Food being cooked on sticks or on a rotisserie is not new around the world and certainly not for Thailand, being Street Food heaven. You will find food like North Eastern Sausages; Sai Krok Isaan, or Pork Skewers; Moo Ping to hot dog sausages grilling away at street side vendors but anever-growing food trend in Thailand now is Mhaa Laa.
The term derives from the Chinese words for “numbing” and “spicy”, referring to the feeling in the mouth after eating the marinade.The numbness is caused by the Sichuan pepper in the marinade.
So, what is it that makes Mhaa Laa so good? These types of skewers probably date back to night markets in Chongqing, a major city in South West China, which targeted pier workers in the 19th to 20th century. Many different types of proteins and vegetables were put onto skewers and then cooked over a charcoal grill.
They were first basted with oil and then brushed with the marinade numerous times during grilling. The marinade is generally based around Sichuan pepper and also contains things like chili, cumin powder and roasted sesame seeds. Other possible spices that can be combined to make the Mhaa Laa powder are clove, garlic, star anise, black cardamom, fennel, ginger, cinnamon, salt and sugar.
This marinade is often quite spicy and each vendor will have their own special blend. Some Mhaa Laa vendors in Thailand will keep the marinade relatively dry, whilst others will moisten it with some sesame oil and soy sauce but again, it’s up to the vendor and the flavour profile they are after.
You will find a wide variety of things on these sticks; many different cuts of chicken; wings and fillets, pork may include cuts from the belly, fillet or sundried strips and then there are the vegetables including mushrooms, okra and broccoli, to name just a few.
Some vendors will have a large range of sticks to choose from. Look for these vendors, as the variety of sticks makes it even more interesting and tasty to eat. Some vendors are very creative in their choice of sticks and have a huge following due to their Mhaa Laa marinade.
If you can find vendors who are still grilling over hot coals, this is great, however many are now using electric or gas grills, as it’s faster due to the heat being more consistent.
For those who don’t like it too spicy, or if you just want certain sticks left natural, that can be done as well. Mhaa Laa is the perfect snack or Gap Glaem, meaning drinking food. The sticks are normally around 10 THB each, so for small or larger groups this is a great and economical way to cater for everyone.
You will find Mhaa Laa sellers mostly at night in markets or Street Food areas, out the front of closed shops or just randomly in front of their homes. Stop and watch the vendor to see how they are treating their sticks; are they kept them covered and cool, are the locals stopping and ordering? These are all signs that that vendor is doing a good job of their Mhaa Laa.