With mala xiangguo “hot-numbing fragrant pot”, the process is part of the pleasure. At the restaurant outside Beijing Normal University’s South Gate, you’re faced with a list of at least 40 different vegetables and meats from broccoli to bacon. Four or five choices are good for two; my favourites are the lotus root and broccoli, which drink in the chili oil but keep their own flavour.
The ingredients you choose are then tossed in a hot bowl full of oil and spices: chili oil, lantern chilies, deep-fried garlic and ginger, salt, and of course a handful or two of Sichuan peppercorn. You’re at the mercy of the chef and your tolerance: a few too many peppers and it’ll burn like hell. But if the balance between chef and eater is right, you’ll be in hot-and-numbing heaven. A lemony buzz from the Sichuan peppercorn and smooth, rich heat from the chili oil animate the vegetables.
There are plenty of places to get mala xiangguo in Beijing; I like my local hole-in-the wall, but here are some addresses:
Spice Spirit/麻辣诱惑 (Wudaokou location)
28 Chengfu Lu (Wudaokou Shopping Centre) 6th floor, Haidian District
South side of Xueyuan Nanlu (not far from Xinjiekou Waidajie, opposite BNU’s south gate)
And thousands of others…just search 麻辣香锅 on Dianping!