I am a hotpot addict – let me just put it out there. On good days, I excuse myself to a hotpot restaurant because I deserve it, and on bad days, I head there too because it makes me feel better. There is always an excuse to have hotpot if you’re me.
However, those in China especially love hotpot on cold days as its warmth is said to expel the cold and keep the body warm.
But, I wasn’t always in love with hotpot. In fact, I only discovered it two years ago. My former boss, who is from China, introduced me to this (kind of scary) chilli-ridden broth known as Mala. When she first mentioned hotpot, what I had pictured was miles away from what she was talking about.
In my mind, I had thought about a warm, hearty pot of clear or tom yam soup steamboat that we Malaysians all know and love too well.
“No! That’s not hotpot!”, she exclaimed after realising we were not on the same page. She later took us to a hidden hotpot gem in Chow Kit and I was hooked. So, no, we’re not talking about steamboat here. We will be discussing the bubbly chilli broth that is definitely not for weak stomachs.
Now, let’s boil down (get it?) to what is Mala hotpot. We have also listed a few places for you to try.
Sichuan Mala hotpot broth
Mala is the name given to the concoction of seasonings that make up a spicy, numbing broth – you might have come across this in other dishes, and even in snacks.
When it comes to Sichuan Mala hotpot, two of the main and very apparent ingredients are Sichuan peppercorns, as well as dried chilli. There are various other spices that go into a Mala hotpot broth, which can include cloves, cardamom, star anise, rock sugar, as well as fennel seeds.
These spices are then submerged into oil, which is usually made from beef tallow and vegetable oil. The oil is then simmered for hours and kept aside. Unlike other broths, this broth is merely to be dipped in and not to be sipped because of its oil content. However, some Mala broths may also include pork for extra flavour.
In China, there are two main cities that are popular for hotpot – Chongqing and Chengdu. It is said that hotpot originated from Chongqing, which was once part of the Sichuan province. Later on, Chengdu began popularising it and now has hotpot restaurants scattered throughout the city.
However, you don’t have to suffer terribly if you are not too keen on an extremely spicy feast as there are different spiciness levels that are offered in hotpot restaurants. You can choose your level with minimal spice (weila), medium spicy (zhongla) or be brave with the maximum spiciness (chaola).
Warning: Your tastebuds can literally become numb if you accidentally bite on the Sichuan peppercorns.
How to eat Sichuan Mala hotpot
I’m a dumper. What that means is that, I dump half of the items I order into the broth and wait until they all cook through.
However, my former boss told us there was another way to eat hotpot. She would pick up the piece of meat with her chopsticks, then dip it in and out of the broth until it was cooked. This works because the slices of raw meat you get will cook fast as they are not sliced thick.
There are other things you should know about hotpot. Here is a quick guide:
- You can choose more than one broth: You do not have to solely choose the Mala hotpot. Mala hotpot chains are equally popular for their tomato broth, herbal broth and mushroom broth. You can do a dual pot, with one side of clear soup and the other with the traditional mala spicy broth. Some chains even offer up to eight soups per table!
- Making your sauce: You might be overwhelmed at the sauce station. You can experiment if you want, but sauce makes the meal because after you dip it into the broth, you will dip it into your sauce. There are different versions of sauces you can make. You can try Youdie where you submerge the condiments (usually oyster sauce, garlic, spring onion, coriander and vinegar) into sesame oil. Another version is Gandie, which is a dry sauce. Some hotpot chains have their own version of this, but if not, the typical mix includes ground peanuts, chillipowder and garlic.
- Taking out your meat from the middle: According to China Highlights, locals in Chengdu recommend taking meat out from the middle of the pot where the bubbles are rapid, so this can takeaway any excess oil from your meat because you eat.
Sichuan Mala hotpot places in KL to try
We are always on the hunt for hotpot places, and it seems that many hotpot restaurants are opening throughout Malaysia. I like to try out different places, as you will discover different versions of this Sichuan Mala broth.
In Malaysia, you might find that some of the broths are diluted with stock which gives a spicy, but gentle kick. Here are a few places you can check out.
- 蜀香楼成都火锅 Shu Xiang Lou Hot Pot & Sichuan Cuisine at The LINC, KL: I love this place. They serve the traditional spicy broth and offer a very cosy ambiance. Just climb the colourful stairs in link and head straight – it will be on your right.
- Xiao Long Kan Hot Pot at Bukit Bintang, Fahrenheit88: I’ve never tried this personally because there is always a waiting list, but I have heard good things about this place. It is based on Chengdu’s version of hotpot. Do note that they usually have a waiting list, so we recommend calling up the restaurant first to check their available slots.
- Haidilao Hot Pot at Sunway Pyramid, IOI City Mall and Pavillion: This is a famous hotpot chain that is highly praised for its service. You can help yourself to free snacks as you wait for your table! They will hand out bibs and even hairties to keep you clean during your meal. If you order pulled noodles, you can witness the famous Noodle Dance, where the noodle expert will elaborately swish around as he pulls apart the noodle strings.
Shu Guo Yin Xiang Hotpot, Jalan Yap Kwan Seng: I’ve been here once. It’s a pretty spacious hotpot place – great for big groups. The meats are served on fancy platters and can be pricey compared to other hotpot restaurants, but the quality is worth it!
Nevertheless, as we are currently threading through a pandemic, indulging in hotpot with your friend might not be wise. But, once it’s safe, do give it a go!
Remember, choose your spiciness level wisely otherwise you might regret it the next day. Don’t say we didn’t warn ya.