I managed to get out of Mala Tang without having to visit the burn ward at the local hospital. I’d say the evening was a success. Oh, and the food was good too.
In our litigious society, I’m amazed a place like Mala Tang can even exist. The danger is glaringly obvious: a portable burner, ignited to produce a big blue flame, on top of which sits a pot of scaldingly hot broth, bubbling like a personal witches’ brew. I took special care to move my burner in from the edge of the table. Nothing to ruin a Friday night like dumping scorching broth into the ol’ twig and berries.
If I’m making Mala Tang sound like a negative experience, I don’t mean to. Eating Chinese hot pot is actually a ton of fun, and we all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
The fun is in going with a group because hot pot at Mala Tang is a communal experience. Each person selects his/her own broth, either mild or mala (hot), then orders are placed for various raw meats, seafood and vegetables, which arrive on platters to be shared. The raw ingredients are plunged into the broth to cook, and within minutes, everything’s ready to eat.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. First we shared a round of regular dishes.
Dan dan noodles to awaken the taste buds.
A hearty and spicy ma po tofu.
And soup dumplings. They tore open from the bottoms sticking to the lettuce, and there was no soup to be found, but they were still tasty anyway.
We were primed and ready for the main event.
First, we hit the condiment bar to pick up an assortment of sauces and herbs.
Then, each of our burners was lit.
I ordered the mala broth, deep red in color and spicy with Szechuan peppercorns. Within minutes it went from this:
That flame works fast. Now it was time to drop the raw ingredients into our broths. Initially, with eight people at our table, we thought we’d made a major miscalculation by ordering way too much food. Check it out.
That’s enoki mushrooms, bamboo shoots, fish balls, lobster balls, shrimp balls, sliced sirloin, sliced lamb, bok choy, watercress, seaweed, squid, and a few other items I’m forgetting.
Never doubt a group of hungry Asians. We’re thin, but we can eat. By the end, practically everything had been polished off.
My mala broth could have been spicier, but maybe it’s just as well that it wasn’t. A few years ago at a hot pot restaurant, the atomically spicy broth went down the wrong pipe; I coughed, and suddenly it was like my throat and lungs were ablaze with the heat of a thousand Szechuan peppercorns. A unique and particularly excruciating pain… kinda hope to never experience that again.
With this crazy mild winter we’re having, the ideal days for hot pot are few and far between. Go to Mala Tang soon before the temperature really starts to warm up. Hot pot is cold weather food.
* Note: If you’re going with more than eight people, ask for rectangular tables. I forgot to, and we ended up split up into two groups at round tables which couldn’t be pushed together. Not a disaster, but a bit of a bummer that we couldn’t all sit together as one big group.
3434 Washington Blvd.