Ma La Xiang Guo (Sichuan Mala Dry Pot, 麻辣香锅)

5 from 1 vote
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Colorful vegetables in different shapes and textures, meat, seafood and tofu brought together by a savory spicy sauce that is fragrant and so flavorful! This recipe teaches you to make this popular Chinese restaurant dish in your own kitchen with a simple and foolproof approach. I’ll also share the formula to make it with any other type of vegetables you have on hand! {Vegetarian and vegan adaptable}

Spicy numbing stir fry pot with vegetables, beef and shrimp

What is Ma La Xiang Guo

Ma La Xiang Guo (麻辣香锅) can be directly translated as “numbing spicy fragrant pot” and it’s often called spicy numbing stir fry pot or mala dry pot in the US. The dish features a medley of vegetables, tofu, meat, and seafood stir fried in a very rich and savory spicy sauce. It is often served in a giant bowl and shared family style over steamed rice. 

The sauce is truly the highlight of the dish because it brings all the ingredients together and tastes addictively good. Every restaurant has their own secret sauce. But they share some common characteristics – they’re all numbing, spicy, fragrant, rich and balanced. 

Ma La Xiang Guo originated in Chongqing and became very popular in China in the early 2000s. I remember thousands of Mala Dry Pot restaurants popping up, one on every corner. And it soon became one of my favorite destinations to grab dinner and a beer with colleagues after work.

Homemade mala dry pot in a pan

How Ma La Xiang Guo is traditionally served

If you walk into a Ma La Xiang Guo restaurant in China, it might remind you of Chipotle. You will see arrays of ingredients neatly organized behind a counter covered with glass. To order, simply point out the ingredients you want in your pot. The waitress will start to add them into two big bowls, with vegetables and tofu in one and meat and seafood in the other. The price of the dish is measured by the weight. And you will choose the spice level you want – non-spicy, mild, medium, very spicy, or super spicy. Once it’s cooked, a giant bowl will be served in the center of the table, to share family style.

Ma La Xiang Guo is getting quite popular in the US these days too, and I’ve tried it at some very good restaurants in New York. One of my favorites is Mala Project, a slightly upscale restaurant that serves authentic dry pot in a chic ambience. I also happened to find a gem, LaoMa Spicy, a more toned-down place near NYU. They serve Ma La Xiang Guo the traditional way and it is a bit cheaper.

Homemade Ma La Xiang Guo in a pan

What ingredients are used in Ma La Xiang Guo 

You can pretty much use any ingredients you want and still make a great Ma La Xiang Guo. The key is to select various ingredients that have different textures and tastes, so the final dish is more balanced and fun to eat. 

Some of my favorite vegetarian ingredients include various Chinese greens, assorted mushrooms, things that add texture such as bamboo shoots and wood ear mushrooms, and tofu products

For the meat / seafood part, my guilty pleasure is grilled chicken wings and Spam. I also like to add sliced fish or fish balls into my dry pot. 

In China (and at very authentic restaurants in the US), you will find Ma La Xiang Guo menus offering a lot of innards. Ingredients such as chicken gizzard, beef tripe and tongue, and pork liver are commonly used and very popular. 

Why this recipe 

Making a great Ma La Xiang Guo is quite straightforward yet slightly tricky. You will need to:

  1. Cook a super flavorful sauce that is aromatic and rich in flavor
  2. Prepare the ingredients separately so each one gets cooked to the perfect degree
  3. Stir fry everything together with the sauce in a pan that’s big enough

The biggest challenge is to make a great sauce without using 20 ingredients. And to stir fry so many ingredients together without overcooking any of them. 

After a lot of research and testing, I found out the great solutions to solve these problems:

  1. Use a good hot pot base as the main ingredient, then add doubanjiang and black bean sauce to make the most flavorful sauce with only 3 ingredients.
  2. Blanch the ingredients in groups instead of stir frying separately, so it’s fast and easy to prepare, plus you will use less oil in the final dish.
  3. Toss all the blanched ingredients together at the end with the sauce in a big pan. So you will be able to make this dish without using a wok.

Best Ma La Xiang Guo Sauce

The easiest way to create a great Ma La Xiang Guo sauce is to select a solid hot pot base, then add my two secret ingredients.

The hot pot base

For the hot pot base, I used Hai Di Lao Sichuan Spicy Hot Pot Base. Hai Di Lao is the most popular hot pot chain in China and their product quality is very good. Their spicy hot pot base is rich, but not too intense like some tallow-based ones. This brand is also quite easy to find in various Asian grocery stores and on Amazon.

If you really want to make things from scratch, you can use my homemade Sichuan Spicy Hot Pot Base. It contains less additives and no MSG.

Secret ingredients

I added Doubanjiang and Homemade Black Bean Sauce to the hot pot base. The result was amazing and truly like the dry pot you get at a restaurant! If you do not have homemade black bean sauce, a store-bought one works as well. 

Many Ma La Xiang Guo recipes use a lot of spices to make the dish more fragrant. However, if you use a good hot pot base, it should already be fragrant enough. I find this shortcut makes cooking extremely easy and the result outstanding. 

My choice of ingredients and how to prepare them

The fun part of Ma La Xiang Guo is the variety of ingredients. I went a bit overboard in this recipe and used nine ingredients by separating them into seven groups. I prefer to use one or two ingredients from each group for texture, but it’s totally up to you to add or reduce the variety. 

This recipe requires the right amount of ingredients so your largest pan can hold them, and they will work perfectly with the sauce ratio. That’s why I created a list below, using cups and weight, to help you choose and swap out ingredients. 

If you prefer not to use certain ingredients, you can replace them with different ones. For example, use more leafy greens and skip the mushrooms.

Ingredients for making Ma La Xiang Guo

How to make this dish vegetarian / vegan

To make a vegetarian or vegan Ma La Xiang Guo, simply skip the meat and replace it with some other ingredients you prefer. I highly recommend using a variety of tofu products if you can find them. For example, yuba sheets or yuba knots, tofu skin, fried tofu and smoked tofu. They add great texture and taste to the dish.

How to prepare the ingredients

I’ve tried stir frying ingredients separately and blanching them, and finally landed on blanching except for the meat and seafood. Since you will be using a super strong sauce, the vegetables will be flavorful enough without stir frying them individually. This streamlines and simplifies the process a lot. Plus you will consume a bit less oil at the end. 

For the meat and seafood, I do find that pan searing tastes much better. For fattier and higher quality meat, such as ribeye steak, chicken thighs, and shrimp, you can simply sear the meat. If using lean meat such as chicken breast, flank steak, or fish, I prefer to marinate them in a bit of Shaoxing wine and cornstarch so they will stay tender and juicy.

The formula to make Ma La Xiang Guo with any ingredient you have

AMOUNTINGREDIENTSCOOKING METHOD
2 oz (1/2 cup, 50 g)1 tofu ingredient (tofu sheets, yuba, fried tofu)blanch for 1 minute
4 oz (2 cups, 110 g)1 leafy green (napa cabbage, bok choy, yu choy)blanch for 1 minute
6 oz (1 1/2 cups, 220 g)2 mushrooms (enoki , wood ear, oyster, king oyster)blanch for 1 minute
2 oz (1/2 cup, 50 g)1 starchy tuber (lotus root, potato, taro)blanch for 2 to 3 minutes
6 oz (2 cups, 220 g)1 crunchy vegetable (cauliflower, broccoli, celtuce)blanch for 2 to 3 minutes, except celtuce which does not require blanching
8 oz (220 g)1 to 2 meats/seafood (shrimp, thinly sliced pork belly, sliced beef steak, chicken thigh, cooked chicken wings*)pan searing
2 oz (1/2 cup, 50 g)fun stuff (boiled and peeled quail eggs, bamboo shoots, fish balls, fish cakes, spam, sweet potato noodles, rice cakes, corn)blanched accordingly; for Spam, pan fry until crispy; pre-soak dried noodles

To sum up, you should use about 6 to 7 cups of vegetables, and half a pound (225 g) of meat in total. 

How to cook Ma La Xiang Guo

The process for cooking Ma La Xiang Guo is super easy.

  1. Blanch the veggie group that needs more cooking time
  2. Blanch the tender veggies – some just need a very quick blanch
  3. Sear the meat 
  4. Sear the seafood 
  5. Saute aromatics
  6. Briefly cook the sauce base
  7. Coat the blanched vegetables and tofu with sauce
  8. Mix in the cooked meat and seafood 
  9. Stir in the cilantro

That’s it!

The recipe looks a bit long but the process is quite straightforward. The result is so rewarding and tastes just like the restaurant version. You simply need to make some steamed rice and you’ll have a super delicious meal for four.

How to make Ma La Xiang Guo step-by-step
Mala dry pot close up

Afterthought 

The beauty of Ma La Xiang Guo is, you can use pretty much any ingredients you like and the result is always good. I love to serve it at dinner parties because the pot includes so many things so everyone can find their favorites. It is also a great dish to make to clear out your fridge. I hope you like this one as much as I do!

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Colorful vegetables in different shapes and textures, meat, seafood and tofu brought together by a savory spicy sauce that is fragrant and so rich! This Ma La Xiang Guo recipe teaches you to make this popular Chinese restaurant dish in your own kitchen with a simple and foolproof approach. I’ll also share the formula to make it with any other type of vegetables you have on hand! {Vegetarian and vegan adaptable}

Ma La Xiang Guo (Sichuan Mala Dry Pot, 麻辣香锅)

5 from 1 vote
Colorful vegetables in different shapes and textures, meat, seafood and tofu brought together by a savory spicy sauce that is fragrant and so flavorful! This recipe teaches you to make this popular Chinese restaurant dish in your own kitchen with a simple and foolproof approach. I’ll also share the formula to make it with any other type of vegetables you have on hand! {Vegetarian and vegan adaptable}
Author: Maggie Zhu
Course: Main
Cuisine: Chinese
Keyword: restaurant-style
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes
Servings: 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

Sauce

Dry pot ingredients

  • 2 cups (6 oz / 170 g) Chinese cauliflower , cut into florets (or regular cauliflower)
  • 1/2 cup (2 oz / 50 g) lotus root , sliced (*Footnote 1)
  • 6 heads (4 oz / 110 g) baby bok choy
  • 1 cup (4 oz / 110 g) enoki mushrooms
  • 1/8 cup dried wood ear mushrooms (about 1/2 cup, 2 oz. after rehydrating)
  • 1/2 cup fried tofu , cut to bite size pieces
  • 4 oz (110 g) strip or ribeye steak , thinly sliced (*Footnote 2)
  • 4 oz (110 g) shrimp , peeled and deveined (*Footnote 2)
  • 1/2 cup (2 oz / 50 g) quail eggs , boiled and peeled

Stir fry

  • 2 tablespoons peanut oil
  • 4 cloves garlic , sliced
  • 1 tablespoon ginger , minced
  • 6 whole dried chili peppers (or halved for a spicier taste)
  • 1 cup cilantro , chopped

Instructions

  • Prepare ingredients that need rehydrating: To rehydrate the wood ear mushrooms, add the dried mushrooms to a medium sized bowl and cover with 1 cup hot water. Soak for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the mushrooms are tender throughout. Drain, remove tough ends if needed, and cut into bite-sized pieces.
  • For the sauce: Combine the sauce ingredients and set aside.
  • To prepare the dry pot ingredients: Bring a pot of water to a boil for blanching non-meat ingredients (*Footnote 3). Set up a large strainer over a bowl. Blanch the ingredients in groups by timing or one ingredient at a time. Once done, transfer the blanched ingredients from the water and place in the strainer. First blanch the lotus root and cauliflower for 2 to 3 minutes, until al dente. Then blanch the bok choy, enoki mushrooms and wood ear mushrooms for 30 seconds to 1 minute, until just starting to turn soft.
  • To cook the mala dry pot: Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Spread the thinly sliced steak without overlapping. Cook for 30 seconds or until the bottom turns light golden. Flip and sear on the other side until just cooked through and the inside of the meat is still slightly pink. Transfer the meat to a plate.
  • Add the shrimp to the pan. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until the surface turns pink-ish white. Flip and cook on the other side for another 1 to 2 minutes until the shrimp has fully curled up. Transfer to a plate with the steak.
  • Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the pan and the garlic, ginger, and chili peppers. Fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  • Pour in the sauce. Cook for another 30 seconds, or until the hot pot base is fully melted.
  • Add the blanched ingredients. Toss a few times to coat well. Add the stir fried steak and shrimp. Toss until everything is evenly coated. Add the cilantro and give it one more toss. Immediately transfer everything to a large bowl or plate.
  • Serve hot family-style as a main dish with steamed rice.

Notes

  1. If using raw lotus root, blanch for 3 minutes according to the recipe. If using pre-sliced and boiled lotus root, skip the blanching.
  2. If you use premium cuts of beef, chicken thigh and / or shrimp, sear them directly. For leaner cuts such as chicken breast, beef flank steak, and fish, mix every 4 oz. with 1 teaspoon Shaoxing wine and 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch to keep the meat juicy and tender.
  3. Meat ingredients can be blanched but will be less flavorful. Any other ingredient can also be individually stir fried, but for ease and speed of the recipe it’s best to blanch the non-meat ingredients.

Nutrition

Serving: 1serving, Calories: 339kcal, Carbohydrates: 11.1g, Protein: 15.5g, Fat: 27g, Saturated Fat: 4.5g, Cholesterol: 84mg, Sodium: 512mg, Potassium: 393mg, Fiber: 1.5g, Sugar: 1.7g, Calcium: 129mg, Iron: 5mg
Did You Make This Recipe?Don’t forget the last step! Leave a comment below, and tag me @OmnivoresCookbook and #OmnivoresCookbook on Instagram!

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Lilja Walter was a part of the Omnivore’s Cookbook team and worked closely with Maggie to develop and test this recipe.

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Reader Questions and Reviews

  1. Random says:

    I have a heap of blocks of your Sichuan hot pot base I made … its honestly perfect , I used conola oil thought to be healthier , if you use your own base did you still add the doubinjiang and black beans? As the salt levels from the base seem perfect already … also do you know if this base is the same that is used for 小龙虾??。。。these are my 3 favourite dishes from my time living in china … if I can master all 3 my life will be complete… ( can’t praise your Sichuan base recipe enough, absolutely nailed it )

    • Maggie Zhu says:

      I think you can use the hot pot base without adding doubanjiang. I do like the flavor of the black beans. That being said, if you like the hot pot base, it’s totally fine to use it without black beans.
      小龙虾 uses pretty much the same base. The only difference is, you will need to add a can (or maybe more) beer after adding the sauce, and braise everything together to get the flavor in.

  2. Andi Houston says:

    5 stars
    I made this for dinner tonight: shrimp, gluten, bamboo shoots, cauliflower, sweet red pepper, onion, green onion, jalapenos, and lots of cilantro. Absolutely delicious and almost at my chile-heat tolerance, even with homemade black bean sauce.

    • Maggie Zhu says:

      So happy to hear you like the recipe and thanks for leaving a positive review 🙂 It is a pretty spicy dish. If you prefer to make it milder, I would reduce the amount of the hot pot base and use more black bean sauce. Say, use 1/3 cup hot pot base, and increase the black bean sauce to 3 tablespoons.

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