A malatang cauldron.
When I was in Europe, the only Chinese dishes that I could get were fried rice, noodles, spring rolls and beef with mushrooms. I couldn’t afford expensive ethnic restaurants and most of the cheap Chinese spots adapted their dishes to the European taste in order to attract more customers. Now you know why the main dishes of a Chinese buffet all-you-can-eat are often the french fries or the chocolate ice cream.
A couple of months ago I started to bring my camera to the restaurants with the goal of documenting my experience with the “real” Chinese food. This is the first episode: say hello to Chongqing malatang.
What the hell malatang is?
The spices for your malatang.
The malatang is the traditional spicy soup from Sichuan Province, in West China. The way to prepare it may vary: while in West Sichuan the malatang is similar the hotpot that you can also find in other part of China, in the Chongqing’s version of the malatang you pick your own ingredients from the fridge. Then the cook boils them up on his huge caldron. You can even choose how to spice your soup.
Where to find a malatang?
Pretty much everywhere. Just look for the sign 重庆麻辣汤 (Chóngqìng málàtāng, “málà” means spicy flavor and “tāng” means soup). You’ll see a big cauldron and a fridge full of kebabs at the entrance.
Even if the ingredients may vary from a restaurant to the other, in general you’ll find chicken wings and entrails, sausages, quail eggs, fish balls, mushrooms, potato, noodles, dumplings, tofu, green beans, lettuce and lotus root.
What to expect from a malatang restaurant?
The majority of the Chongqing malatang are family-owned businesses. They usually have little space to accommodate the customers and tend to occupy the sidewalk with tables and chairs. This is probably the reason for which I associate malatang to street food more than to a restaurant.
Also, most of the customers come here alone or in a small groups, eat and leave fast. This is not the place where Chinese people come to celebrate their birthday!
How much does a bowl of malatang cost?
The price will vary according to the ingredients that you choose. Vegetables prices range between half and one kuai, while the meat and the fish are more expensive (even five kuai for a kebab). I usually spend about thirty kuai for a bowl.
Is malatang any good?
Chicken wings… hmmm
I’ve always been picky with food. For instance I avoid Chinese seafood because it hasn’t any taste to me (sorry, in the Mediterranean Sea we have high standard) and the rivers here in China are insanely polluted. Also, I don’t like cilantro (coriander for the fellows from UK). It’s a quite strong taste and Italian people are not used to it.
So being able to order my personalized soup makes me feel great. I love malatang. In particular, I like it with green vegetables, mushrooms and chicken wings… a lot of chicken wings (check the photo above).
Is malatang healthy?
I wouldn’t recommend to eat malatang every week. First at all it’s quite spicy. And second the owners don’t change the water of the cauldron very often (once per day if you are lucky). This is the reason why I eat the meat and vegetables but I don’t drink the soup.
What about you? What’s your favorite Chinese dish?