Mala Tang is a new Chinese restaurant in Arlington that specializes in these hot pots and Chinese street food and has gotten lots of good attention among the food critics. While I was enjoying other delicious food in Paris, Tim (a friend from the newspaper and fellow food enthusiast) suggested that we check this place out when I got back. Last night was the night.
The basic concept of a hot pot is this: You sit around a pot of spicy, boiling broth, dipping various fresh vegetables and meats until they're cooked to your satisfaction, and then eating them with a spicy dipping sauce.
We started with some appetizers: Dan dan noodles, pork water buns, zhong dumplings. They were all very good, but the zhong dumplings were outstanding. We could have eaten those all night -- but we didn't. In stead, we moved on to the main event: the hot pots!
|Hot pot with spicy chicken broth|
|Wine marinated beef|
|Enoki mushrooms, lotus root and cabbage|
|Green bean leaves|
|Dipping sauce specially concocted by our waitress from the sauce bar|
I particularly liked how the cooking process slowed down the meal. Since you weren't presented with a plateful of food ready to eat, you couldn't just dig in and snarf your dinner. Instead, you had to cook it and eat it piece by piece in a very active process. So it took longer and provided a great context for conversation.
I also liked having my own pot. Apparently hot pots in China are usually a communal affair, with everyone sitting around a single pot. Neither Tim nor I are natural food sharers, though (my first recollection of Tim is from 2007, when he took a few summer associates to lunch and instructed us to ignore everything the waitress was about to say regarding family style sharing) and so, although a communal pot would still have been delicious, I was very happy to see individual pots on the menu.
By the time we were done, both of us were absolutely stuffed. Fortunately, the restaurant is only a few blocks from my apartment, which means I was able to
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