By Andrea Ng (22S06B), Jason Sutio (22S06U), Lara Tan (22A01B), Sophie Goh (22S07B)
First there was bubble tea, then there was all things salted egg yolk, and more recently the love for coconut drinks—but one cannot talk about Singaporean students’ food fads without mentioning the all-time king, Mala Xiang Guo.
After eating this chilli-filled, “numbingly-spicy” dish multiple times in a single day, we now have enough ammunition to spit fire from our mouths. For this reason, be assured that our article will be a spicy one.
We toured and judged stores near the Bishan-Marymount area, and this is our criteria (on a scale of 1-5):
- Spice — all ordering zhongla (medium spice), with 5 being as spicy as the tea you spill on late night talks with your friends.
- Taste — how good the goodies feel in our mouth
- Customer Experience — the accessibility of the location, the waiting times, the environment, and the general ambience all contribute to the overall experience
Disclaimer: We tried to buy approximately the same amount, so please don’t criticise us for not bringing a scale. After deliberations, we found that the stalls have similar prices overall, so we will not consider price as a factor.
Thye Guan Mala Hotpot @ behind Bosch
Commonly known as Bosch Mala, this is Rafflesians’ go-to spot to settle their Mala cravings.
Bosch Mala is known to be relatively inconsistent in terms of their level of spice, but we went on a good day so the level of spice for zhongla was not too mild, but not too spicy—just right.
It’s always easy to know when the owners have just gotten a fresh supply of chilli and peppercorns. On those days, you would be sweating buckets. On other days, though, you might have to bring your own chilli because it would feel like they’ve run out.
We were blown away by the sheer fragrance and overall quality of the dish. Our choice of maggi mee proved to be a judicious one; the sauce clung readily to the curly noodles, giving a pleasant feeling of unity between condiment and carbohydrate. The ingredients were thoroughly coated with sauce and thus integrated into the dish, although the crabstick had a rather dubious texture.
Customer experience: 4/5
On the day we went, it was rather nice and windy, which is a particular advantage of this establishment since it happens to be right next to the road and thus well ventilated. The warm lighting also made it welcoming and homely, and the environment was generally clean (notwithstanding the occasional mynah).
Xiao Man Niu Mala Xiang Guo @ NEX Food Junction
Ah, Xiao Man Niu Mala at NEX. We went to great lengths (three MRT stops) to try this, but were greatly let down. It was not worth the trip and the MRT fare.
There’s an old Confucian proverb that goes, “There are only two things in life that are suffering defined: waking up at 6am on Gap Day and good, spicy Mala.” Unfortunately, the great sage’s words fell on deaf ears when it came to this particular stall. Despite ordering zhongla, this dish did not scream “MALA” to us at all. While we appreciated the strong, pungent peppercorn taste at the back of our throats and the promising red colour of the dish, there was no tingling, numbing sensation we were looking forward to.
Taste: 3.5 /5
Xiao Man Niu boasts an interesting variety of ingredients, such as tteokbokki, which Korean foodies might want to give a shot. We caution you to choose wisely, though, because the cheese tofu we ordered came out a little sour.
There was extra thought put into improving the dish as well—our dish was cooked with pork lard to enhance the flavours of the existing ingredients. However, the entire dish as a whole was a tad too watery and that diluted most of the flavours the stall was hoping to give us.
Overall, all the ingredients we ate left a tart aftertaste in our mouths. The soy products also had an uncooked and sour taste. We attributed this to the short waiting time—perhaps, in their pursuit of speed, they fell short of giving the ingredients sufficient time to cook.
The quality of the ingredients, however, was not too bad after all. The tofu skin soaked up the Mala sauce really well, and the sauce was evenly coated around the other ingredients too. We just wished for the dish to have been cooked for a longer time and for the Mala sauce to have been reduced to something more potent and less watery.
Customer experience: 4/5
If you are looking for a comfortable place to sit and eat, the strong air-conditioning and warm, natural lighting will not let you down. Wait time for this stall was also incredibly quick (probably at the expense of taste). However, we went there around 2.30pm and it was still rather difficult to find a seat, so be prepared to stare down a couple of diners as you wait for an empty table.
Overall: 9 /15
Mala Hot Pot @ S11 Coffeeshop
S11 is an atypical choice for a Mala store for Rafflesians, but since this place boasts the cheapest (by a few cents) mala, we thought that it was worth a visit too.
When we first bit into the meat, we did a mental spit-take for the sheer joke that the spice seemed to be—how could this qualify as medium spice? But 1 minute into the meal, the burn started to accumulate at the back of our throats. It didn’t quite meet the level of “burn” that we were expecting, but it was at least something. Notably, the taste was more numbing than spicy.
Although the strong peppercorn bitterness left a tart aftertaste, we could not judge the Mala to be terrible. Yet, it would be slander to call it great. It was completely average: average saltiness, average oiliness, average spiciness, average everything. Strangely, we could almost feel a tinge of relatability.
Customer experience: 1/5
It was hot. There were birds. Next to the ingredients, there grew mould, lay hair, and other nasty, offensive, looks-even-worse-than-dirt substances.
All in all, S11’s Mala should be patronised only when you are coincidentally there, and craving some Mala. To look for it specifically would be to look for mediocrity, which is the best we could say about it.
Mala Hot Pot @ Junction 8 Food Junction
RI students’ third home also has its very own Mala place, located in the food court on Level 4. Since many of us like to head there for lunch outings, we decided to put their Mala up to the test.
Spice: 1/5 (out of pity)
Those with low spice tolerance, rejoice, since now you can finally claim to have conquered zhongla by eating this Mala dish (effectively a no-spice Mala).
For those of us who eat Mala for the spice, however, this dish definitely fell very much short of expectations. We left with our water bottles effectively full.
On the very first bite, we were expecting a burst of fiery flavour; but what we got was a mouthful of water instead. That was, unfortunately, the most fitting word we could come up with to describe the taste of the Mala that was served that day.
It also seemed as if we had ordered a steamboat, with the oil having somehow transformed into soup, causing the entire dish to become unpleasantly watery.
To make matters worse, the dish also lacked the typical garnishes like garlic, peanuts and coriander, leaving it bland and lacklustre.
However, Jason clarified that his previous experience eating at this stall was a lot better, so we might have just been served a bad meal that day.
Customer experience: 4/5
There was a relatively longer wait for the Mala here, though we could at least bask in the comfort of the food court’s air-conditioning. Better hygiene, and the blissful lack of birds, were also a big plus for our dining experience.
We noted a slightly wider variety of dishes from this stall, with cheese tofu skewers and the like—though that sadly couldn’t quite make up for the Mala’s less-than-mediocre taste.
The other competitors were annihilated by the all-time RI favourite, Bosch Mala. If you and your friends are looking for something spicy, we would definitely recommend heading over to Bosch to satiate your cravings. As for the other stalls, we would suggest you only head there if you’re nearby, and don’t mind a gamble for quality.
As a parting note, the writers would like to say that they are not eating Mala anymore—at least for the next two months.
Do you have any recommendations for other Mala places? Let us know in the comments below!
Disclaimer: All SMMs were followed during time of writing.