Why not make your taste of Lijiang a TASTIER one?

For the Love of HEAT. :)

Today we brought Belgian guest Gaetan to one of the parts of Lijiang that is rarely ever seen by tourists. In fact, the only other foreigners you are likely to meet here will almost definitely be teachers at the nearby Yunnan University Tourism and Culture Institute. Why then, did we bring Gaetan here; you probably ponder – Well, for lunch, of course.

Very popular among the Chinese, be they of Lijiang, Beijing or Shanghai (where is is apparently especially popular) especially the young adults and college students, is the devilish Chinese creation known as 麻辣烫 (Ma La Tang), which is basically a spicy soup that has anything you want in it. It is like a mini, one-person serving of Hot Pot soup, noodles if you would like as well.

One begins their little hell ride by grabbing a basket, in which you would place what you would like to put into your soup, as shown in the above picture. The flavor of the soup isn’t vastly changed by what you choose, so just take whatever you feel would taste great in a spicy soup.

In order to understand the experience of Ma La Tang (which literally translates to Numbing / Spicy Soup), one must first understand that is isn’t so-spicy-that-it’ll-make-your-mouth-go-numb. Instead, almost all Ma La (Numbing / Spicy) foods contain this incredible little spice known among those who are familiar with it as the Szechuan Pepper or 花椒 (Hua Jiao).

This beautiful spice is, sadly, little-known in the West, especially because it was temporarily banned in the USA when it was found to be capable of carrying a bacterial disease that could potentially harm the foliage and citrus crops in the US. It was, however, never an issue of harm for human consumption.

The Szechuan Pepper has a beautiful lemony scent, and creates a crazy little experience which is tingly and subtly numbing, which happens to match the spicy heat of chilli in a manner that one would probably find hard to describe (the word “whoa” actually feels pretty appropriate here). This is something rarely experienced anywhere outside of China, and so it would probably be inappropriate to declare oneself to be passionate about food until one has at least experienced it.
The soup itself is a strong, super-tasty broth, and you can actually tone the spiciness down if you’d like, since it is added afterwards; all you need to do is tell the chef when you hand him/her your basket of tasty goodies. Keep in mind that if the numbing, tingly effect is strong, water can taste rather strange. We would happily recommend that you buy yourself a cup of sweet, iced bubble tea to accompany your spicy soup, because in our opinion, they blend beautifully and soothe your tongue (so you can eat even more). :)

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