Get to Know Málà, Sichuan Food's Most Famous Flavor

Chinese food expert Fuchsia Dunlop introduces us to málà (numbing and spicy), one of Sichuan's most well-known flavor profiles.


Mention Sichuan cooking and the response is often, "Ooh, spicy!" According to Chinese cooking expert and cookbook author Fuchsia Dunlop, that stereotype persists even in much of China itself. She visited the Serious Eats test kitchen recently to introduce her updated masterwork on Sichuan cooking, originally titled Land of Plenty and now sporting the new name, The Food of Sichuan.


Fuchsia Dunlop on Málà, Sichuan Food's Most Famous Flavor

Sichuan cooking is indeed often spicy, but as Fuchsia explains, that's just one aspect of a far more complex and varied cuisine shaded with a wide range of flavor profiles—and a thoughtful meal should reflect that. As an example, she cooked a well-balanced Sichuan meal featuring dishes that are in turns hot and spicy, tingly and numbing, mild and refreshing, deeply fragrant, and gently sweet and sour.

In the video above, Fuchsia introduces what is arguably Sichuan's most famous flavor, known as málà, or "numbing and spicy," thanks to the enlivening combination of Sichuan peppercorns and dried red chile peppers. In the coming weeks, we'll release more videos showcasing some of the other flavor profiles she prepared in our test kitchen, so stay tuned—Sichuan cooking may start with málà, but it absolutely doesn't end there.