Tag Archives: spicy

Xiǎo Lóng Xiā – Crayfish – 小龙虾

Xiao long xia (小龙虾), translated directly to little dragon shrimp or little lobsters, are a popular dish served in restaurants and on the street in Shanghai. While most popular in the summer, you can still find them in early spring cooked and served out of makeshift carts lining the streets. The dish has many fresh ingredients, including it’s main one as the crayfish are cooked live. After cooked and fried in a spicy mixture, you shell the crayfish and get a small bite of meat from it’s tail- no silverware allowed.
Crayfish, cooking oil, water, soy sauce, chillies, peppercorn, mala sauce, and ginger.
Crayfish are cleaned and rinsed with cold water. Then, the crayfish are boiled for a few minutes until they turn a deep red. After being boiled, they are put into a large, circular, deep fryer which contains a mixture of cooking oil, water, soy sauce, chillies, mala sauce, peppercorn and ginger for a few minutes. After being fried, they are then shelled and enjoyed!
In the 1930s, Louisiana red swamp crayfish was brought to Jiangsu province by the Japanese. While first the creatures were seen as exotic, they were not welcomed by the local people as they caused crop damage and brought no direct benefits to people of the community. However, the crayfish adapted to the local environment and populations began to flourish in the coastal environment. Eventually, the crayfish were made and popularized into a dish called xuyi shisanxiang longxia, or “Xuyi Thirteen Fragrance Little Lobster,” that brought major business to cities in the 1990s. The flavor was influenced by neighboring provinces like Anhui and Zhejiang which contributed to the spicy oil mixture the crayfish are cooked in. Now, crayfish are considered a local food as they are farmed in coastal areas.
There can be many subtle variations of this dish as the spice mix the crayfish are fried in can be manipulated to fit any spice level from mild to very spicy. Every restaurant or vender uses a subtly different mixture so they’re bound to taste similar, but not the same, at every spot you try out. There are also variations were crayfish are flavored with wine or beer to give it a fuller taste.
maxiao 麻小- mala flavored crayfish
shisanxiang crayfish 十三香小龙虾 – thirteen spice crayfish

Málà tāng – Hot and Spicy Soup – 麻辣汤

Málà, which translates to mouth-numbing, refers to the saliva-inducing, buzzing sensation that the Sichuan pepper creates the moment it hits your tongue. It is the essential ingredient to málà tāng (Chinese: 麻辣汤), a type of “DIY hot pot” experience that can be found around the city in various hole-in-the-walls. Typically served from late afternoon to dinnertime, this warming dish might range in ingredients and level of spice–a detail that disproves its misleading name.

A stack of basket sits alongside a large, glass slide-door refrigerator that displays stacks upon stacks of skewered vegetables, fishballs, meats, poultries, eggs, and seafood. There are also various types of noodles, tofu, and bean curd products that can be added to your personal selection. Customers are typically given a baseline price of 8 kuai to be added onto if more ingredients are chosen. Each additional ingredient can range from 0.5-1 kuai for vegetables, carbs and tofu and 2-3 kuai for meats, poultry and seafood.

The variety of ingredients for the soup can range, but mala tang vendors typically provide everything from poultry, beef and pork meat/innards, a variety of cellophane, rice, and egg noodles, different flavors of fishballs, various forms of tofu/bean curd, octopus, squid, shiitake mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, enoki mushrooms, bok choy, various leafy greens, bean sprouts, cilantro, broccoli, cauliflower, and potato. The broth is boiled from pork belly, chicken bones, ginger, Sichuan peppers, and  possibly MSG.

Cooking Method:
After ingredients are chosen and handed to the cook, the ingredients are placed into a wired sieve spoon that is immersed into a boiling pot of broth that becomes infused with more and more flavor as ingredients are added in from various customers’ orders. Once the ingredients are cooked, they are dumped into a bowl and a sprinkle of garlic, chili pepper, chili oil, minced scallions, sesame oil, black vinegar, and crushed Sichuan pepper can go in before the broth is poured in to complete the dish.

Before becoming a popular street food specialty, mala tang was a popular meal eaten among poor travelers and laborers in Sichuan province. It was said to have been a culinary innovation of the fishermen along the Yangtze River. For meals, they would collect stones to make a fire, get water from the river to put inside a crock pot for boiling water, gather wild vegetables for the broth, and create their own sauce to season their soups.

Another tale recounts the story of six old women who made food for the stonemasons as they were building the Leshan Giant Buddha in the Sichuan Province. The women prepared meat and vegetables on a stick and immersed them into the seasoned broth to cook before serving.

Related Cuisine:
Sichuan Cuisine