Malatang is the cure for all that ails you during this cold and rainy month. To eat this Northern Chinese, spicy numbing soup, get thee to the Burwood outlet of the popular Yang Guo Fu Ma La Tang chain.
Despite being part of the hip new Burwood Chinatown development, the restaurant itself is totally lacking in ambience. It’s covered in stacked boxes and over-lit with an ugly office ceiling. All the light, combined with the fact that everyone is focused down into their soup bowls, does make it a perfect spot for people watching. It also allows you to get a good look at the ingredients you’ll be putting in your soup.
When you arrive, walk past the waiting hoards (they're collecting takeaway) straight to the front counter, and pick up a bowl and tongs. Walk to the far end of the counter and start loading ingredients into your bowl.
Choose from a dazzling array of fishcakes and fishballs, various forms of tofu (they are all excellent in the soup), crinkle cut Spam, thinly sliced beef and pork meat (and innards), cubes of pig blood jelly, fish fillets, calamari and crab claws and sticks. Fried items - from dough sticks to battered crab claws - go very well in this soup. On this visit I fell in love with an intriguing chewy fish stick stuffed with a semi sweet egg mixture.
There are also plentiful vegetable options, running from thinly sliced potato and carrot, to cauliflower florets, bamboo shoots and bean sprouts. Mushrooms are a highlight, and you'll find king, enoki, oyster and shimeji mushrooms as well as leafy brown woodear fungus that scrubs up a treat in soup. Be generous with the leafy greens - everything from Chinese cabbage to bitter chrysanthemum, coriander and bok choy - they cook down a lot in the broth.
Diversity is key, so make sure you add a good range of items, even if you don’t know what they all are. Nothing here tastes bad in soup! Noodles are another must-have – they soak up broth beautifully - so choose your favourite between cellophane, rice and egg noodles, or mix and match the various types.
Don’t fret about taking things that are in large pieces – the kitchen will chop down king mushrooms and fish balls for you, ensuring everything is bite sized.
Overfilling your bowl is a rookie malatang mistake - only take what you think you can eat. When you’ve finished deciding, offer your bowl to the cashier to be weighed. All ingredients are all the same price: $12/500g. My bowl came to $13, while my dining companion hit the wall before finishing his $19 bowl.
After you hand over your weighed bowl and money, you’re given a numbered key chain and it’s time to secure a table. Don’t fret, this is a Chinese street food, people eat and move on very quickly, and your bowl will give you about twenty minutes of grace. When your number is called, you collect your bowl of soup from the cashier. She’ll dress it rapid fire with messy ladles full of creamy garlic, chilli, sesame oil, black vinegar and sugar. Just say yes. This lady knows what she’s doling out. If you are a chilli lightweight, skip the additional chilli on top, as the soup already contains some.
Give it a good stir and the play guess the ingredient as you slurp soup, rich with pork and chicken bones, garlic, ginger, Sichuan pepper, chilli and soy sauce, from your own personalised hotpot.
This restaurant is extremely popular for a reason.
Yang Guo Fu Ma La Tang
Burwood Chinatown, 127-133 Burwood Road, Burwood