Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Greater Boston Area >
Jan 6, 2013 07:29 PM

Seeking Hua Jiao! What dish provides the most mala (spicy + numbing) sensation?

I've never been a huge fan of Sichuan dishes because my primary experience is that they were all submerged in a bath of the same red chili oil.

However I've lately become hooked on the Dun Dun noodles and the Mapo Dofou at Thailand Cafe (the crappy Thai place in Cambridge which serves great Sichuan), even asking for extra "hua jao", so I can get my mouth numbing on.

Where can I maximize this complex sensation of hot and numb? For those familiar with my food allergies, caveat is NO sesame seeds or paste (Sesame oil is fine).


  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Get the ma la broth at Little Q (or Q) hotpot - along with other herbs, it's loaded with hua jiao. So tasty but blow your tongue and lips off spicy. I normally half to scoop half of that out before I start cooking my food.

    2 Replies
    1. re: kobuta

      I second the ma la broth at Little Q - towards the end of dinner, after its reduced a good bit, the stuff just hits you with that numbing heat. What's all that stuff in the broth? Some it of must be tree bark from Hell..

      Also, if you can make the trek, the hand pulled noodles at Gene's Flatbread Cafe in Chelmsford can really get the ma la going.

      Chilli Garden in Medford Sq. is also a go-to for dishes that will crank up the intensity.

      1. re: grant.cook

        Ma La at Genes? None that i noticed. Some chili oil and pepper flake and a ton of garlic.. but not sichuan pepper corns that i noticed.

    2. Paging the bald man with the 麻 obsession...

      2 Replies
      1. re: Luther

        Wagle? That guy can be a little condescending.

      2. Check the Fuloon threads - they can hit you with the Ma and the La. First time I ever got numbed out was at the Fuloon chowhound lunch a few years back. Eye-opening to say the least.

        5 Replies
        1. re: Bob Dobalina

          I just lunched there at Fuloon and ordered the Jingu (pronounced sort of like schwee-ju). It's the fish fillets swimming in a cauldron of red fire. The last time I had that much ma-la action was Red Pepper when I ordered the dry fish fillets. It was absolutely smothered with corns and chilis. Which was awesome, I ate the whole huge 12 inch dish of it.

          Fuloon's Jingu was very nice. The fish itself didn't necessarily rise above other Sichuan specialist places, it was very good, but I noticed a crisp deeper menthol hit in the Sichuan peppercorns. I suspect they poured boiling hot oil on top of the dish to set off the corns. It works, nice little florish. Thai and Chinese cooks will do that with fresh Sichuan Peppercorn often, ladle over a bit of hot oil on it.

          1. re: tatsu

            Thanks, tatsu. Jingu/shuizhu is also the first dish that comes to mind here. Several places do it well (I most frequent New Shang-Hang), but I agree that what makes this dish, or most any highlighting hua jiao, is a potent bag of fresh corns but also some proper fat dissolution. There's also such thing as too much HJ.

            1. re: tatsu

              What's with that pronunciation? AFAIK this is 金骨魚片, "gold bone fish filets," which in mandarin should be pronounced roughly as it looks in English, "jin gu." If you want to get specific it's the same "j" as Beijing which is more like a "chy" sound. "Chyin koo."

              EDIT: Just realized you're talking about 水煮魚, "water cooked fish." Shway-zhu yu. Jin gu fish filets is a different dish! It is entirely dry, not a big bowl of sauce. But it is sometimes seasoned with a good dose of sichuan pepper too.

              1. re: Luther

                Ohhh, okay, thanks, that explains my confusion as to why it is not spelled anything like it's pronounciation. I think several of us had made this mistake in the past though.

                1. re: Luther

                  When Top Garden was still new and delicious, Andy Tannenbaum and I went there and ran into hargau, who had ordered the fei teng fish, which he let me sample. It had, among other differences, bean thread noodles or something like them. Other than that it seemed a lot like shui zhi fish.

                  My favorite ma dish is the gan guo fish at "Sichuan Gourmet" Framingham, which is similar to the jin gu fish at the other locations, though it has different vegetables and spicing. "Gan guo" seems to refer to a style of dish served in a mini wok over sterno, and you can get gan guo fish at "New Shanghai" and possibly "Thailand Cafe."

                  "Sichuan Gourmet" Brookline has a couple of good options as well, namely the street style barbecue and gan guo beef. And Red Pepper certainly has some ma on its menu as well.

            2. Go to Sichuan Gourmet and look for the bowl of hell as we like to call it. It's the only 3 or 4 pepper dish on the menu. Fish and vegetables swimming in red broth :-)

              If you go to Little Q, try the Crazy Mala broth...the waitress said it's really spicy and can't believe they offer it. Haven't tried it yet, but I will at one point ;-)

              7 Replies
              1. re: Spike

                Is the Crazy Ma La some variant of the normal Ma La? Like the one where you dare the chef to spice it up, and he reaches for the red fluid in a gasoline can on top of the shelf?

                1. re: grant.cook

                  I think someone must have done that. I've never seen anyone order the Crazy Ma La broth...been tempted to just see what it's like :-)

                  The Jingu fish tatsu describes above is what I lovingly refer to as the Bowl Of Hell. If you drink the broth as a soup, you'll understand why...made the mistake of doing that on a dare ;-)

                  1. re: Spike

                    I misread that as "on a date", but now I'm not sure which would be a worse idea. ;)

                    1. re: Prav

                      if your date can drink the bowl of hell, you've met your match Prav :-)

                    2. re: Spike

                      My crazy brother in- law gets the crazy Mala every time we go to Q in Chinatown. To be honest I've tried it and my tongue is usually already numb from the regular Mala that I can't taste much of a difference. The waitstaff also has trouble telling them apart, so if someone in your party orders it and you order the regular Mala.....

                  2. re: Spike

                    Do you mean the jingu fish fillets? We had that tonight along with a damn good rendition of beef wrapped in scallion pancakes (not at all Sichuan, of course) and the real standout, a new special consisting of of shredded chicken, onions, black pepper and garlic, which I could easily have eaten a LOT more of.

                    The jingu fish does come in a bowl of broth. I misspoke earlier when I said it was similar to the gan guo fish. It's xiang la fish that's similar to gan guo fish.


                  3. Sliced Fish Szechuan Style at Gourmet Dumpling House got me hooked on the ma la, and is still my favorite preparation.