Even among the crowd of food-court stalls at Dixon House, Yang Guo Fu is one of the most confusing for a monolingual English speaker. There’s no menu, signage or any indication of how to order food. There’s just a series of shelves stacked with different fresh and preserved Chinese foods.

Malatang is a kind of choose-your-own-adventure hot pot that’s extremely popular in north-east China. There aren’t many restaurants in Sydney serving malatang, so almost all of Yang Guo Fu Malatang’s customers are Chinese northerners.

Here’s what to do: pick up a large silver bowl and some tongs from the counter (unless you’re ravenous, it’s a good idea to go one bowl between two). Pick whatever you want from the shelves and place it in your bowl with some noodles. We recommend avoiding the vermicelli; it’ll soak up your soup and make your bowl a swamp. Instead, get the noodles made from green beans, sweet potato or taro (ask the staff), they’re a Harbin speciality. Once you’re done, hand the bowl over the counter and ask for a side of Harbin sausages. The staff will weigh the bowl and give you a price. When the laksa-coloured soup arrives you’ll be asked what sauces you want on top. Ask for everything or at least owner Wen Xi’s homemade garlic paste and sesame paste, they give the soup a velvety texture and an extra layer of flavour.

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The soup itself is rich and thick with a distinct flavour not often found in other Chinese cuisines. Wen wouldn’t say exactly what’s in it apart from that it’s based on a complex beef stock. He also makes the stall’s two varieties of sausage, a simple dried-pork variety with star anise, and the Harbin sausage, an eastern-European-like sausage made by an intricate process of roasting and smoking.

Wen says his original plan was to import his handmade Harbin sausages for the Australian market, but after coming here as an international student, and noticing there were no malatang shops, he wanted to bring the concept to Sydney. He used to make malatang in Harbin under a popular chain with a similar name, but what he’s making now is better because of the quality of Australia’s produce.

Yang Guo Fu Malatang
Shop B9, Dixon House Food Court, 413–415 Sussex Street, CBD

Mon to Sun 10.30am–8.30pm (occasionally closed for lunch)

Local Knowledge is a weekly Broadsheet series shining a light on the unassuming, authentic Sydney restaurants that are worthy of appreciation beyond the neighbourhoods they serve. See the rest of the series here.