Ma La spices and spiciness Sichuan hot pot

Ma La 麻辣 spices and spiciness, the lip and tongue-numbing heat of spicy Sichuan peppers in many dishes and sauces in Chongqing and Sichuan Cuisine. Embraced by lovers and fans of hot and spicy food also referred as La Wei 辣味.

The dishes of Chuan Cuisine are famous for their spicy-hot flavors, a spicy-hotness that Sichuaners call “dry hot”, insisting that it differs from the “wet hot” spiciness of other cuisines. The difference, say, Sichuaners, is that the spices used to achieve “dry hot” spiciness consists of a mixture of dry ingredients such as crushed peppercorns (black, red and white) and dried, crushed chili, as well as Sichuan Province’s own native pepper, huajiao. According to Sichuan-Cuisine chefs, gourmets and gourmands (which covers just about everyone cooking and eating Sichuan Cuisine), the salient features of “dry hot” spiciness consist of an instantaneous numbing effect on the tongue, and a pleasing, lingering, spicy-hot aftertaste. Source:Chinadaily

A favourite winter dish is Ma La Huo Guo 麻辣火鍋 or fiery Chinese Hotpot. The first time we had Ma La Hotpot, by chance we ordered a Double Lovers Hotpot since the kids joined for dinner as well. This variation is named Yuan Yang Huo Guo 鸳鸯火锅 or Mandarin ducks, representing male and female, yin and yang perfect harmony of warmth and cold. Which explains the common use of reference as Double Lovers Hotpot.

An inventive vessel next to the chimney type Hotpot, because the Double Lovers Hotpot has a divider containing a regular stock and Ma La broth sided together. Now in China and other Asian countries, you might even come across specialised fondue restaurants with quadruple pan holder for broth variations or including a grill for barbeque food.

With upcoming Chinese New Year celebration, this year on 8 February 2016 signifies an important Chinese Food culture known as “Reunion Dinner” 團年 Tuan Nian. Conjointly Chinese New Year holidays marks the greatest mass transportation, where 4% of the world’s population are on the move, with an estimated 3.5 billion journeys in China. The largest crowd of 200 million Mainland Chinese travelling long distance going back home to celebrate Chinese New Year with their families. These numbers do not take in account the number of Asian and Chinese descendants travelling outside of China to visit their families in other Chinese diasporas worldwide. Source: Chinese NewYear facts China Highlights

Chinese people all over the world consider it to be the most important part of the celebration. The reunion dinner literally meaning re-unite or grouping and 圍爐 Wei Lu which translates as surrounding the fireplace marks a family gathering on the Lunar New Year’s Eve.  Wei Lu 圍爐 symbolising the family gathering with a prolonged Hotpot as family members arrive one-after-another.

Double Lovers Hotpot 鸳鸯火锅

Double Lovers Hotpot 鸳鸯火锅 Credit and Photo courtesy by HTHSART | www.nipic.com

The versatility of Chinese Hotpot serves three purposes;

  1. First obviously as a soup, a base of meat stock made from one or mix of lamb, cow, pork or chicken bones simmered for hours to release nutrients and marrow with additional herbs and vegetables aiding extraction and enhancing the final broth. During the course of the dinner, the Hotpot will be refilled several times with the prepared broth. Added bonus once dinner progresses all the additional food items dippings will release more flavour to the broth.
  2. The dipping sauce condiments to create or blend your dip mixture to your own liking and preferences. For all intent and purposes, the various plates ingredients after being cooked in the Hotpot broths are dipped in your sauce before being savoured or wolfed down. Often used sauce components are; diced garlic, Sa Cha Jiang 沙茶酱 (a must), sliced green onion, chopped coriander, chopped ginger, salt, sugar, chilli slices or diced, Chinese vinegar, soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, vegetable oil, and chilli oil.
  3. While the broths are important so are the many accompanying ingredients of thinly sliced meats, fish and seafood, vegetables (typical Hotpot veggie is Tong Ho aka Chrysanthemum greens), doufu (dried, soft and hard) and variations of hotpot dumplings, doughy items e.g. Nian Gao 年糕. And often offal items are included and seen as a highlight for many Asian and less for the general Western palate.  Just remember an easy rule of thumb; 5 vegetable dishes and 5 meat/fish dishes is a good start.

Let me guarantee that life will never be the same after sampling Ma La sauce or hotpot, it is one of the most popular and sociable dinners in China and Taiwan. Your sensory taste buds will be nuked while experiencing the sauce or soup unique flavours at the same time. If you cry, you are in great company joining your culinary merriment in howls and other spasms.

Ma La Spices and Spiciness

While every Chef or household has its own recipe, the main ingredients are dried chilli peppers; La Jiao 辣椒 (dried Sichuan pepper) and Hua Jiao 花椒 (has a unique aroma slightly lemony tone and a tingling mouthfeel) next with chilli powder, cloves and use of black cardamom. Related to green cardamom, but bolder and stronger flavour with notes of resin and camphor, mostly used in curries (Indian), stews and meat broths in Chinese and Vietnamese Pho.

Other spices are fennel seed, cinnamon, star anise and typically Chinese herbs Sha Jiang 沙姜 (in Indonesian cooking aka kencur, aromatic ginger it has a peppery camphoraceous taste); Bai Zhi 白芷 aka  Angelica root or Chinese Angelica often used in stewing soups for restorative medicinal purpose as a tonic.

Nowadays Ma La sauce is premade ready and sold in Asian supermarkets or Chinese food stores. Sichuan restaurants will often make their own sauce blends in large quantities, as will home cook aficionados. Add to this the number of travellers who will return home and develop comfort food cravings starting to search for recipes or scouring their city for an authentic dish to recreate and/or rekindle the wake-up feel by Ma La spiciness on their tongue and lips. The MaLa Project literally chases Mala prickling and tingling spice in food and life by Taylor Holiday runs a great blog exploring authentic Sichuan dishes and recipes.

Since it’s still winter season we have the Wild game on the menu, here’s a dish Spicy Hare stir-fry regional Sichuan style recipe. Give it a try and adjust the spicy level of heat up a notch or keep it burning low and slow.

Ma La heat level

The flavour is spicy, numbing brought on by Hua Jiao (flower pepper aka prickly ash) and salty, mixed with a strong herbal taste which is often described as savoury, spicy, complicated and addictive.

The international pungency measurement for the level of spicy heat of chilli peppers is the Scoville scale heats unit (SHU). A practical measurement determined by the capsaicin sensitivity of testers and not a precise or accurate method to measure scientifically capsaicinoid (a volatile oil in peppers) concentration. This method is created by American pharmacist Wilbur Scoville in 1912. Since its origin using real testers you will often see in signs or advertisement the progressive faces of compliant up to screaming and teary faces or the number of peppers behind a dish or ingredient.

For those who are curious to find out how scientist measure spiciness now, check the link here for more information or browse to read more on a different measure of pungency units here.

How hot Ma La 麻辣 spices, as Sichuan peppers in La Wei 辣味 are can be viewed in the China challenge: Eat ‘World’s Spiciest’Rice Noodles original by NetEase|163.com as posted by Wall Street Journal Video Channel.

Entertain your Hotpot with family and friends at home or find a great Chinese Restaurant, take the challenge add some spice into 2016.

Happy New Year, I wish you good health and lasting prosperity.


Spicy Hare or Rabbit Sichuan style

Spicy Hare Sichuan style

Spicy Hare Sichuan style

Who would have guessed at a food swap, having a great coffee talk I would end up joining wild game groups on the net and near the woods (no I don’t hunt). My curiosity has introduced me to otherwise unknown wild game gourmets of cooks and hunters.

It didn’t take too long to buy a fresh wild rabbit/hare directly from a hunter and before I arrived home I decided to prepare Sichuan style version. With the infamous dried peppers ‘Hua jiao‘ 花椒粒 and ‘La jiao’ 辣椒乾 (literal translation is flower pepper kernels and dried Sichuan chilli).

Both are very distinctive spices not easily replaced if you want to add a particular heat and aroma.

Hua jiao & La Jiao

Hua Jiao Flowerpepper and La Jiao Sichuan whole pepper


These ingredients are not common in supermarkets or deli stores. I have added the images for recognition. So you know what to search for at the Chinese supermarkets or Asian Toko’s.

Homemade Sichuan hot chilli oil is an infused aromatic oil, made of grounded Sichuan chilli peppers (la jiao) and flower pepper (Hua jiao) to flavour the oil together with other spices. Used as a finish in many stir-fries, swirled on top of noodle soups and an integral part in marinades for spicy appetisers.

A part of my last batch ended up as food gifts so I need to refill and stock up my own pantry soon. Making the oil is not for the fainthearted because using and stir-frying peppers will release a very pungent sensation and can irritate the skin and eyes.

Conveniently store bought works as well, you can find these at the supermarkets/Toko’s. Shop for the standard Chilli oil look for an aromatic Sichuan version on the shelf.

Aromatic oils; Homemade SiChuan hot pepper chilli oil and Sesame oil

Aromatic oils; Homemade Sichuan hot chilli oil and Sesame oil


Aromatic oils; Homemade Sichuan hot chilli oil and Sesame oil 

As with buying sesame oil, for advanced gourmet sleuths, they enjoy cooking with various oils for blending or cooking purposes. Buy small bottles once open use it quickly or it can turn rancid. Note of caution, sesame oil is not intended for frying, but only quick sauté for example to fragrance a dressing or sauce at the end of cooking.

Spicy Hare or Rabbit in Chinese Food Therapy

In my childhood rabbit meat was a staple ingredient and prepared by my parents in many dishes; stir-fries, stews, and herbal soups often paired with traditional Chinese medicine. The latter to make a tonic with the purpose of strengthening and nourishing the body. Cooking with Chinese herbs is about recuperating the body and rabbit meat is well known for its high protein content.

In Chinese dietic therapy; “According to TCM food, like medicine can be divided into the characteristics cold-hot-cool-warm. When applied correctly nutritional ingredients can help the patient to overcome an inclination to or even a manifested disease. Food used to aid and act as preventive part of a nourishing diet can achieve the same goal to strengthen recovery process”.

For more information on the use of tonics and food therapy, click on the links. Browse the internet for more in-depth TCM information and/or elaborate search on practices and belief system.

Rabbit or Hare meat is considered foods with warming qualities, high protein level and the temperature was cold. The more reason altogether to add spice in this wild game stir-fry dish bringing it all in balance.

A few days later I posted food pics of my Sichuan style cooked spicy hare dish just for fun between all other social media posts. The food pics picked up attention with a request to share the recipe and preparation method. Instead of a wild rabbit, hare, you can make this dish with other meats as well, for e.g. lamb would be very nice with the peppers, capsicum, and daikon (rettich/white carrot or aka daikon).

Here is the recipe link Spicy Hare stir-fry regional Sichuan style – Recipe.

YumNua Yang, ยำเนื้อย่าง Thai beef salad

Thai beef salad recipe with authentic aromatic flavours and an enticing complexity of sweet, sour, spice and heat combined with grilled marinated meat. This dish is one of our family & friends favourites.

Quick and easy to prepare, serve the salad as a starter for lunch or as a side with other complimentary dishes together as Thai dinner theme. The recipe as always retrieved from my memory vault with all the ingredients and steps but no good food photographs.

I couldn’t have a better excuse to make this dish today. Usually, as soon as the dish arrives at the table it disappears to late to make any snapshots. Prepping the dish received much enthusiasm of my better half he replied: “Somebody got to eat happily to help :-)”.

The family loves salad and Thai beef salad ranks on top of all time favourites in our house. We actually moved and lived in Asia for more than a decade. Taiwan became our second home but Thailand was very close sharing the same position, both destinations were foodies paradise.


I visited Thailand for the very first time by invitation to come along with friends. My husband couldn’t accompany me so my sister joined as a travel companion. We both thoroughly enjoyed our sister’s holiday and Thai cuisine.

Of the many dishes we devoured, YumNua Yang a.k.a. Yum Neua was among the first plates of much more to come. We re-visited Thailand on many more occasions travelling through all the regions. The roadside street food stalls, night food markets or restaurants beautiful plated and served local style.

The heart of this dish must be a good piece of beef, sirloin or steak cut. Cheaper cuts like a skirt or flank steak after grilling let it rest (10min.) before cutting. Next is the authentic fresh made dressing of fish sauce, garlic, bird’s eye chilli, palm sugar, lime juice, coriander, Thai/Chinese celery. Mint and lemongrass (optional).

marinated pan-fried rib eye steak

marinated pan-fried rib-eye steak

Thai flavours

To create Thai flavours, you have to look at the ingredients and some of them just can’t be ignored or simply substituted, the basis is fish sauce, just buy a small bottle don’t think for a minute to easily replace this with vinegar or soy sauce.

Vinegar only has acidity no umami (savoury taste/flavour), I love soy sauce but it will not do justice to this dish, same counts for palm sugar if you don’t have then rather use brown or cane sugar it adds more depth than white sugar.

Lime or lemon juice it is just a subtle contrast but when you grate the rind it will release essential oils, the scent enables you to tell and smell the difference. Coriander is an essential herb as is celery and lemongrass add fragrance to the whole dish bringing it all together to the next level.

They are actually irreplaceable if left out everyone will notice something is missing even while you have a good steak on your plate. The dressing needs to have the complexity of sweet, sour, spice, heat and fragrance to make YumNua or leave it bland and that would put the dish to shame.

In this recipe, I have marinated the meat beforehand it is worth the wait and effort to add this step, use a bit of fish sauce with black and white pepper and a dash of Chinese cooking wine (optional).

YumNua Yang ยำเนื้อย่าง Thai Beef Salad

You will find the recipe in the recipe box here below, enjoy this wonderful dish. Try and enjoy your own home-made YumNua Yang, Thai beef salad!

YumNua Thai Beef Salad ingredients

YumNua Thai Beef Salad ingredients

Update 20th June 2017

With every summer this recipe is trending on our Instagram and FB Page as a popular recipe easy to make and enjoy. For dieters following Keto, Paleo diet based on LCHF or Type 2 diabetes  this dish is perfect with the following dietary adjustments.

In Thai cooking Palm sugar is often used and advertised with health claims having low glycemic index, however, this does not directly apply for sweeteners. For Bulletproof fans “Coconut palm sugar is not Bulletproof period“, click the link for a post by guru David Asprey.

I recommend Lakanto all natural sweetener, a product of Chinese Luo Han Guo aka monk fruit sugar to replace standard sugar.

Monk Fruit or Luo Han Guo (Siraitia Grosvenorii) is a rare perennial plant cultivated mainly in the mountains of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in China. Unlike most fruits, whose sweetness comes from fructose, Monks Fruit’s sweetness comes from natural mogrosides that are 300 times sweeter than sugar. Modern research shows that Monk Fruit extract does not elevate blood sugar or insulin. These fruits are powerful antioxidants and contain no calories

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) the healing properties have been known for centuries. Luo Han Guo is native to southern China and northern Thailand.

You can easily buy this fruit in dried powdered form at larger Asian supermarkets and fresh when the season arrives, they are exported and available for a short period to eat or use the fruit in cooking.