Fast Food


A forerunner of Sichuan-style hotpot


What is it?

Malatang is sometimes described as a forerunner of hotpot (see WiC47). The popular street food is effectively a hotpot being served in a fast food style. Its raw ingredients are cooked in a broth made with heaps of chilli, peppercorn, garlic and other spices. After you have chosen your meat the chef puts it into the scalding hot broth (sometimes on a skewer that is easier to eat on-the-go). After the dish is ready it can be topped with more chilli sauce or sesame dressing.

What’s the origin?

Mala (麻辣) means numbing and spicy, while tang (烫) means ‘boiling hot’ in Chinese. Malatang as a dish originated on a stretch of the Yangtze River in Sichuan, where people made a living from towing boats upstream. For meals these men would throw whatever they could find – raw meat and vegetables – into a pot of boiling water for a simple meal. Over time they started to add more seasoning, like chilli and the other spices. According to traditional Chinese medicine, this would combat any dampness in the weather as well.

Malatang grew popular, with the dish spreading to other areas and becoming what it is known as today.

In the news

Just recently actor-model Zhang Liang became embroiled in a controversy over malatang. Last month a netizen complained to the star on Sina Weibo that Zhang Liang Malatang, a chain with more than 5,000 outlets around the country, had started to charge patrons for sesame sauce (the condiment is usually offered to diners for free).

As it turns out, Zhang shares the same name as the founder of the malatang chain but has nothing to do with the restaurant business in question.

The actor replied jokingly on his own weibo account: “Go to Yang Guofu (a rival chain)…”

Sensing a commercial opportunity Yang Guofu, which operates 5,500 restaurants that are named after its founder, invited the actor to become a brand ambassador. The post quickly became one of the highest trending topics on weibo, receiving over 1.3 million likes.

Yang, a Harbin-native, says he fell in love with malatang 20 years ago and decided to start his own business specialising in the dish. However, people from Dongbei (that is, northeastern China) are said to have a lower tolerance for spicy food so Yang changed the recipe to incorporate different herbs, rock sugar and other seasonings in his broth, promising that it is “a soup you can drink”.

Yang Guofu has outlets all around China. It also has restaurants in Seoul, Singapore, Sydney and Burnaby (in Canada).

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