Ma-La sauce is a popular oily, spicy and numbing Chinese sauce which is made primarily of dried chili peppers, chili powder, fermented soy chili, Szechuan pepper corn, clove, garlic, star anise, black cardamom, fennel, ginger, cinnamon, salt and sugar. These ingredients are simmered with beef tallow and vegetable oil for many hours before use.
The term Ma-La is a combination of two tastes: "numbing" (Ma) and "spicy" (La), referring to the feeling in the mouth after eating it. The numbness is caused by Szechuan pepper corn, which contains 30% hydroxy-alpha-sanshool.
The precise origins of the dish are unclear, but many sources attribute its development to night markets in Chongqing that targeted pier workers in the 19th to 20th century. The strong falvour and thick layer of oil helps preserve foods and removes the unpopular smells of the cheap foods, such as solidified blood, beef stomach and kidney, which are ususally served to pier workers.
Despite the strong flavour by itself, various dipping sauces are often served to make the tuxture of cooked meat smooth and oily, and the tastes more complex. Common sauces include seseame oil with garlic, oyster oil and or fermented Tofu.
Famous dishes prepared with Ma-La sauce are:
Ma-La hotpot, most popular dish in Szechuan and Chongqing.
"Ma-La Xiangguo" - Prawns and luncheon meat with a mixture of many different vegetables after Ma-La style.
"Fuqi Feipian" - Beef meat, tongue and tripes served with thick oily Ma-La sauce.