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Battle of the mala

With the red-hot mala craze in NTU, our student reviewers bring you on a spice tour of mala xiang guo from three campus eateries. Suss out which one will fire up your taste buds
by Chrystal Chan

The go-to

Canteen 1 – Mala Talk

Vegetables are 70 cents each. Noodles are $1 a brick, a serving of meat costs $1 while seafood goes for $1.60 per serving.

Being one of the first few mala stalls in NTU, this stall’s reputation precedes its name. Mala expert Glen has heard of it, but his first taste did not match up to expectations.

“I can definitely taste the mala spices, but I personally prefer a stronger kick. However, the chicken is infused with flavour and the vegetables have retained their crunch,” says Glen, who tucks into the popular Sichuan-style stir-fry once or twice a week.

Even though Sejal has ordered from this mala stall before, she was less impressed with the taste of the food this time around: “The meat is not tender enough and is a little hard to chew. This is also too salty for my liking.”

Ibrahim found this to be the tastiest among the three reviewed and was won over by the tender-crisp vegetables: “I don’t usually eat vegetables, but I would eat these.”

The safe choice

Quad Café – Yong Tau Fu

Get this for a fixed price of $5.50 for eight items, which include noodles or rice. Pay extra for a serving of meat ($1 for chicken or $1.50 for beef) and additional items (50 cents each).

Well known for its stir-fried yong tau fu, this stall at the Quad Café at the School of Biological Sciences recently added mala xiang guo (which literally means “hot numbing fragrant pot”) to its menu. As this is one of the few halal mala options on campus, it’s the go-to choice for many fans of the chilli-laden cuisine.

Ibrahim was pleasantly taken aback upon his first bite: “Surprisingly, this is good even when it’s no longer piping hot. It is also the least spicy, which suits me. My favourite part of this is the carrots because they are so crunchy.”

Both Glen and Sejal, however, feel this stall’s mala lacks the authentic mala spices and flavour they’ve come to know and love.

Glen thought the mala sauce had some oomph, but more as a plate of stir-fry: “This actually reminds me of Indomie. It is sweeter than Canteen 1’s mala so if I’m looking to satisfy my mala craving, this won’t cut it.”

Sejal considers this mala to be the least impressive among the three. “I didn’t find the texture of the noodles ideal. It is a little too mushy for my liking. In terms of taste, this is not bad but not fabulous either.”

The underdog

North Spine annex canteen – Mala Hot Pot

Vegetables cost between $1.20 and $1.40 for 100g, meat is $1.80 for 100g and seafood is priced at $2.30 for 100g.

Located in the North Spine annex canteen, this mala stall is less well known among mala enthusiasts, but it has gained a new fan in Sejal, who was impressed with its bouncy noodles.

“Out of the three, this is my favourite. The different tastes are well-balanced. The dish isn’t so spicy that I am unable to enjoy it, the salt level is just right, and the meat and vegetables are cooked to perfection,” says Sejal.

Glen, on the other hand, found the mala flavour somewhat mild: “It is savoury and a little peppery but in a Maggi curry noodles way. I like the texture of the noodles and the meat, but to me, it isn’t really mala.”

The noodles got Ibrahim’s vote for “best texture”. “These noodles are comparable to what you will find in a restaurant,” he says.

The panel

Ibrahim Gode

Ibrahim Gode
This mala newbie and French exchange student is a fan of Asian food, especially Indian food, back home in Paris. However, he admits to a low tolerance for spicy food.

>Glen Foong

Glen Foong
Mala expert Glen considers every mala experience to be a social event. To him, it is something you share with friends. His must-haves include noodles and luncheon meat, “the more processed, the better”.

Sejal Bagaria

Sejal Bagaria
Even though she enjoys this dish, she is constantly teased by her friends for only being able to take the lowest spice level. She names the mala at Tamarind Hall as her favourite as it has the best mix of flavour and spice.