Bowled over: Spicy malatang hotpot sizzles onto the Prague food scene

A build-your-own Chinese soup bowl experience combines the communal dining of hotpot with the customizable fun of a salad bar.

Elizabeth Zahradnicek-Haas

Written by Elizabeth Zahradnicek-Haas Published on 23.05.2024 17:23:00 (updated on 24.05.2024) Reading time: 3 minutes

From Korean barbecue to running sushi, casual Asian food is having a moment in Czechia. While Pew research points to a general trend in the U.S., one must look no further than the flood of new establishments opening in Prague to see the phenomenon taking off in a city already accustomed to casual bowls of Vietnamese pho or lunchtime banh mi.

Opening a few weeks ago on Vodičkova Street, Malatang No. 1 offers another way to experience a cuisine that combines bold flavors and communal dining. Sichuan málàtàng, or “spicy hotpot,” is a popular Chinese street food in which the customer selects meats, vegetables, and noodles, weighs them, and then has them cooked in a spicy soup base in the kitchen.

Prague’s new malatang venue adheres to the rules of this beloved Chinese comfort food: the experience is casual and customizable. It lends itself to a fast food experience that’s a cross between a salad bar and traditional hot pot; barbecue skewers and hotpot (where diners cook their ingredients in a communal pot) are also available, and we saw many families enjoying their food this way during our visit.

What to expect your first time

The maltang meal starts by grabbing a tray and tongs and selecting from the 100 ingredients housed in a series of bins covering one wall. Building your bowl is half the fun. Customers can load up on an array of meat (beef, pork, and chicken), seafood (shrimp, squid, mussels, and fish balls), dim sum, and dumplings (the pinked-striped fish roe variety was a favorite).

The vegetable selection includes everything from chrysanthemum greens to coriander and spinach, starchy lotus root, potatoes, and daikon. Tofu and tofu skin (yuba) are sliced or cubed. Fried or quail eggs and a bounty of mushrooms, including shiitake, enoki, button, and oyster, are also on offer.

Noodles are last: choose from ramen, udon, or glass (you can also make your own at the fresh noodle machine).

After you’ve chosen your items, they're weighed, with the price calculated at 100 g for 65 CZK. Next, select one of five available soup bases (note to vegetarians and vegans: the vegan-friendly broth is off the menu; you’ll need to ask for it). You can also simply have your food sautéed with a side of rice.

Once you’ve paid you receive a number, and the kitchen cooks your food. When it’s ready, you pick it up and tuck in amid the colorful neon-riot of a dining room, but not before hitting the sprawling condiment station comprised of 15 sauces and various herbs.

Photo: Author

Is the price right?

Our soups and ingredients, including drinks, cost a whopping CZK 2,500 for a family of four. We had a spicy red soup with potatoes and a generation portion of beef (CZK 417), Szechwan pickled cabbage soup (CZK 382) with seafood, mussels, and glass noodles, and vegan tom yum soup with tofu, broccoli, and udon noodles (CZK 393). A filling adult portion should cost around the CZK 300-400 price mark.

Our most expensive bowl was a massive serving of Yuanqi bone soup with ramen noodles (CZK 700) chock full of just about every ingredient available. It could easily have been shared by two with leftovers. But alas, the novelty effect of her first malatang experience proved way too tempting for a 12-year-old who didn't manage to finish the entire thing.

Our favorite among the homemade lemonades and teas was a divine milky sea salt ice tea with a velvety caramel finish. You can also get Japanese beer or Pilsner Urquell.

Photo: Author

Final thoughts

While the noodle machine was out of order during our visit and using a single pair of tongs raised concerns about cross-contamination, these minor issues did not overshadow the overall enjoyment of the Malatang No. 1 experience.

The ingredients were incredibly fresh, well-maintained, and frequently replenished. The spicy red soup was numbingly hot. The friendly Chinese staff spoke English and patiently answered our barrage of questions. We left with broth-spattered shirts and the satisfaction of discovering a worthy new addition to Prague's casual dining landscape.

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