After experiencing multiple delays, Mala Town will finally bring regional Chinese hot pots to Sawtelle Japantown on July 1. Chef Tiantian Qiu, who already has one of the most popular Sichuan restaurants in SGV at Hip Hot, is opening a regional Chinese hot pot restaurant in West LA. The Sawtelle area, which has historically featured Japanese restaurants but has since expanded to other Asian cuisines such as Filipino, Korean, and Chinese, is now home to the 1,200-square-foot hot pot specialist that seats just 25 people.
The restaurant’s name, ‘Mala Town (Tang)’ is a play on words that translates to ‘mouth-numbing spicy broth,’ but Qiu’s goal with Mala Town is to show others that Chinese food, particularly Sichuan dishes, isn’t just about the numbing spiciness that most have come to associate with the cuisine.
“There are so many dishes in Sichuan cuisine that aren’t spicy,” Qiu says. “I want diners to take a culinary journey of China by trying different hot pots and experience different Chinese cuisines. Think of Mala Town as a passport around China.”
As one of the national dishes of China, hot pot dates back over a thousand years. But similar to China’s cultures and languages, hot pot styles vary widely across the country. Although a traditional hot pot meal is a communal experience, Mala Town will feature individual-sized hot pots with seven different soup bases, all representative of different regional specialties. The Sichuan hot pot is filled with Sichuan peppers and numbing spice peppercorns made from a mix of 22 different ingredients that are soaked, simmered, and brewed before being left to ferment for 15 hours overnight.
Besides from the Sichuan hot pot at Mala Town, there’s also seafood-centric broths of Guangdong, mutton hot pots of Beijing, beef ball hot pots of Chaozhou, chicken-coconut broths from Northeast China, to name a few.
Each broth on the menu takes more than a day to prepare. The Shanto beef hot pot is a non-spicy light soup made from beef bone. The Cantonese seafood pot is made with pork and chicken bone broth slow-cooked with Sakura shrimp and white fish. That broth alone requires a minimum of two days preparation to achieve the rich creamy white stock.
“I wanted to bring authentic Chinese hot pot to the Westside. I didn’t alter the taste to fit a fusion or Western palate. The menu is an authentic look at Chinese regional hot pot. We may be in West LA, but you’ll feel as though you’re in China with every slurp and bite,” says Qiu.
In addition to the traditional hot pots, Mala Town will offer a special Leshan bobo chicken pot ‘cold’ style pot during summer months. Fans of Qiu’s signature numbing spice connotations will be able to taste her signature numbing cooking in the chicken and vegetable skewers served submerged in a pot full of spicy and numbing, chili-laced broth. In addition to the hot pots, Mala Town will make handmade dumplings, a dry pot, and a vegan tofu pot made with tofu, lotus root, corn, Enoki mushroom, seasonal greens, and wood ear mushroom.
Qiu says, “Hot pot is more than just about the food, it’s about the social experience where friends and family huddle around and cook their own food. Each time you cook the meat or veggies in the soup, it changes the broth. It’s a meal that is all about enjoying nuance and building flavors.”
Mala Town. 2002 Sawtelle Blvd, Los Angeles. Open Monday to Sunday from 5 to 10 p.m., closed Tuesdays.