Asian Street Food Sensation: The Ma La Tang Hot Pot Cart

By Mark Wiens 22 Comments
Chinese Hot Pot
Ma La Tang Street Food Hot Pot

One of the great Asian sensations these days is something known as the hot pot.

Everything is served or displayed in its raw form and is cooked by scorching the ingredients in a hot spicy pot of flavorful soup broth.

Some hot pot stalls offer self service cooking while others (like this take-away Ma La Tang cart in China) was cooked up by the vendor herself. You may remember one of my favorite meals in the world, also a hot pot style meal, but less of a street and more of a sit down dining experience.

All around Asia you’ll find hot pots.

In Japan it is called shabu shabu, Thai street food labels it suki or jim jum, and in Malaysia it’s known as steamboat – but they are all the same basic idea.

Ma La Tang Hot Pot
Choose Your Stick

It’s nearly impossible to pass by a stall that’s filled with colorful items that are skewered on sticks and nicely arranged on a street cart.

The steam from the boiling cauldron of soup was emitting a cloud of humidity that filled the air with tantalizing aromas… and again, I was the victim of the hook from the food lure.

And that’s the reason I didn’t pass by at all, but stopped and immediately started picking and choosing the items I wanted in my Ma La Tang bowl.

Chinese Hot Pot
Boiling the Ingredients

The left side of the table was organized with protein, a selection of processed meats that included fish balls and hot dog like sausages.

The center console consisted of a few different varieties of mushrooms, a few kinds of tofu and a number of tuber type root vegetables.

On the right hand side were the stacks of green leafy vegetables including bok choy, spinach, cabbage, leeks and lettuce.

Ma La Tang in China
Ma La Tang in China

I grabbed a basket added my sticks and handed it back to the vendor.

Each stick costs 1 – 2 RMB depending on what it is.

She then flopped all my sticks into the fragrant boiling pot, blanched everything for a few seconds and pulled them out with her chopsticks.

Chinese Food
Ma La Tang Hot Pot in China

Grabbing a paper take-away bowl she proceeded to de-stick all the ingredients I had ordered and mingled everything into a single bowl.

Bowl of Ma La Tang Vegetables and Soup
Bowl of Ma La Tang Vegetables and Soup

The final step of the Ma La Tang process was for me to add a couple spoons of chili vinegar and a few spoons of Chinese pickles to the top of my bowl.

Here’s a quick VIDEO of the meal!

The Ma La Tang hot pot was spectacular, the vegetables were fresh the deep fried tofu was tender and tasty and the mushrooms soaked up the spicy soup like sponges.

Pickled Ginger
Pickled Ginger

When I thought things couldn’t get better, I noticed the next vendor over who had another street cart with tubs full of pickled vegetables.

I ordered a side bag of pickled baby ginger, which proved to be a an excellent choice as a flavor booster for the meal. Each bite of the ginger produced the amazing wasabi nose-clearing-effect!

If you visit China be sure to indulge in a few bowls of Ma La Tang hot pot street food!

22 comments. I'd love to hear from you!

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  • alain

    5 years ago

    this stuff is yummy, but so mouth numbing and makes your nose run, im currently in sichuan. Good article!

  • Mary @ Green Global Travel

    7 years ago

    I have had shabu shabu and love the experience of cooking your own food. Anyone who visits China must try Ma La Tang hot pot at least once.

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      I fully agree Mary, it’s a great experience and a great meal!

  • Linda

    7 years ago

    I like the idea of the food being cooked in soup, rather than the fats that so often get used in street stalls. This looks like the healthy option!

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      I agree Linda – sometimes street food leaves you feeling a little unhealthy – but this hot pot is cheap, on the street, and quite healthy!

  • Audrey | That Backpacker

    7 years ago

    This looks delicious! I’m all about street food. It’s so fun that you get to pick your ingredients, and you really can’t beat that price!

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      I agree Audrey, street food is so delicious, cheap, and in this case extremely fresh and piping hot!

  • lakmal

    7 years ago

    Looks yummy….mmm……!

  • Arti

    7 years ago

    This looks so colorful and so Yummy! I just love street food, its more tasty than food served in 5 star restaurants!

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      I agree with that, so much of the street food is as good or better than 5 star plush restaurants.

  • gayE @ pinaytraveljunkie

    7 years ago

    I love hot pot! But have not tried Ma La Tang. I reckon it’s perfect for a chilly day in China.

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      Definitely perfect for a rainy cool day – it’s so comforting!

  • sully86

    7 years ago

    mark: my tummy would have sing a lil tune of joy…..if i had that.

  • 50+ and on the Run

    7 years ago

    Wow–that looks fantastic! Better than any shabu-shabu I’ve ever seen. Wish someone would start that here! Thanks for sharing, Mark.

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      That’s what I thought too – it was perfect!