What Is Chinese Malatang?-Spicy Numbing Soup

In many Chinese restaurants around the world, there are plenty of adaptations and adjustments made to Chinese dishes to suit the preferences of foreigners. Despite that, some cuisines retain their original flavors regardless of where the restaurant is. They are perfect for a crash course into Chinese meals if you want to gain an authentic experience – malatang is among them.

What is malatang soup?

spicy numbing soup
spicy numbing soup

If you have heard of the Chinese dish “hotpot,” you will have a good idea of what malatang soup is since it is considered a precursor of hotpot. It is a Chinese street food originating in southwest China, and its name translates to “Spicy hot pot.” Today, it is commonly seen in Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Beijing, but the northern version differs from its original form.

Its name is inspired by mala sauce, which is its main ingredient. The word “mala” combines the Chinese characters for “spicy” and “numbing,” as people described the feeling in their mouths after eating the sauce. The malatang soup is relatively easy to make since it requires mixing the mala sauce and other ingredients like ginger, pepper, and herbs.

Despite their similarities, the malatang soup differs from the presentation’s hotpot. Hotpot is meant to be shared by diners and is placed at the center of a table, while malatang bases its presentation on street food that is mixed and cooked in a communal pot. Malatang soup also allows diners to select what they want to eat, and they can eat it then or later.

Types of malatang

The only variations in malatang are in the serving styles since the diner can choose the ingredients they want.

There are 2 ways to eat it: Hotpot Malatang, which is for two or more people to eat communally, and skewer malatang, whose meat and vegetable ingredients are served on skewers. Regardless of the style, most of its ingredients do not need long cooking times (except the meats).

What is malatang soup made of?


There is no fixed recipe for malatang soup, as it is a dish that allows you to mix any ingredients you want and that are available to you at that time. You can choose even the spiciness and seasonings you will use.

These ingredients are mainly:


You can select meat from beef, pork, squid, fish, lamb, and chicken. These meats will usually be sliced thinly to cook quickly and evenly in the broth. Additionally, you can add meatballs of all kinds, meat dumplings, and hot dogs or sausages.


You can use two categories of vegetables in malatang: non-leafy and leafy.

It is common to use leafy vegetables to add bulk to the meal and as garnishes, such as cilantro, Chinese cabbage, lettuce, and spinach. Since they take up space in the pot, it is essential to avoid overloading them.

On the other hand, the non-leafy vegetables retain plenty of flavor from the seasonings and broth, so they will tend to be more in the broth. They include potatoes, lotus roots, broccoli, mushrooms, bamboo, corn, yams, and cauliflower.

Tofu and noodles

These are the staples of malatang soup, and there are plenty to choose from. Various noodles include wheat noodles, glass noodles, potato noodles, rice noodles, egg noodles, vermicelli, and so on. When choosing noodles, be mindful that the different starches that comprise them will determine their tastes and thicknesses.

As for the tofu choices, you have options that include tofu noodles, Japanese egg tofu, soft tofu, frozen tofu, and so on. When cooking it in the broth, tofu will tend to get very hot, so always be careful when handling it.

Toppings or sauces

When serving malatang, the bowls will contain toppings and soups. The original version of malatang includes toppings like ground peppercorns and Sichuan chili oil, which give it a numbing, spicy taste. However, you can choose not to have these spices and go for alternatives like vinegar and sesame seeds.

Malatang history

Who invented malatang soup?

It is unclear who invented the soup, as it is not attributed to a specific individual or group.

When was malatang soup invented?

Similar to the lack of information on the founder of the dish, there is no information on when the dish was created. Interestingly, it is not a very old dish, as its popularity only began increasing around 2010 when other regions of China began serving it in their restaurants.

Where did malatang originate from?

It is said that malatang came from Sichuan, specifically the region of the Yangtze River. In ancient China, this area was well-known for its boating industry, and boat trackers were frequently sick from working in foggy and damp weather. To keep themselves warm and fend off sickness, they cooked herbs in large communal pots and added ginger and Sichuan peppers to remove dampness, creating malatang.

How to make malatang soup- malatang soup recipe

Broth Ingredients

You can use a malatang soup base or a hotpot base in the broth.

  • Pickled pepper – 40g
  • Ginger – 30g
  • Garlic – 20g
  • Sichuan pepper – 3g
  • Broad bean sauce – 30g
  • Lard – 40g
  • Hot pot soup base – 150g
  • Water or Chicken stock – 800g
  • Salt
  • White pepper powder

If you want the malatang in its old-fashioned form, you can add spices or herbs to the broth.

Other ingredients

  • You can add any noodles, soy food, meats, or vegetables.
  • Vegetables – seaweed, bean sprouts, lotus roots, potatoes, mushrooms, green leafy vegetables, etc.
  • Noodles – glass noodles, instant noodles
  • Meats – spam, fish balls, meatballs, sliced lamb, chicken, sliced beef
  • Soy foods – bean curd sheets, tofu puffs, tofu

Optional seasonings

  • Cumin
  • Chili oil
  • Vinegar
  • Pepper oil


For the spicy malatang version:

  1. Prepare all the ingredients.
  2. Stir-fry the pickled pepper and ginger in hot oil.
  3. Add pepper, garlic, broad bean sauce, and lard to the pot.
  4. Add the hotpot base.
  5. Add the white pepper powder, salt, and chicken stock. Please wait for it to boil, then add the noodles, vegetables, and meat.
  6. Wait for it to boil and turn it off.

If you want the old-fashioned version:

  1. In a pot, boil the chicken stock or water.
  2. Add all the ingredients.
  3. Wait for the mixture to boil, then turn it off after it boils.
  4. Sprinkle chili oil and cumin.


As this article shows, malatang is a great starting point if you want to learn more about Chinese cuisine, as it allows you to make it as you wish.  The ingredients are simple and readily found. This Chinese delicacy could easily become your favorite.

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