just want the thrill of mala but not the actual heat.
When I asked around for unusual mala products, someone suggested the King's Chicken Hash Benedict ($21) from the newly-opened Halcyon & Crane at Paragon (#03-09, Tel: 9721-5121).
To be honest, the restaurant is so new I haven't had a chance to try it out but going by the dish description - English muffin with gongbao chicken stir-fried with chilli peppers and peppercorns - I think the heat should be there.
Especially since the people behind Halcyon & Crane also run Birds Of A Feather (115 Amoy Street, Tel: 6221-7449).
Birds is one of my favourite places for modern Sichuan dishes, and if the standards are the same, this should be good.
Over at the restaurant itself, if you want to a different mala experience, you can try the bespoke cocktail Women by The Bund. (Check the exact price with the bartender before you order to avoid a nasty shock - it costs about $20.)
It has vodka, Sichuan pepper, wasabi, Sichuan red chilli oil and house-made bean spice, and it'll be a savoury and spicy experience.