Cheap & Good

Spice trade

Spicy Hot Pot’s mala xiang guo has a dizzying fragrance and the right amounts of tongue-numbingness and spiciness.
Spicy Hot Pot’s mala xiang guo has a dizzying fragrance and the right amounts of tongue-numbingness and spiciness. ST PHOTO: TAN KENG YAO

I once ate a mala xiang guo whose sauce was so spicy and yet lacking in fragrance that I ended up shedding copious amounts of tears - not only because my mouth was on fire, but also over my wasted meal.

While many stalls now do mala xiang guo - a hot and tongue-numbing stir-fry of ingredients you pick yourself - not all do it well. I've had bad ones in which the sauce is too spicy, too salty or simply didn't have that heady fragrance any self-respecting mala xiang guo should have.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 01, 2019, with the headline 'Spice trade'. Print Edition | Subscribe