Mala Xiang Guo Recommendations 2022
Updated: Mar 21, 2022
Mala Xiang Guo, or Mala, is a dish that originated from Sichuan, China. The term mala (麻辣) comprises of two mandarin characters: numb (麻/Ma) and spicy (辣/La), which sums up the taste of the dish. It is usually made up of a myriad of ingredients chosen by the customer (think of it as a spicy version of Yong Tau Foo), who will then hand the bowl over to the store owner to stir-fry. It is stir-fried with a variety of spices, including the Sichuan peppercorn, an essential element to bring forth the numbness. Finally, the piping hot bowl of freshly cooked noodles, vegetables and meat is topped with peanuts and coriander that enhances the already aromatic dish.
In terms of spice, there are various levels that one can choose from when ordering Mala:
微辣/Wei La - mild spice level
小辣/Xiao La - low spice level
中辣/Zhong La - medium spice level
大辣/Da La - high spice level
特辣/Te La - extreme spice level
Mala first came to Singapore in 2009 but did not gain popularity until 2015 when hawker centers and food courts decided to incorporate the dish as an integral part of their establishment. This was important as food in these places tend to be cheaper, which was probably the reason why Singaporeans were intrigued by it and started consuming it regularly.
Regardless of whether you are an existing Mala addict (like me) or someone whose curiosity is piqued, read on for some recommendations of the more outstanding Mala places that I recently patronised!
P.S the recommendations below are organised in no particular order!
1. Labula Mala Xiang Guo (Jalan Besar)
Spoiler: This Mala was so good that I ate two bowls of it consecutively in one sitting.
Yup, you read it right. The Mala from Labula has always been something that I wanted to try because of the reviews that it is of pretty high standard. When I finally got around to it, I was thoroughly impressed and proceeded to visit the same branch two more times in the next two weeks.
This bowl of Mala is seriously one of the best that I have eaten over the past three years. I have had my fair share of Mala from hawker centers, standalone stores and food courts, but this store cooks up a mean bowl of Mala. What I particularly liked about this store is the flexibility for customers to tweak the dish according to their individual tastes and preferences. For example, in the order sheet, one could opt for their Mala to be less oily and less salty, but we wanted to try it in its original form and thus did not go for the healthier choice (oops). Even so, I thought that the amount of oil used was just right as we were not left with a thick pool of oil at the bottom after we completed our meal. The taste itself is also superb; the spices really blended in well against the garlic used, creating a harmony of savoury flavours that leaves one yearning for more.
An additional bonus is that the branch is located in Jalan Besar, which grants those eating there options for desserts to cool yourself down if you choose the highest level of spice. One thing to take note of is that the difference between Xiao La, Zhong La and Da La is quite significant. If you do not want to risk a tummy ache the next day, I would highly recommend going for Xiao La first and moving up from there.
405 Jalan Besar
Operating Hours: 9.30am - 8.30am
Labula is actually a franchise, and has other branches scattered all over Singapore. I could not find the full list online, but some places includes Tampines West, Bedok, Hougang and Tanglin.
The drinks can be quite pricey (a can of green tea for $2 / a bottle for $2.50) so I would suggest bringing your own water if you want to save money.
2. 趟烫麻辣烫 - TANG² Malatang (Parklane)
Located right opposite Prinsep Street where bars are a common sight, TANG² Malatang is a surprising addition. I was initially skeptical of its taste because I saw a Facebook video that showed the way the store cooked its dry Mala. Apparently, they cook it differently from regular Mala stores because they do not stir-fry their Mala over fire, and instead jumble it up in a bowl after boiling the ingredients in water. This means that the Mala could potentially lose out on the “breath of the wok” (wok hei) - a term used to describe food that is cooked over a large fire to create an elusive seared taste.
Fortunately, this Mala exceed my expectations upon the first bite. I was most impressed by the sauce, because even without stir-frying, the ingredients could still fully absorb its flavour and was overall very well-rounded in terms of taste. The vegetables also retained most of its crunchiness, unlike other Mala stores which would present rather wilted-looking vegetables. Furthermore, there was an option to add braised quail eggs on in the Mala, and that served as a unique but welcomed complement to the dish because of the subtle herbal taste.
35 Selegie Road #01-09
Parklane Shopping Mall
Operating Hours: 11.30am - 11.15pm
They have recently opened another branch in Jurong Point, so Westies, you do not have to travel all the way to Dhoby anymore!
It gets quite crowded during lunch time - we were there at 12pm and we nearly had no seats.
3. Kangkar Mall Mala
I was first introduced to Kangkar Mall Mala when I was still studying in Junior College, and the main appeal that incentivized me tocheck it out was the reasonable prices (~$2.20/100g for meat). Additionally, as this place is located in the heartland of Hougang, which was relatively near to where I studied and lived, I was more than happy to give it a shot. Well, I have never turned back since.
Surprisingly, most of the ingredients were able to retain most of their moisture even after being stir-fried, and more pertinently, the taste of the sauce was also thoroughly locked into the ingredients. The people working there also clearly put effort in preparing the food, which was something I was very grateful for. In other places, the lotus root or potato would be cut in odd sizes, but here, they wre all thinly sliced and still crunchy after entering the wok; the pork belly was very well cooked - tender and juicy, fatty but not overbearing.
I must admit, the level of numbness and spice is not immediately obvious when one is having the meal, but it does creep up on you eventually. To that end, I would also say that the spice and numbing effect is more prominent in Zhong La and above. Personally, I always thought that Xiao La is not strong enough and thus choose the Zhong La which is the right balance for me. Ultimately, the consistency of the quality seals the deal where the spice level is a secondary issue altogether.
Located within Kangkar Mall Foodcourt @ 100 Hougang Ave 10 (opposite the Zhi Char store)
Operating Hours: Closes at 8.30pm
I am not entirely sure what time it opens, but I do know that during lunch and dinner time, the food court gets a bit crowded.
The friendly staff yell out the next number for collection, so sitting near the store would be a good idea.
4. Halal Mala Hotpot at Paya Lebar Square Food Court
There are very few Halal Mala options for our Muslim friends, but this was one that I tried that was worth mentioning. When I first heard of this store from my Muslim friend, I really wanted to try it out, to taste the difference between the Halal and non-Halal version. I went in with an open mind, and came out very satisfied.
I was supposed to eat with a friend at Serangoon, so I ordered this to go. During the trip, I felt anxious the whole time as I was afraid that the noodles would soak up all of the sauce and turn tough. However, when I finally uncovered it, the familiar aroma of spices filled the air, and continued to do so as I started mixing the ingredients around. The noodles did not turn hard, and and at that time, I assumed it was because not a lot of oil was used when cooking. That got me concerned again, but this time, about whether the food would be dry. It turned out that the ingredients were not so much dry as they were cold (due to the travelling), but even then, it was delicious. I replaced my standard pork belly for chicken and the Chinese sausage for regular hotdog, thinking that it would not be as delicious, but it was actually more tender than before. This complemented well with the Zhong La that I chose and the slight numbing sensation that it offered. If the Mala takeaway was this mouth-watering, I can only imagine how much more appetizing it would be if you dine-in.
At the end of our meal, my friend and I agreed that we would definitely go back if we ever craved for Mala again.
60 Paya Lebar Road, #B1-51 Paya Lebar Square
Operating Hours: 7am - 10pm (might differ for the store as this is the food court’s operating hours)
There is a bunch of other Halal Mala stores that I have yet to explore, but this is comparable to a lot of the non-Halal Mala Xiang Guo that I had.
As usual, because it is located in the food court, it might get a tad more crowded during mealtimes.
Given the popularity of Mala, there are hundreds and hundreds of stores to try across Singapore, but these are the few that I had this year which I thought was worth recommending. If you have any other suggestions for good Mala places, feel free to comment down below!