Oh the wonderfulness that is Malaxiangguo. Today I’m here to help you navigate through the simple, but seemingly daunting task, of preparing and ordering Malaxiangguo.
Malaxiangguo is a Sichuan dish that literally means “hot and numbing fragrant pot”. It is made up of an self chosen assortment of vegetables, meats, and more that is then cooked in an array of spices to a spice level of your liking.
Now this dish has been on my must try list since arriving in China, but my lack of Chinese on arrival made me stick to the easier option of English and picture menus. For me, malaxiangguo was a secret code that I was just a little too nervous to try and crack. But thankfully, after some time, I’ve worked up the courage, gotten a little help from friends, and become a master of the great malaxiangguo.
So now I’m here today, to help you! Whether you’ve just moved to China, are traveling through the country, or like me, have been sadly putting off this great pot of spicy, steamy goodness.
So let’s begin!
The set up when you walk into the restaurant will be an assembly line of sorts, starting with stacks of massive bowls. Take two, one will be for your vegetables, tofu, etc, and the other for your meats and seafood.
For your vegetable bowl: There will be a large fridge full of a wide array of choices. Expect to find a few types of noodles, tofu, a few varieties of mushrooms, your basic vegetables that you expect to see in Chinese dishes, seaweed, lots of leafy greens, and a few fun add-ins, such as mini baozi.
For your meat and seafood bowl: This one is a bit more complicated if you don’t speak Chinese. There’s a large amount of shellfish and fish, and these are a little easier to figure out what’s what. But for the meat, in my opinion, most look very similar, so here’s a quick cheat sheet: Chicken is called “ji rou”, pork is “zhu rou”, beef is “niu rou”, and lamb is “yang rou”. Point and ask, and you’ll soon have your meat bowl filled up to your liking.
For the order: There are two ways to cook malaxiangguo: dry, or in soup. While most restaurants only offer this dry, some will offer both options. This choice is up to you, however, I prefer it dry. The soup form can be confused as a regular hot pot, so if you want a full malaxiangguo experience, I recommend going dry. This option will result in a large stir fry form. If you would like your meal in the stir fry form say, “gan huoguo “. For the soup form, say “huoguo “. Next is the spice level. You can choose how spicy you would like your feast: no spice is “bu la”, spicy is “la”, and very spicy is “hen la”. Now onto the peppercorns. Sichuan food is unique for its numbing properties that result when eating many of these foods. This numbing is caused by the Sichuan pepper. After eating one of these peppercorns, your mouth becomes numb for a little while. Some people like this sensation, others do not. So this decision is all yours as well. Do you want the numbing experience or not? If so, ask for “hua jiao”, if not, say “bu hua jiao”. The operative word here is “bu”. So definitely don’t forget these two letters if you don’t want to be numbed throughout your meal.
Congratulations! You have successfully ordered one of the best meals that you will find across China! Now is the time to pay up, and don’t forget to add a couple bowls of rice, called “mi fan”. Sit down, enjoy your spicy, expertly seasoned, and personally assembled meal, and be so proud of yourself for tacking the malaxiangguo beast! But beware, this is definitely a meal to be shared by 3 or 4 people, as the portions are huge. In the case that you can’t finish, you can easily take your leftovers to go! Just say “da bao” to a waiter, and you’ll have anything you haven’t finished packed up and ready to go!