Mala, meaning “spicy and numbing”, has become a staple in every Singaporean food court. Originating from Sichuan, mala contains Sichuanese peppercorn (this is what gives the numbing feeling), chilli pepper (this gives the spicy feeling) and various other spices simmered in oil. With many stores popping up around NUS, one of the newest additions is the one in our very own Summit, which this review intends to cover.
I spent $8.60 on this meal, which includes:
- all the different meats (pork, beef and chicken);
- a variety of mushrooms;
- seafood (fish and shrimp);
- vegetables; and
- instant noodles as my choice of carbohydrate.
Disclaimer: The selection was pretty wide and I did not give everything a try – items not tested include a large variety of vegetables like broccoli and lotus root, as well as other ingredients such as black fungus, seaweed and beancurd skin.
Spice level (I ordered the highest level of spiciness): 4/10
Saltiness level: 9/10
[Sorry Fam, #realtalk only]
Personally, I would say that the dish was definitely value-for-money. For the budget-conscious among us, e-payments will provide you with a 50 cent discount on Wednesdays and Fridays and a 20 cent discount on other days.
The dish came with a generous serving of peanuts and sesame seeds, elevating the dish by giving it a nice crunch. The generous amount of chili oil used in the cooking process, although sinful, made the dish pretty savoury.
For those who fear spicy food, rejoice! Although it defeats the purpose of mala, the Summit’s take on the dish is a relatively mild one. While the dried chili peppers added to the dish may seem intimidating, in reality, the dish wasn’t too spicy. Even at the maximum level of spice the store offered, da la, the amount of Sichuanese pepper felt very limited, and the numbing feel that typically comes when eating mala was barely noticeable.
However, in my personal opinion, the food was too salty. In particular, the beef was salted extremely heavily. To ensure that my taste buds were not malfunctioning, I even asked a few of my friends to verify the saltiness of the dish. It was indeed salty.
Disclaimer: The stall switches chefs from time to time, so every experience is never really the same.
In summary, let me put forth a diagram to describe the typical love-hate relationship with good mala:
Ultimately, although the dish might be worth your lunch money and is pretty savoury overall, it is not really mala as far as the literal translation of the words go (i.e. numbing and spicy). The Summit’s mala has room for improvement, and while it did not achieve the “satisfaction” stage for me, I think that the watered down, less spicy version may appeal to those with less feisty taste buds.