April 2023: Wild Mushroom Chili Sauce + Spicy Mushroom Recipes

April 26, 2023

Wild Mushroom Chunky Chili Sauce closeup

Taste of Chongqing 

Greetings, Friends of The Mala Market

Today we are celebrating the flavors of Chongqing, the megalopolis that used to be part of Sichuan and still vies with Chengdu to be the capital of má and là. 

We'd like to introduce you to a brand new chili sauce that is unlike all the others—namely a Wild Mushroom Chunky Chili Sauce that is a (gluten-free) umami powerhouse condiment. We love mother-daughter teams, so we could not be happier to welcome this legit brand straight out of Chongqing to The Mala Market.

Keep reading for the fascinating origin story of the Hot Pot Queen brand and for some super easy recipes using their wild mushroom chili sauce and its Chongqing cousins Wujiang zhacai and 50 Hertz huajiao peanuts. 

🌶 Taylor & Fongchong 🌶
Hot Pot Queen Wild Mushroom Chunky Chili Sauce
Hot Pot Queen Wild Mushroom Chunky Chili Sauce

There is truth in advertising with this product name, as this Wild Mushroom Chunky Chili Sauce is truly more of a sauce than a chili oil—thicker, chewier and, indeed, chunkier, even though it is a Sichuan-style oil-based sauce. Similarly, while it also features hot chilies and fermented soybeans, its defining taste is the titular wild mushrooms, namely varieties of shiitake and porcini from the mountains of Yunnan. 

All of that together makes it an umami powerhouse condiment—similar yet distinctly different from chili oil and chili crisp. Its combination of mushrooms, heat and just a tinge of sweet enlivens any milder dish in sight: rice, noodles, congee, tofu and steamed or fried egg are just the start. 

Wild Mushroom Chunky Chili Sauce also has an interesting origin story. The brand is named after the "Hot Pot Queen" of Chongqing, a founding mother of the hot pot scene in the birthplace of mala hot pot. He Yongzhi opened her first small hot pot restaurant with three tables in 1982 and then grew Little Swan into one of the largest and most esteemed hot pot chains in China. She is even credited with inventing the two-compartment, two-broth hot pot!

He's Millennial daughter, Jia Liao, has now brought her mother's legacy to America under the Hot Pot Queen brand, positioning classic Chongqing flavors for a new country and new generation of burgeoning mala fans. 

Note that while jars of artisan chili oil are shrinking to around 5-6 ounces on average in the U.S., this jar is a generous 10.6 ounces. No need to ration this addictive sauce!

Also note, it's gluten-free!

Spicy mushroom tofu liang ban
Spicy Mushroom Tofu Liang Ban

This recipe for a tofu liang ban, or cold dish, is so easy you don't even need a recipe, but here you go! 
  1. Take a super jiggly, oh-so-soft slab of tofu—"soft" tofu if it's Chinese-made and "soondubu" if it's Korean, preferably a 12 ounce block. Peel back the plastic cover from one corner of the tub and microwave for 30-45 seconds, until it's just warmed through. (This tofu is too fragile to heat up in a pot of boiling water.) Carefully drain the water from the tofu container, remove the cover and flip it over onto a serving plate. 
  2. Mix 2 tablespoons handcrafted Zhongba light soy sauce, 2 tablespoons 10-year Baoning vinegar and 1 teaspoon Cuizi sesame oil until emulsified. Spoon 2-3 tablespoons of Hot Pot Queen Wild Mushroom Chunky Chili Sauce on top of the tofu and pour the liquid mix all over it. Garnish with sliced scallions and serve at room temperature. 
  3. Optional, but no one will hate you if you also pile on some chopped zhacai pickle and crushed huajiao peanuts
Spicy mushroom sesame noodles
Spicy Mushroom Sesame Noodles

Another instant dish brought to you by Wild Mushroom Chunky Chili Sauce is this bowl of spicy mushroom sesame noodles. Click here to see a video version of the recipe on Hot Pot Queen's Instagram page. Or use my slightly adapted version of it (we always use more sauce than a recipe calls for):
  1. For 2 servings, boil 200 grams wheat noodles, preferably springy, chewy alkaline noodlles, until done and then rinse in cool water to remove excess starch. Drain very well. 
  2. In a serving bowl, mix together 2 tablespoons Zhongba soy sauce, 2 tablespoons Baoning vinegar, 2 teaspoons sugar, 1 small garlic clove minced, 2 tablespoons Mala Market roasted sesame paste and 1 tablespoon wild mushroom chili sauce.
  3. Add the noodles to the sauce and mix well. Garnish with another tablespoon wild mushroom chili sauce (or to taste; it IS spicy), julienned cucumber and green onion, and crushed peanuts. 
50 Hertz Sichuan Pepper Peanuts (Set of 2)
50 Hertz Sichuan Pepper Peanuts (Set of 2)
Ok, so these Sichuan pepper peanuts are actually made in Meishan, which is closer to Chengdu than to Chongqing, but the 50 Hertz founder and huajiao evangelist Yao Zhao himself is from Chongqing, so that's close enough!

Since 50 Hertz launched these perfectly roasted, savory and tingly peanuts last summer, you guys have proven to love them as much as we do. While I usually snack on them with cocktails, they also make a wonderful topping for Sichuan cold dishes and noodles. 
Pork and century egg congee
Pork and Century Egg Congee

Congee is another inherently mild dish that welcomes all the accoutrements. Even though this version of zhou with lean pork and long-fermented century egg is far from bland, it's still ok to add some heat with a garnish of zhacai pickle and a drizzle of chili oil, chili crisp or mushroom chili sauce. 

Kathy's thick and creamy congee, or zhou as it's known in Mandarin, is inspired by a version of pidan shourou zhou she had in Beijing. It was light years more interesting than the xifan, or watered down rice, she grew up on in her own Sichuanese household. 

"It’s like this," she writes. "Xifan was poor man’s gruel, a plight for leftover or limited rice to make it last even longer. One part rice, one hundred parts water (or so it seems)—the true taste of childhood in Mao’s revolutionary China. Ma’s craving for plain xifan to this day once meant many weekend mornings slurping soupy rice with pork floss and 榨菜 (zhàcài). 

"But zhou, upon my first encounter with it in Beijing, was intentional porridge, a luscious white lie willing to cover up the truth about hard times. Porridge, but make it fashion! Dressed with pickles, small cuts of lean meat, 皮蛋 (pídàn) in each bowl, every time, instead of just special occasions. Seasoned, even? This was thrilling to me, child who had never experienced porridge that wasn’t watery, thin xifan."

Wujiang Zhacai (Sichuan Preserved Vegetable), Set of 5
Wujiang Zhacai (Sichuan Preserved Vegetable), Set of 5

We send out a gift packet of Chongqing zhacai with every order from The Mala Market so you can try what we think is the most delicious and versatile of Sichuan's preserved vegetables. Many of you scratch your head and have no idea what to do with it. 

So here's some ideas: 

  • add it to a stir-fry (Fuchsia Dunlop has a recipe in her classic Sichuan cookbook for a pork sliver and zhacai stir-fry, page 151)
  • top a bowl of noodles with it, either dry noodles or soup noodles
  • eat it with a bowl of rice as a xia fan cai, a "send the rice down" accompaniment 
  • eat with congee (see above)
  • top off a bowl of Chinese steamed egg or a soy-sauce-doused fried egg
  • make an instant cold dish with soft tofu (see above)