If you have lived in South Korea for quite some time, I am sure you have heard of the fiery Chinese dish called ‘Malatang (麻辣烫)’. Lately, the ‘malatang’ trend is immensely popular among Koreans, particularly in their 20s and 30s and female diners. Besides this dish, a variety of Chinese cuisines like ‘Malaxiangguo (麻辣香鍋)’ and ‘xiaolongbao’ (steamed soup dumplings) are also gaining prominent fame among Koreans.
Malatang is a build-your-own-soup originated from Sichuan, China. It has an appetizing, flavorful, nutty and spicy broth that will make you crave for more. The name ‘mala’ means numbness and spicy whereas ‘tang’ literally translates to soup. The dish is well-known for its unique spiciness that will make your tongue numb just as its Chinese characters indicate. The mala sauce, which contains Sichuan pepper, gives the broth an alluring aroma of spicy flavor that will make you addicted to it!
Everything inside a malatang restaurant is self-service – from choosing the fresh ingredients, soup or saute, meat to the level of spiciness. Here is how the ordering system usually works:
There is a wide selection of green vegetables, mushrooms, tofu in various forms, rice cakes, sausages, lotus root, crab meat, noodles and instant ramyeon. Also, there are seafood balls, prawns, quail eggs, hams and fishcakes which come in a stick. Different malatang restaurants offer different fresh ingredients, but most of them are similar to each other. After you have picked up all the ingredients you want, go to the counter and weight it.
2. Choose malatang (soup) or malaxiangguo (spicy stir-fry): There are two ways of cooking the ingredients that you have chosen – malatang or malaxiangguo. The cashier will ask you which way you prefer. If you want it in the form of soup, you should say ‘malatang’. On the other hand, if you want it to be spicy stir-fried, you should say ‘malaxiangguo’.
3. Choose whether you want to add meat or not: You can choose to add some meat to your dish like thin strips of beef (소고기), pork (돼지고기) and lamb (양고기). One portion is 100g and usually costs around 3000 won. If you don’t want any meat, you can just skip this part.
4. Choose the spiciness level: Most of the malatang restaurants will have four levels of spiciness from non-spicy, less spicy, normal spicy to spiciest. I would recommend you to choose the normal level because it is less numb and goes really well with ramyeon and white rice. If you really cannot bear any spiciness at all, I suggest you to try the ‘less spicy’ one. Note that some restaurants do not allow you to choose the spiciness level.
5. Pay for your food: Finally, you have reached the last step – paying the bill. You can choose to dine in or take away. There are no extra charges if you wish to take away. Now, all you need to do is just wait for your piping hot malatang to be served!
At the fresh ingredients corner, you will see sticks of quail eggs, prawns and seafood balls. One stick cost 1000 won. If you order malatang, the minimum price is 5000 won which means you need to take around 300g of ingredients (1650 won per 100g). On the contrary, for malaxiangguo, you need to order a minimum of 15000 won (3000 won per 100g). Note that the price does not include the meat price (only the fresh ingredients and the number of sticks are included). The minimum price may differ depending on each restaurant. Aside from malatang and malaxiangguo, malatang restaurant offers an extensive menu as well like fried rice, tangsuyuk (sweet and sour pork) and mala crawfish.
One small tip! Both malatang and malaxiangguo go really well with white rice! Make sure you order a bowl of white rice to eat together with the spicy dish. Note that some malatang restaurants offer free flow of rice.
Since the past few years, you can see many malatang franchises especially near shopping streets and university areas. Here are just a few of my favorite malatang franchises. You can easily spot them in busy tourist attractions like Hongdae and Myeongdong.
라화쿵부 is one of the earliest malatang franchises in Korea. It has been on many TV shows and is extremely popular among the locals. My favorite menu from라화쿵부 is malaxiangguo. It is undoubtedly my number one pick!
2. Tanghwa Kungfu (탕화쿵푸)
Many locals said that 탕화쿵푸 offers the best malatang in Korea. Besides, they have more varieties of fresh ingredients compared to other shops, too!
3. Sillungpu Malatang (신룽푸마라탕)
신룽푸마라탕 is a little pricier compared other malatang restaurants. While the price for malatang is 1600 won per 100g for most of the restaurants, 신룽푸마라탕’s malatang is 1800 won per 100g. However, many said that the taste is definitely worth every single penny!
As a spicy food lover, malatang is one of my favorite Chinese dishes. I will eat it at least once a week. There was a time when I was really addicted to this belly-warming hotpot soup – I felt like eating it every day! Nowadays, this food is receiving a lot of interest and love not only in Korea but all over the world. If you haven’t tasted this Chinese hot pot dish, head over to the nearest restaurant and order a bowl of hot, palatable hotpot!