I heard about this Mainland-style eatery in Double Dragon Plaza on the corner of EDSA and Macapagal Avenue. It caters to a young Chinese market, and most of them inhabit the nearby condo units and want the convenience of traditional flavors and cooking in a quick service restaurant.
You start by lining up and taking a bowl. You then choose from the display chiller that has a constantly replenished assortment of meat, offal, soybean preparations, seaweed, noodles, sprouts and imported vegetables that look well-curated and very enticing. At the end of this line, you are spoiled for choice with Chinese beer and beverages, even some Coke and Sprite made in China. You are then charged according to the weight of the contents of your bowl. Much like a Mongolian barbecue, one is given a queue number and your chosen ingredients will then be stir-fried on high pressure stoves. This is either served to you as is or given to you with a rich, hot and spicy Malatang broth. After all that, you can make your own sauce from a selection of soy-based sauces, vinegars, fresh cilantro, chives, peanut paste, sesame, and chopped nuts.
Cold Peanut Butter Noodles
Your personal order arrives at your table, and it’s massive, you start questioning yourself whether you can finish it. First you carefully try out the mala broth, its orange red chili oil floating on top. The moment you get a taste, you experience a full Chinese opera performing on your palate as the flavors of chili in its fresh and dried forms mix with the floral complexities of Sichuan peppercorns, bruised cumin seed, sweet wood spices such as cloves, aromatic barks, and the pungency and warmth of white and black pepper.
You take a sip of cold, yeasty, and grainy Chinese beer to wash your palate, leaving the back flavors to meld with the alcohol. You slurp more soup, but this time with solid ingredients like the noodles. Maybe you can have a small mound of rice to break the complex flavors and refresh your heated palate. The bowl sent me back to my training days as an athlete and later on, as chef in Beijing and Nanjing.
Stir Fried Noodles with Sauce
I got a little curious with their seemingly overlooked a la carte menu, that on my second visit, I decided to check it out. Of course, I still ordered the massive Malatang bowl. We tried the cold sesame noodles, which is budget food for workers and students in the Mainland. It had an accurate balance of sesame paste, peanut paste, chili, and garlic on some well-textured fresh noodles that are delivered daily. Another noodle dish is the Young Po that is laced with vinegar and chive oil. It’s a dish that’s both simple yet so flavorful, inducing more nostalgia from my athlete days when I had such meager allowances. The century egg appetizer may seem ordinary but is served on a pool of soy and vinegar broth and was given a fragrant touch of Huijiao or Szechuan peppercorn oil. On this return visit, I was lucky enough to meet the owner Jeff Li who turned out to be a graduate of De La Salle University. He was able to clarify some questions I had on his innovative and convenient method of serving hot pot ingredients. This system started out when he and his dad decided to dwell on packed lunch and dinner delivery to the Chinese workers. This was also a time when they imported Chinese chefs to do the daily cycle and recipes of their meals. We told him to push his a la carte dishes since they have the potential for him to establish another eatery in the mall as the restaurant was so full, we almost could not get a seat at 10 in the evening.
Sichuan Malatang Bowl
Aside from the food, another reason why so many customers, especially girls, like to frequent this place or even the 7-Eleven next door, was because Chef Jeff had good looks. He looks like a cross between Korean Park Seo Joon and one of the Chinese members of Meteor Garden. Then again, customers come back also because the soups are authentic. I can clearly see this restaurant and Jeff going places.
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