Mala is addictive. The subtle numbing spiciness that builds up into a fiery feeling in the mouth is something many wouldn’t mind having despite what happens the following day on the throne. But if you have friends who share the same sort of masochism, then perhaps having Sichuan-style mala hotpot is a good place to have dinner.
For first-timers, mala is a Sichuan-style spice that comprises Szechuan peppercorns, dried chilli, clove, garlic, star anise, ginger, cinnamon, black cardamom and fennel that are simmered in oil for hours. Like curry, there are various iterations of mala sauces with every chef fighting for the ‘best recipe’ but really, it all boils down to personal taste.
So is the version that’s served at Feng Wang Fu Hotpot.”We are a franchise from Chengdu, and in fact, is the first to bring the brand out of China earlier this year. So what we are serving here is a truly authentic version of what you’d get in the original restaurant,” explains co-owner Natalie Goh.
As the queue grows longer at the entrance of Feng Wang Fu located behind Fahrenheit 88, it is important to note that reservations (a few days in advance) are highly recommended if you’re not the kind who likes to wait around in a queue. But since it opens from 11.00 am until 5.00 am, you’re guaranteed a seat if you plan to drop by for lunch or to fuel up late at night.
But first, allow us to run you through the pleasure of eating mala hotpot at, dare we say, the best place in KL.
Start with the Basics
It can be a bit daunting having a whole lot of items on the table without really knowing what role they play. Here’s where we come in.
You’ll first notice a slice of white bread — it’s used to absorb excess oil from anything that’s cooked in the spicy broth, reducing the fiery intensity at the same time. The waiter will also be mixing a dipping sauce for you by mixing fundamental condiments such as chopped bird’s eye chilli, coriander, garlic and a specialty sesame oil that’s flown in directly from Chengdu.
“This special sesame oil is the secret to eating mala hotpot because it actually helps to coat your stomach and protect it from the extreme spiciness — making the oil a key ingredient in the dipping sauce,” shares fellow co-owner, Jason Goh.
Next, choose a soup base that is best for everyone — you don’t want to kill someone’s appetite halfway through when the ‘numbing gets tough’. If you’re totally new to mala, start with the Classic Three-flavoured Soup where you can choose between Mala Spicy, Tomato, Bone or Mushroom. The Bone soup base is hearty and rich, while the tomato soup is surprisingly delicious and pairs well with everything from vegetables to seafood and red meat. What’s highly in demand at Feng Wang Fu is the Signature Spicy Red Soup that may look intimidating at first, but poses nothing more than a mild heat if you make good use of the white bread and sesame sauce.
If you frequent mala hotpot restaurants, you’d know what to order. In case you don’t, start with the essential vegetables like radish, lotus root, potato and Chinese yam. Cook these root vegetables until soft and tender, and enjoy the abundance of flavours that are absorbed. Have a side of kelp, black fungus and mushrooms that go very well with the mala broth as well.
Other bestsellers include the Handmade Bamboo Shrimp Paste, Taiwanese Fish Ball and Snowflake Beef Slice.
When it comes to meat slices, there is a choice between beef, lamb and pork. If you’re going all out with the extra spicy mala soup, chances are you won’t be able to differentiate what these meat slices would taste like by your fifth helping. If you’re really particular about cooking the meat perfectly, follow the recommended time on the order sheet — 15 to 30 seconds for beef, 15 to 60 seconds for pork and 15 seconds for the lamb slices. Anything longer than 60 seconds and all meat will taste the same.
However, no visit to Feng Wang Fu is complete without a serving of exotic ingredients that are loved by the locals in Chengdu. Unusual edibles like pork aorta, goose intestine, tripe, kidney, duck tongue, innards and pig brain.
Snack in Between
Goh confides that there’s no such thing as desserts coming last as she dishes out one of Feng Wang Fu’s favourite snack, the Brown Sugar Glutinous Rice Cake. The deep-fried pastry is absolutely addictive thanks to its crispy exterior and an extra chewy and delicious centre. The glutinous rice element gives a nice bounciness to the snack that is coated with a dark and gooey brown sugar syrup.
Another standout is the crispy pork that’s extra crunchy and flavoured with a touch of numbing spice. Of course, if you’re up for some fish skin, order a plate or two as an appetising snack to share.
For a first-time patron to a mala hotpot restaurant in KL, it’s truly surreal to witness how popular this cuisine is. Malaysians are crazy about mala and various iterations of this Sichuan spice. Taste-wise, it is pretty much the real deal when compared to what you’d usually get at top quality Sichuan restaurants in Chengdu. The franchised chain — the first in Malaysia and Southeast Asia — will also be opening in Klang by the end of this year and One Utama by the first quarter of 2020.
As for the overall dining experience, the mala hotpot is something you must eat with family, friends and loved ones — keep the group between four to six. We’d say keep your orders simple with basic ingredients that you’ll enjoy eating over and over again to truly experience the joy of indulging in a good mala hotpot. Go slow and take your time to cook your favourite meat or vegetable options to not overcook any fresh ingredients. Be generous with the dipping sauce because when you do, you’ll be able to really appreciate the complexity of this simple and humble meal — all over a bubbling pot of soup.