Mala Tang is a chinese hot pot restaurant in Arlington that is the sister restaurant of Uncle Liu’s Hot Pot in Falls Church. At Mala Tang, each diner is given a boiling pot of broth with a choice of raw meats, vegetables, dumplings and miscellaneous foods that can be dropped into the pot to cook. A ‘sauce bar’ in the middle of the restaurant allows you to create your own sauces (choosing from soy sauce, chili sauce, sesame oil, chopped scallions, etc.) for dipping. This style of cooking dates back to over a thousand years ago, originating in Mongolia (where mutton, beef and even horse were used during long riding expeditions), and spread to China during the Tang Dynasty. Now, hot pot is a popular style of cooking throughout China, but the traditional coal-heated steamboat has been replaced with electric, gas or induction cookers.
1) Green Onion Pancakes ($4)
Not the stacks of fluffy American pancakes drizzled in maple syrup you normally have for breakfast. Chinese green onion pancakes are a savory snack. These hand-sized pancakes are dense, crispy and flaky with salty bits of scallion hidden between each layer (like a flattened buttery biscuit). This was my favorite snack as a kid, and I remember eating these as quickly as I could while my cousins and I fought each other for the last slice on the plate.
2) Spicy Wontons ($6)
These boiled wontons are filled with ground pork, soy sauce, and drizzled in red hot chili oil. Use the mini tongs they provide to pick them up! Otherwise they’ll tear and leak all over the plate (or drop on the table before it makes it to you…true story). For a crispier alternative, check out their fried pork dumplings.
3) Pork Water Buns ($5)
It’s rare to find pork water buns (baozi) in DC, but there are a few places in VA where you can pick them up (like the bakery inside the Great Wall Supermarket in Falls Church). They’re similar to their soup dumpling cousins (the xiao long bao), but have a thicker skin – almost like bread. In both the baozi and xiao long bao – the first bite is supposed to be the juiciest. Ground pork, soup and juice pours out from your first bite, and it’s recommended that you eat it with a soup spoon below your mouth to catch all the good stuff that always tries to escape.
4) Mung Bean Noodles ($6)
Sounds funky and looks funky (grey-ish noodles speckled with bits of red pepper and scallions), but it tastes good. The texture of the noodles are a bit unusual, but if you aren’t afraid to try cold noodles – these are delish. Despite the cold temperature – they still pack the heat, and the bits of red pepper can easily fire up your taste buds.
5) Milk Marinated Beef ($21)
This is a must-try if you order the mala-hot soup. The milk marinated beef mellows out the (sometimes gamy) taste of beef and leaves it tasting soft and tender. It’s encouraged that you cook the beef a bit longer than everything else, so don’t worry about overcooking this.
3434 Washington Blvd, Arlington, VA; 703-243-2381; www.mala-tang.com.