Of all of China’s many dining trends perhaps the biggest is malatang. The put-whatever-you-want-in a hot pot is not new but different styles have exploded all over East Asia. It’s only just come over here, first with Yang Guo Fu Malatang and now comes Malabang, a new venture from the Taste of Shanghai group. “Food in mainland China is always changing,” says Jennifer Du, the restaurant’s owner. “We are always trying to bring in the latest fashion.”
You start with a giant metal bowl (something that looks more suited to industrial baking than a cheap meal). First choice is what kind of noodles you want and whether you want a whole head of fresh greens (packaged like a Bunnings plant). Next is the most bewildering part – the soup ingredients. Here you’ll find more than 50 ingredients, including pig ears, chunks of lotus root, quail eggs, roe-filled fish dumplings, whole prawns, spam, corn on the cob, various mushrooms, tofu, seaweed and more.
Once you’ve chosen, your bowl gets weighed (it’s priced on weight) and you’re handed a number. In a few minutes, it’ll be yelled out, you’re given the option of a few sauces and you’ll see how enormously you’ve over-ordered. “It’s like a Chinese laksa,” says Du. It is … but more porky and sour.
As you eat, sip on a cold green tea or a fresh-passionfruit red tea. If, for some reason, you find yourself here but not in the mood for a hot pot, there’s also five-cup fried noodles with pig ears and a chili oil-heavy noodle soup.
Traditionally these are all cheap street snacks but that’s not the vibe they’re going for here. The restaurant, in the downstairs section of World Square, is quite stylised. The walls are covered in cute comics (the little girl is modelled after Du), and the counter and furniture are all timber. It almost looks Japanese inspired. “We went to Taiwan, to the number one street food market to study what they were doing. They have a lot of Japanese influence there,” confirms Du, mentioning Malatang chain Red Lips as big influence.
Mon to Sun 11am–9pm