Malatang is a common type of Chinese street food that is especially popular in Beijing but can be found all over China. It is similar to hot pot, better describe, it is pre-cooked mini hot pot.
Malatang is named after its key ingredient, mala sauce, which is flavored with a combination of Szechuan pepper (which represents the “ma” or the numbing flavor) and dried chili pepper (which represents the “la” or the spicy sauce). The word málà is composed of the Chinese characters for “numbing” (麻) and “spicy (hot)” (辣), referring to the feeling in the mouth after eating the sauce.
Malatang is said to originate from the Yangtze River near Sichuan. In ancient times, boating was a big industry and many people made a living by towing boats. Working under the damp and foggy weather made boat trackers feel very sick. And when they were hungry, they cooked herbs in a pot and put Sichuan pepper and ginger into the soup to eliminate dampness. Malatang was created, then vendors discovered the business opportunity, and spread it throughout China. And now it is becoming an international food sensation.
Unlike hot pot, which is made to order and shared only by diners at a private table, malatang originates from street food cooked in a communal pot. Diners can quickly pick their raw veggies and noodles and meats, and either eat on the spot or take away.