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.