BLT is so 10 years ago, MLT (Malatang) is TAKING OVER!

Malatang, directly translated to “spicy numbing hot (soup)”, is a common street food that is widely loved not only by the locals but also by the tourists. The word málà consisting of two characters for “numbing” (má麻) and “spicy” (là辣), refers to the strong aftertaste from the málà sauce, which is usually made with Sichuan peppercorn and dried chili pepper. The dish has a variety of boiled ingredients in a painstakingly prepared broth. Unlike hot pot, a street food like this offers diners the opportunity to enjoy their meal alone and convenience to take out.

A typical Malatang meal with steamed white rice

A typical Malatang meal with steamed white rice

The scrumptious dish is said to originate from the Yangtze River near Sichuan by people working in the boating industry. When boat trackers felt hungry, they would pick up some tree branches, build a fire, put on a jar and put in whatever herbs they could find nearby. The must-have ingredients such as Sichuan peppercorn and ginger were good for eliminating dampness from workers’ bodies since they worked in a very damp and hot weather.  

Illustration of boat trackers having hot pot/Malatang after long working day near Yantze River

Illustration of boat trackers having hot pot/Malatang after long working day near Yantze River

The easiness of cooking a Malatang inspired the vendors on the pier. They improved the ingredients and cooker and started to sell along the streets. Malatang appeared on the street vendors during the 80s-90s and went viral during the mid-1990s. In the mid-2010s, Malatang vendors became popular in North China, especially Beijing. The Northerners not only kept the original numbing taste but also adapted to local tastes and added sesame paste.

Nowadays, the way of cooking Malatang is remained identical. Usually the dish is mainly offered in three ways: skewers, by weight, in-a-bowl. For the skewers scenario, if you come with friends and families, you’d sit around a table and put skewered meat, vegetables in a spicy málà broth boiled in the center of the table and the price is calculated based on the number of skewers. Another way to order Malatang is made-to-order where you choose which ingredients to put in in front of a display counter and the price is based on the weight of the self-picked ingredients. In-a-bowl otherwise offers diner pre-picked base of boiled ingredients in a málà broth in a bowl where customers can consume at the store or simply take away. Common ingredients include beef slice, bean curd, fish ball, mixed green, lotus root, mushroom, potato, etc.

Typical skewer type of MáLàTàng in Chinese restaurant

Typical skewer type of MáLàTàng in Chinese restaurant

Malatang is definitely a crowd favorite for its flavor, convenience and individuality. It never really had its moment despite that Chinese regional food is booming in New York City, but the situation is changing very soon. As winter approaches, there is no single better food to cure than a bowl of Malatang packed with nutrients and massive flavors.