Málà Project Dry Pot vs. Hou Yi Hot Pot

Everyone knows about hot pot, but what about dry pot? I didn’t even know dry pot was a thing until I heard about Málà Project, a restaurant in the East Village that specializes in it. I was trying to research the origins of dry pot, and I found a few links that referenced the Chongqing area of Sichuan as the birthplace. It uses the same seasonings and ingredients as hot pot, except there is no soup base, hence the name.

complimentary dumplings at mala project. plus the restaurant is byob
complimentary dumplings at mala project. plus the restaurant is byob

The East Village is home to both dry pot and hot pot, and the restaurants are nearly a block away from one another. Málà Project is on 1st Ave and 7th St, and Hou Yi Hot Pot, the extremely popular hot pot restaurant in Chinatown, recently opened a location on 2nd Ave and 6th St. So what do you do when you’re at a hot pot crossroads, do you make a left and go wet, or do you turn the corner to go dry?

It’s not even a question, as I would choose Hou Yi over Málà any day. You simply cannot complete with an all-you-can-eat $30 hot pot buffet with unlimited drinks and ice cream. This is how the dynasty of Todai wields its power in the suburbs of America, and now the children of those value-driven Asian families who’ve moved to cities will gladly keep those traditions going at Hou Yi. I am one of them, and I cannot tell you how excited I was that I got to drink as many lychee and chrysanthemum drinks as I wanted, and we were not shy about asking for multiple orders of beef, to get the most out of our $30 buck.

perhaps our third order of meat
perhaps our third order of meat

Obviously quantity over quality has its drawbacks. The quality of the beef, fish balls, tofu and vegetables are good, but the chicken and fish are not. The sheer number of options at the sauce bar can be overwhelming. Do you use peanut sauce, bbq sauce, sesame paste, soy sauce? Do you mix every single thing together? Are you even supposed to do that? I decided to throw together a base of sesame paste, some soy sauce, a little chili oil, some fish sauce and a few scallions, and that actually worked out pretty well.

boiling hot pot...so good but so smelly
boiling hot pot…so good but so smelly

Another drawback is the smell. Hot pot stinks up your clothes, and in anticipation of that, the staff covers your jackets in plastic. The hot pot cooks directly in front of you, and all the meat-broth steam gets up in your pores like the steam machine at a sauna, so you are literally saturated in hot pot broth. There’s no way around it. Just wash your clothes immediately after. This is one area where Málà has an edge. All the dry pots are cooked in the back, so your clothes are safe.

the spicy bowl at mala
the spicy bowl at mala

One thing that both hot pot and dry pot have in common? Spicy means SPICY. At Málà, we ordered one non-spicy pot and another mild spicy pot, and everyone was struggling with the mild one. Meat sweats, hiccups, multiple glasses of water, you name it. They are not messing around with heat at either place. Hou Yi at least has a remedy for bringing down the heat, an unlimited ice cream bar. The whole experience at Hou Yi is just so sweet, from beginning to end, and there’s no question which kind of pot will reign supreme.


Hou Yi Hot Pot
97 2nd Ave (between 5th and 6th St)
New York, NY 10002
(212) 966-3420

Málà Project
122 1st Ave (between 7th and 8th St)
New York, NY 10009
(212) 353-8880

Beijing Travels: Favorite Food Memories

When it came to food, I really had no idea what to expect from Beijing. The Chinese restaurants I’ve tried in the States never specialized in “Beijing” cuisine. Sichuan, Hunan, Yunnan, yes, but never Beijing. The only regional dish that comes to mind is the obvious Peking duck, but other than that, I wasn’t sure what the city was known for culinarily. Perhaps Beijing’s status as the capital makes it difficult for the city to have a clearly defined style of cooking, and instead its food is defined by the influx of movers and shakers that come from elsewhere to seek their fortunes here. I have a hunch that this might be the case, because even after spending 5 days in Beijing, I still can’t really definitively recall flavors unique to the region. 

The food that I did eat was delicious, and the flavors ranged from the unexpected to the familiar. The cuisine is as dynamic and diverse as the city itself. Here’s a list of some of my favorite food memories in the vibrant capital.

Peking Duck at Duck de Chine: One of the mission critical items on my Beijing bucket list was to have awesome Peking duck somewhere. A good friend of ours took us to Duck de Chine, a trendy, high-end restaurant that prepares the traditional dish in a modern way. Think Tao or Buddakan meets Peking Duck House. The duck was perfectly cooked and not too fatty, and the skin was rendered to the right level of crispness. You have the option of using the traditional Mandarin pancake or a small sesame bun to wrap up the duck, cucumber, scallions and hoisin sauce. The duck soup made from the leftover bones and meat costs extra here, but it is well worth it. Other excellent dishes include the spicy crab and sweet and sour tofu. A meal here is expensive and will set you back more than RMB 250 per person, but with the beautiful setting and refined cooking, the experience is worth the price tag.

chef preparing the duck
chef preparing the duck
duck meat picture courtesy of foodspotting.com
courtesy of foodspotting.com
duck in Mandarin wrapper
duck in Mandarin wrapper
duck in sesame bun
duck in sesame bun
duck soup
duck soup
spicy crab
spicy crab
sweet and sour tofu
sweet and sour tofu

Duck de Chine
Address: 1949-The Hidden City, Courtyard 4, Gongti Beilu

Cooking Class at Hutong Cuisine Cooking School: I’ve always wanted to make Chinese food properly, wok, steamers and all, and what better way to do it than in the charming setting of a traditional Chinese home? Hutong Cuisine Cooking School, which is run by sister and brother duo Chunyi and Chao, equips you with the right tools to be able to master dishes from different regions in China. I chose to take the Canton cooking class, but classes specializing in Sichuan, vegetarian and dimsum dishes are also offered. The recipes were surprisingly useful and easy. Chinese cooking I learned is about 90% preparation, and 10% cooking. To set expectations, this isn’t the most hands-on cooking class. Most of the cooking you will do will be prepping the sauces, and the instructors will usually take care of the proteins. But for 260 RMB, the class is a good value, and at lunch you get to eat full-sized portions of the 4 dishes you make in the sessions.

cooking prep station
cooking prep station
sauce prep - star anise, ginger, onion and rock salt
sauce prep – star anise, ginger, onion and rock salt
stir-frying chicken in the wok
stir-frying chicken in the wok
steamed fish with minced chili
steamed fish with minced chili
finished meal at hutong cuisine
time to enjoy the finished meal – poached chicken, steamed fish and stir-fried broccoli

Hutong Cuisine Cooking School
No. 35 DengCao Hutong, DongSi South St, Dongcheng District

Eating at a Local Restaurant Near the Great Wall: One of the most memorable meals I had in Beijing was at a small, local restaurant near the Great Wall. I wish I could provide a precise name and address, but the restaurant was a very regional mom-and-pop establishment with no obvious signage anywhere. One of the restaurant’s specialties was a grilled fish marinated in a cumin spice-blend that gave it a Middle Eastern flair, which was something I wasn’t expecting from Chinese cooking. There was also an excellent eggplant dish, fried local vegetables, a tamale-like cornmeal patty, smoked tofu and an intense plate of fatty pork belly pieces. I was pleasantly surprised by how new and familiar all the flavors in the meal were. The definition of Chinese cooking clearly extends more broadly than my narrow perspective.

meticulously manning the grill
meticulously manning the grill
grilled fish with cumin spice-blend
grilled fish with cumin spice-blend

Late Night Hot Pot at Haidilao: An epic night out in Beijing is incomplete without a late-night hot pot stop at the famous Haidilao. Nothing cures a hangover quite like boiling broth teeming with cooked meat and vegetables. Apparently the rest of Beijing’s revelers think so, because even at 3 AM this place was packed. The highlight of the meal was watching one of the workers hand-pull some noodles in dramatic fashion, a performance that seemed to be inspired by some crazy rave moves. The warm, hearty aftermath of this filling meal will lull you into a pleasant food coma, perfect for sleeping in the morning after.

hot pot broth
hot pot broth
noodle raver at haidilao
noodle raver at haidilao

Haidilao
2A Baijiazhuang Lu, Chaoyang district