I’m always looking to try out a new style of eating so when Mala Tang popped up just a few minutes from my house I was game to try it out. Mala Tang, located in Ballston, specializes in the Sichuan style hot-pot described here, “While hot pot can be found throughout China, Sichuan is famous for its ma la hot pot, which is characterized by the yin and yang effect that the sichuan pepper and the red hot chilies create when combined together.” While I don’t love Chinese food, this sounded delicious. So off I went with Chad and our significant others in tow to test out what I was now referring to as healthy fondue-style eating.
The restaurant, located in Ballston on Washington Blvd. next to the Giant plaza, is enormous. Inside the style incorporates both modern and traditional elements including lacquered woods and red accents and huge tables with lazy-susans in the center. Chad pointed out that it is nice to have a big table when you know you’ll be getting lots of bowls and plates to share. He was right, our oversized table filled up quickly.
After a somewhat lengthy description of the menu, we decided to try a little bit of everything. We started out with Chengdu Beef Dumplings, Dan Dan Noodles with chilies and minced pork and a scallion pancake. The dumplings and dan dan noodles were a great way to start off the meal with excellent spice and flavor but I would skip the scallion pancake all together.
Next up we moved on to the main event. Each person has their own hot pot so you’re free to pick the spice level and either vegetarian or meat flavored broth. I am typically a spicy eater so I choose extra mala for my hot pot. This was a major mistake. I think the extra heat overwhelmed everything. Stick with mild or the standard mala and you’ll be better off. This sentiment was shared by everyone else who chose extra mala.
You then select starches, meats and veggies to share with the table. We went with another version of dumplings for our starch. They were fine but not all that exciting. I’m looking forward to trying out a noodle next time. For meat we went with milk marinated beef and chicken. Both of these were really good and took on the flavor of the broth. For the veggies we chose lotus root, broccoli and king mushrooms. All three were delicious and very fresh. It was my first experience trying lotus root and I really enjoyed it. Imagine a mix between a water chestnut and a potato. Once everything arrived you receive a quick tutorial in how long to have each item in your pot and then all the cooking is left to you. Don’t worry, it was really easy and was a fun, social way to enjoy a dinner with friends.
I left dinner feeling full but like I had eaten a pretty healthy meal considering it is just broth and lean meats and veggies. While I’m not sure this would work for everyday eating, our dinner took two hours, it was great for an evening out with friends. I should also note this is a great option for vegetarians. I’ll definitely be heading back to test out some other options on the menu.
3434 Washington Blvd.