A Mala Addict's Guide to NUS Mala
Just like how the exact origins of this culinary masterpiece is unknown, I can’t remember what first urged me to try mala xiang guo (maybe it was along the lines of constantly viewing this curious combination of instant noodles and liao on many of my friends’ Insta stories). But I did, and let’s just say there's no turning back now.
Mala xiang guo (MLXG) is a stir fried, dry version of its Sichuan-born ancestor, mala hotpot. It’s mix of herbs, spices and special mala sauce creates a tongue-numbing (ma) and spicy (la) yet addictive experience for its consumers. The ability to customise one’s meal according to their own palate (in terms of a generous variety of ingredients and spice level) is probably another reason why this dish is so loved among Singaporeans. That, and the fact that Singaporeans are trend-hoppers who unsurprisingly jumped on mala's sudden surge in popularity. Fun fact: a version of MLXG first appeared on our shores in 2015 from a mainland Chinese farmer’s son. But, his small business almost went bankrupt back then due to the lack of local interest in Sichuan delicacies. This spurred him to create mala mini lobsters (lobsters dipped in the iconic mala sauce we eat today) which successfully piqued Singaporeans’ interests for mala, boosting the dish’s popularity and also his pay check!
Bringing it closer to home, it is no secret that most KResidents are avid fans of both forms of mala, MLXG and hotpot (Team BIAP or Team HDL?). So here’s a few spots in school that have long been contesting for the title of best mala in NUS:
PGP (Aircon Canteen)
It's the undisputed #1 in my heart.
Well worth your money (my usual mala runs with Val costs us about $4.50 per person and we are very generous with our pork belly).
Cheapest 'weighed' mala; priced at roughly $0.90 / 100g for meat!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Extremely aromatic. A friend once said, "You know its good mala if you smell it before you see it!" This is THAT mala. It achieves the balance between the peppercorn spice and the signature mala flavour; every bite leaves the familiar numbing sensation and a tingle for more. Once you've had this, you wont be able to settle for anything else on campus.
Probably the most authentic mala you can get in NUS, a MUST go!
@malastagram rates: 8.5/10
Comparable to the PGP Aircon Canteen mala (though many have begged to disagree, this is my rating and I do not)
Just as affordable, the ingredients are priced by quantity and they are quite generous with servings!
Personal downside; the spice is quite inconsistent, so be careful!
@malastagram rates: 8/10
FASS - The Deck
Recommended for garlic fans or those feeling constipated (the noodles aren’t swimming in oil for no reason).
Flavourful (mostly garlic-y) but still overall enjoyable.
Good variety of toppings to choose from; price depends on the quantity of ingredients. However, they do have their own system of delegating different prices for different dishes, and also the portions are considerably....... tiny.
You'll be able to sit in the comfort of The Deck's air conditioning, so if you're the type to sweat a lot, don't worry about indulging in da la here.
@malastagram rates: 5/10
UTown - FineFood
Personally my least favourite (with the occasional salt parade in your mouth).
But on good days, the mala served here is respectable.
@malastagram rates: 5/10 (only on good days)
Whichever stall may be your mala holy grail, I think we can all agree that sharing a bowl of mala with your friends at the end of a long day is delightful and sort of cathartic (or is that just me?). Hopefully, this article soothes or fuels your random 12am mala cravings, and lastly, to everyone I’ve ever had mala with: I’m so glad you’re in MALAyfe <3.