Last Updated: June 3, 2021
HaiDiLao is a moniker that splits people into two camps—ardent fans who worship their mala or tomato soup, and the rest who never seem to get its hype. I belong to the latter group, don’t @ me, but I’d have to admit that their mala soup base has a pretty remarkable fiery kick that’s palatable without fully numbing your senses. While I don’t appreciate its snaking long queues, I do relish in an occasional plate of mala stir-fry—which explains the packet of stir-fry sauce lying in my cupboard. And with a packet of mantous (Chinese steamed buns) in my freezer, inspiration from the ultimate comfort food of savoury Taiwanese baos struck, so I’ve combined both into a dish of Haidilao Mala Chicken Bao.
It’s a simple, fuss-free dish that contains a symphony of tastes—sweet, salty, umami and of course, spicy. To balance these flavours, take note of the number of chicken pieces and mala sauce used, so your mantou doesn’t overpower your mala chicken baos in taste and texture.
After all, mala doesn’t have to be synonymous with hotpot, and the same goes for baos and pork belly.
Preparation time: 1h 20 mins, Cooking time: 10 mins
Step 1: After thawing the chicken for about 1 hour, slice it into smaller and preferably thinner pieces.
Step 2: Steam frozen mantous for about 6 minutes, or microwave them for about 60 seconds.
Step 3: Scoop two tablespoons of HaiDiLao mala sauce for stir-frying. Heat the frying pan and spread the sauce over it. Note: no oil is needed as the sauce contains oil.
Step 4: Stir-fry the chicken slices, and then stir-fry vegetables in same pan with remaining sauce (if any).
Step 5: Slice mantou without cutting it into half.
Step 6: Add chicken slices and vegetables into mantou, and serve.
Since the size of mantous are relatively small for a bao, they were filled to the brim and the chicken slices were spilling out from time to time, thus polishing it up was a messy feat. You may want to slice a small part of the mantou to reduce its thickness, so you can control the filling-to-bao ratio more easily. Of course, making your own baos from scratch would be a better idea, to control both the size, texture and taste. Still, the slightly sweet mantou, a satiating carb option, served as a tasty conduit that accentuated the potent and fiery nodes of mala, more than rice and noodles do.
Traces of chilli oil were hidden beneath those innocent white tops thus helping to disguise how spicy the chicken slices were. Maybe I’m just a mala sauce fanatic, but the bao combination is lauded for a reason, packing fiery punches while teetering on the edge of deliciousness without being intolerable. As someone who gladly swops out cooking from scratch for instant food products, time, over flavour, is often at the forefront. But my mother, my self-appointed judge of my culinary attempts, comments you can have the best of both worlds sometimes. As so she says, that the mala chicken can be stir-fried with garlic for a more piquant and appetising flavour—and a dash of spring onion would do the trick.
Stir-frys usually go with rice, but switching things up once in a while is equally satisfying too. For the ones whose fuel is mala hotpot or stir-fry, this Mala Chicken Bao is another variation you may love—at least before the floodgates of HaiDiLao opens when dining-in restrictions are lifted.
Expected damage: S$1 – S$2 per portion
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