Mala (Spicy and Numbing) Broth for Sichuanese Hot Pot

This post is the fourth part of a mini-series anchored around the following post: A Culinary Tour of Hot Pots Throughout Asia.  The other parts of the series can be found here: Part II (Preparing Filet Mignon for Hot Pots) and Part III (Seryna – Kobe Beef Shabu Shabu).

Sichuan, China: This was the the first stop of our Culinary Tour of Hot Pots Throughout Asia

What sets the Sichuan hot pot apart from typical Chinese hot pots is its classic spicy broth, called mala.

The term “mala” in Chinese literally means Numbingly Spicy.  This wonderfully flavorful, numbingly spicy broth gets its characteristic flavors from Sichuan chilies and Sichuan peppercorns. The chilies give the soup a fiery burn, while the peppercorns have an unusual numbing effect on the tongue.


I recently tried a home-version of the mala broth based on a recipe by Fuchsia Dunlop from her highly regarded book, Land of Plenty.  Fuchsia Dunlop was the first foreigner to study Sichuanese cooking at the acclaimed Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine in Chengdu, China.

Warning!  This broth is really spicy and not for the faint of heart (or stomach!).  People with sensitive stomachs probably should not try this.  Also, turn on the vent and open the windows when you prepare this broth. The chilies will smoke a bit when you fry them, and can cause some spicy coughing fits.  I would not recommend preparing this recipe if you have any sort of lung condition.  

Adapted from Land of Plenty by Fuchsia Dunlop

·  1/4 cup fermented black beans
·  1/3 cup Shaoxing rice wine or medium-dry sherry
·  1 chunk fresh ginger, about 3 inches long
·  1/4 cup dried Sichuanese chilies, or regular red chilies
·  1/2 cup peanut or vegetable oil
·  2/3 cup beef drippings or lard
·  1/2 cup Sichuanese chile bean paste (la doban jiang)
·  3 quarts good beef stock
·  1 tablespoon rock sugar
·  1/2 cup Sichuanese fermented glutinous rice wine (optional)
·  Salt to taste
·  1 teaspoon whole Sichuan peppercorns

Mash the black beans with 1 tablespoon of the Shaoxing wine in a food processor until you have a smooth paste. Wash the ginger and cut it into slices about the thickness of a coin.

Snip the chilies into one-inch segments and try to remove as many seeds as possible.
Heat 3 T of vegetable oil over medium heat until hot (but not smoking). [Make sure the fan is on and the windows are open!] Cook the chilies in the hot oil until crisp and fragrant, taking care not to burn them (the oil should sizzle around the chilies).  Make sure they don’t start turning black! 
Once crispy and fragrant, remove the chilies with a wooden spoon.  At this point, the recipe says to add the 2/3 cup beef drippings/lard to the oil until melted.  In an effort to make this more healthy, I omitted this step and just used vegetable oil.

Once everything is melted, add the hot chili bean paste (la doban jiang) and stir-fry for a minute or so until the oil is richly red and fragrant. This should sizzle gently – take care not to burn it.  You can turn down the heat periodically if you think you are in danger of burning it.  When the oil has reddened, add the mashed black beans and the ginger and continue to stir-fry until they are fragrant. Then pour in about 1 1/2 quarts of the stock and bring it to a boil.
When the liquid has come to a boil, add the rock sugar (or granulated sugar if you don’t have rock sugar) and the rest of the Shaoxing rice wine, with the fermented rice wine if you have it, and salt to taste. (Note, I did not have fermented rice wine, so I did not add any of this).

Finally, add the prepared chilies (the ones you had fried up earlier) and Sichuan peppercorns according to taste and leave the broth to simmer 15-20 minutes, until it is wonderfully spicy.
I won’t lie to you – this broth is REALLY SPICY!  If you aren’t used to spicy foods, just be careful!  Don’t eat too much!  My digestive system did not react most favorably to this – maybe it was just too spicy for me.  Bryan was fine, but then he usually eats much spicier than I do!  It is very fragrant, and has a lovely blend of different flavors.  I’m sure it would have tasted even better with the lard!

Serve this in conjunction with a non-spicy broth, as your guests will most likely need to take breaks from the spice!


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  1. tinyurbankitchen says

    Thanks for the comment. I wish I could tell you it’s like Little Q, but it’s not nearly as good. I was hoping that too! I have no idea what Little Q puts in their mala broth, but I can’t recreate it!

  2. says

    Mala Broth (part of the hot pot special), medium spicy comes with firm tofu – nice But honestly I’m a bit of a wuss when it comes to numbing spice. guy who runs a Western style bar, who takes him to eat Sichuan Mala Hot Pot.

  3. says

    Thank you for sharing this recipe! It is my go-to recipe for ma la broth! I’ve shared your recipe in my website and provided a link back to here. Thanks again for bringing ma la broth into our homes :)

  4. catherine says

    Thanks for a great recipe. I quadruple the amount of chilies in your recipe and throw in a naga chile for good measure. My tongue is pretty much desensitized to spicy food but my delicate stomach doesn’t have the same appreciation for spicy food as my tongue. To prevent tummy issues when making hotpot, add a handful of goji berries to the broth. I always make sure to have a few goji berries after eating spicy food, helps keep the body from getting hot.

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