If you’ve been through Chinatown in Sydney or Melbourne, you may have seen queues lined up for ‘malatang’ and not realised that you were walking past one of the most popular street food experiences in the world.
Originating in China, the malatang experience only arrived in Australia in 2020, and now Zhang Liang Malatang, one of China’s largest malatang franchises, can be enjoyed in Australia Fair Metro. Though it’s one of over 5,800 franchises in the world, Southport is only the second outlet in Queensland, the first being in Sunnybank, Brisbane.
Fast approaching the cult status of ramen and dumplings (yes, it’s bigger than Starbucks), perhaps you have not tried malatang yet because you don’t know about it, or maybe you are unsure of how to navigate the experience.
Fear no more! Let’s look at how to malatang, with a few tips and tricks thrown in for good measure.
But first, what is malatang?
A little malatang history
Malatang originated in the Sichuan region of China. Translating as ‘spicy, numbing soup’, malatang is named after ‘mala’ seasoning. Its spicy flavours are gained from simmering dried chillies and Sichuan peppercorns with oil and other spices, the resulting broth giving a slight numbing tingling sensation on your lips and tongue.
“The Zhang Liang Malatang experience is a mix of hot pot and malatang,” franchisee Henry Hao tells us. “It’s like a fast food version of hotpot and soup, made from all the ingredients you like. Instead of taking a long time sitting with friends and cooking a hotpot at the table, malatang is quick, taking 5 – 10 minutes. It’s also an experience you can enjoy by yourself,” he points out.
I’m thinking convenience, a fast lunch, yet an interactive experience which you can share as a group.
Fortunately for us, it’s also much simpler than you would image, so no fear of missing out because you might look silly!
How to Malatang
- Stop and read the choices first. Yes, it’s important! There are five different malatang experiences available, varying in spice level and wet/dry: Malatang signature, a medium spicy beef bone broth simmered overnight that goes with anything, vegan and gluten-free options of Mushroom broth (who doesn’t love umami mushies) or Tomato-based soups, Tom Yum (coming next month), or the ‘dry’ version (málà xiāng guō) of Stir fry (GF and also very popular) or Spicy poached mix.
2. Take a pair of tongs and a bowl from the fridge.
3. My first tip is to decide on a theme. Seafood goes with Malatang, Henry advises, while meat goes with anything.
4. Check out the wall of ingredients (yes, it’s a whole wall). There’s so much choice, but don’t feel overwhelmed! Take a quick look at everything that’s on offer, from noodles to tofu ( seven different types) to meat to greens. Pick what you like, including lots of different things that have complementary flavours to increase the complexity of flavour.
5. Take your bowl and tongs to the counter where they will weigh up what you have (minus the soup) and you pay your bill. A typical bowl is around $15-$25, depending on your choice of ingredients. Remember you’re in control, so choose wisely! You will be given a number tag.
6. When your meal has been cooked in your chosen soup (5 – 10 minutes), a buzzer sounds and your number comes up on the screen near the counter.
7. Collect your meal.
8. Visit the condiment counter, where a variety of sauces await. We love fresh coriander and shallots on top, as well as the sesame dipping sauce, which could complement the stir fry or mushroom soup.
9. If you have leftovers (which we did), ask for a takeaway container. (You can also enjoy malatang as takeaway. Delivery? Would you trust someone else to choose for you? I don’t think so!)
A few tips
Choose a drink from Henry’s shop Coco, across the Metro entrance, before you start. We love the bubble tea they serve, and it complements the spicy malatang soup very well. We hear they even have Biscoff cookie shake and Mango sago. Maybe next time!
Prepare to be amazed by the choice of some unusual ingredients. We chose the thin-sliced meat (pork, beef and lamb), seafood (prawns and mussels), rather than ‘composite’ seafood or exotic meat products. We didn’t try duck blood tofu and tripe, but it’s there for a reason. Viva la difference! It makes the choices easier by eliminating a few options.
Whoops! I forgot to include some Thai fish cakes!
There are so many noodle choices! Ramen was very successful, and a bean-based vermicelli is a great gluten-free choice. Again, we chose for taste.
Boost the mushrooms and greens to add umami. We added lots of vegies and herbs, all clearly marked as to what they are, with extra dimensions added from the condiments table.
Remember that weight counts at the end, so don’t go too heavy on the carbs. Prawns cost the same as ramen! While seafood has been frozen, there’s no hiding in the greens department, with freshness of every choice so apparent. Load them up!
Share if you like. We noticed tables getting bowls of rice per person, different soups or stir fry to share and treating it like a community experience.
This is participatory dining at its best. Zhang Liang Malatang has the potential to be a fast, delicious meal you can share with friends. You are in control, so make the dish you want.
Most of all, enjoy the adventure!
Zhang Liang Malatang, Shop M006, Australia Fair Metro, 58 Scarborough St, Southport QLD 4215
Ph: 0478 584 730 Open daily 11.30am – 9pm