SINGAPORE: When this farmer's son from Chongqing borrowed money to open a sales kiosk mala xiang guo in Singapore in 2015, he bet on the food and beverage scene here.
At that time, most Singaporeans were not familiar with this stir-fried version mala hotpot – 90 percent of its customers are Chinese citizens.
READ: Mala addicts unite: Celebrate fiery masochistic pleasures and sorrows
Shortly thereafter, Yang Jian, owner of You Ma You La, found himself in trouble due to weak footsteps. To avoid closing his shop, he was forced to secretly pawn his wedding ring, his wife's earrings, and his child's bracelet.
And then he has brain waves: mini lobster.
"It was very difficult for six months mala mini lobsters came to my mind, "he said. "Mala mini lobster is a dish that is very popular in China, but very rare in Singapore. "
He created the WeChat group to advertise dishes, organize group purchases and pre-orders and even post live lobster mini video clips and cooking processes to satisfy customer tastes.
Thanks to his quick thinking, he managed to change his new business.
For the next two years, mala xiang guo burnt and become a craze in Singapore – and that is in the front row of migrant vendors here fanning the flames.
WATCH: From farmer to king Mala (4:05)
Now with 14 outlets in its chain, the story is told in the series On The Red Dot, Eating and Migrants. (Watch the episode here.)
BIGGER LIFE DREAMS
Born poor, who grew up on the farm where, he admitted, "we don't dress well, we don't eat well and we have never been to a big city".
When he finally experienced city life after serving in the military, he was fascinated by the lifestyles of the rich, with big houses and their luxury cars.
"I told myself to work hard because I thought these people would have been able to buy these cars only after working hard and making money," recalled the 40-year-old man.
Trained as a chef in 2003 – "I occupied my class," he said proudly – he soon got a job in Jiangsu as head chef. After one year, he took over the restaurant when his boss stopped.
In just three years, he got enough money to buy a house. But in 2008, due to the financial crisis, he sold the restaurant to leave China.
"I chose Singapore because I heard that there were more Chinese around here," he said.
"During that time, Sichuan food was not very popular in Singapore. There are only a few shops but I feel there is potential for the growth of Sichuan food like mala"
He started working in the Chinatown restaurant and then in Geylang sold popular ones mala duck's neck.
"When I received my long-term visit pass, the first thing I wanted to do was open a mala xiang guo stop at the food court because the risk is lower and investment capital is also lower, "he said.
ORIGIN OF ORIGIN
Mala, originating from the Chongqing and Sichuan regions, are usually associated with hotpot, temporarily mala xiang guo saute with mala spices and ingredients such as seafood, vegetables and soy products.
However, its origin mala xiang guo still not determined, with Yang indicating that his name does not exist until now.
His own theory is that the dish was conjured up by Chongqing chefs who went to Beijing and, while preparing lunch to work, fried various ingredients with chili and pepper.
"He realized that it tastes quite good. After several recipes and taste tests, he developed and produced this name, "he said.
In Singapore, the mala craze hotpot came several years before mala xiang guo revolution.
Interest with mala ("Ma" for killing tongues and "la" for spicy) has broken creations from cup noodles to potato chips to burgers, said food blogger Daniel Ang of DanielFoodDiary. It also became a trending item on social media.
"You get mala traces everywhere, and that makes people interested mala overall, "he added.
"People who have never experienced mala will think this tastes good. (They) might just want to return to their origin, to have mala hotpot or a mala xiang guo"
Julius Lim, who wrote a food review for Burpple's digital food guide, agreed to that mala hotpots are increasingly popular, Singapore's food culture has developed an appeal for the stir-fried version.
"That's how it burns, and it creates a critical point for more and more mala the shop is open, "he said.
"And mala xiang guo, I think, is one of the leaders (products) because many years ago, I didn't see many people waiting in line (for that matter). "
DISH NATIONAL FUTURE?
But when Yang started out – with an investment of S $ 10,000, some of which he borrowed from friends – his business was unclear.
"In the first four months, we lost money. We don't receive salary, "he recalls. "We can't even pay rent."
The jewelry he pawned to overcome the loss gave him 5,000 dollars.
"I did not know about him pawning the bracelet until one day, close to the Chinese New Year, my mother wanted to put it on my child," said his wife, Chen Liyun.
"He's smart not to worry me. But knowing that my husband had lied to me, I would have been angry. "
But he stated that he did not have many choices, because the alternative was to close the business.
The mini-lobster idea that saved the day, and gave him the advantage of being the first mover, was "very smart" from him, Lim said. And the business has grown throughout the island.
Today, Singaporeans are approaching almost half of their customers, unlike when they first started. "I never imagined Singaporeans – Chinese and Indians – would really enjoy it mala xiang guo, "Yang said, now a permanent resident here.
By opening a warung at the heart, it gives easy access to local residents mala xiang guo, show Ang.
"This food does not only function in the place of immigrants or the Chinese community, but also works well in the heart," added the food blogger.
Chen, who quit his job as a kindergarten teacher to help her husband, see mala xiang guo as their prize to Singapore from China, while Yang even has greater expectations for that.
He wanted to "follow in the footsteps of the early Chinese migrants" and their "famous" chicken rice.
"They make Hainan chicken rice as a national dish. I also want to bring the taste of Chongqing to Singapore and make it a national dish. I want to make Chongqing mala famous, "he said.
Watch this episode here. On The Red Dot airs on Mediacorp Channel 5 every Friday at 9:30 p.m.