Thai-Sichuan-Style Mala Hotpot in Bangkok, Thailand (火锅)

Thai-Szechuan-Style Mala Chinese Hotpot

by Yi Jia Mala Hotpot, Bangkok, Thailand

Mala (麻辣) is a popular Chinese flavor profile often associated with Sichuan cuisine. The word is a compound of the Chinese characters "ma" (麻 = numb) and "la" (辣 = spicy), which refers to the unique taste and sensation of the blend of numbing Sichuan peppercorns and hot chili peppers.

The other day, I visited Yi Jia Mala Hotpot, a Chinese-style hotpot restaurant in Bangkok to try their famous Mala hotpot soup.

Sichuan Mala Hotpot by Yi Jia Mala Hotpot, Bangkok, Thailand
Sichuan Mala Hotpot by Yi Jia Mala Hotpot, Bangkok, Thailand

Hotpot is a popular cooking method and dining style that originated in China. It involves cooking a variety of raw ingredients in a simmering, flavored broth at the dining table.

There are typically two types of broths: a spicy, numbing broth (often associated with Sichuan cuisine, known as "mala") and a non-spicy, mild broth. Some restaurants, including Yi Jia, offer a split pot, allowing diners to enjoy both types of broth in the same meal. This helps you to balance the flavors to your preference.

various options of hot pot broth flavors
various options of hot pot broth flavors

The first thing you do when you sit down to eat hotpot at Yi Jia is to choose your broth. Of course, I chose their famous mala broth! I also chose a richer and more mild pork bone broth soup.

hot pot with two soups: mala and pork marrow broth
hot pot with two soups: mala (red) and pork marrow broth (white)

The thing about hotpot is that there's no one specific recipe. Typically, a wide array of raw ingredients is provided, and you get to choose what they want to cook. These ingredients can include thinly sliced meats (such as beef, lamb, pork, and chicken), various types of seafood (shrimp, fish, squid, etc.), vegetables, mushrooms, tofu, noodles, dumplings, and more. Everyone can choose whatever they want to cook in the broth to make their own perfect bowl of soup.

pork dumplings to be cooked in mala hot pot
a skewer of pork dumplings to be cooked in mala hot pot

Yi Jia is set up very much like a sushi buffet, with ingredients coming around the restaurant from table to table on a conveyor belt. Whenever you see something you want, you can take it from the track to cook in your soup.

Yi Jia Mala Hot Pot, Bangkok, Thailand
Yi Jia Mala Hot Pot, Bangkok, Thailand

I picked a variety of ingredients including sunflower sprouts, Chinese kale, bacon, pork dumplings, sesame chicken meatballs, pork balls, sweet potato flat noodles, and more.

hot pot buffet ingredient conveyor belt
ingredients arrive on a conveyor belt, and you can take what you want to add to your soup

Each ingredient is color-coded by a skewer or a clip, with each color corresponding to a price. You can take whatever you want, and at the end of your meal, the staff will calculate your bill based on the ingredients you chose. There's no one set price. A split bowl with two types of broth starts at 59 baht, and each ingredient you choose adds to the price (ingredients typically cost between 5 and 20 baht each).

vegetables to put in your hot pot
vegetables to put in your hotpot soup

There's also a buffet table full of various ingredients such as pickled tea leaves, garlic, cilantro, sesame sauce, soy sauce, mushroom sauce, and more.

You can have a bowl of any of the dipping sauces that you want, or you can go for a bowl of Yi Jia's pre-mixed specialty sauce. That's what I did, and I added the recommended scoop of cilantro, minced garlic, and sesame sauce on top to complete the rice, sweet, and savory dipping sauce.

After your ingredients have cooked in the broth, you then can dip them in the sauce of your choice. Hotpot is really a fully customizable meal! It can be absolutely whatever you want it to be!

Yi Jia's signature dipping sauce
Yi Jia's special dipping sauce

Now, let's talk about the broth.

There are a lot of different options to choose from. Although mala is their most famous soup, you can also choose pork or chicken bone broth, black "shabu" soup, tomato broth, and more.

If you are going to Yi Jia, you really ought to get their mala soup. Although it uses chilies, it's not overly spicy. The main sensation that you will have is the pleasant numbing feeling that you can get from Sichuan peppercorn.

Yi Jia's signature spicy and numbing mala hotpot soup broth, hailing from the Sichuan province, combines two distinctive sensations to create an unforgettable dining adventure. The "ma" component delivers a tingling, numbing sensation, courtesy of Sichuan peppercorns, while the "la" component ignites the palate with fiery spiciness from chili peppers. The result is a rich and flavorful broth that tantalizes the taste buds with a perfect balance of heat and numbing, setting the stage for an exciting hotpot feast. The broth is full of aromatic ingredients such as whole Sichuan peppercorns, dried jujubes, mushrooms, bay leaves, and more.

The pork marrow broth is richer and milder with a strong savory flavor. This comforting broth is the epitome of warmth and comfort and anchors the palate after the strong punch of mala. It is also stewed with aromatics, including chives, goji berries, jujubes, and mushrooms. I like alternating between the two broths, as they both balance each other out nicely.

two types of hotpot soup broth: pork marrow and mala soup
two types of hotpot soup broth: pork marrow and mala soup

Some of the ingredients that come along the conveyor belt are a little unexpected. I was confused to see patongo (or youtiao in Chinese).

These fried "Chinese donuts" are a breakfast staple in Thailand as well as in much of Asia, but I've never had them as an ingredient in soup before.

I really like patongo, though, so I grabbed a serving and added them into my soup.

patongo in mala hot pot
patongo in mala hot pot

After letting them boil in the broth for a while, I fished them out. Though saturated with broth, the golden-brown deep-fried dough retained its shape and was easy to grab ahold of with chopsticks.

I was skeptical at first, but instead of just becoming a soggy mess, the pieces of fried dough instead acted as a sort of culinary sponge, and absorbed the broth they were boiled in. After letting them cool, I took a bite, and was rewarded with an explosion of rich and flavorful broth along with the sweet taste of patongo dough!

patongo in mala hot pot
patongo in mala hot pot

Eating here was a fantastic experience. Because hotpot inherently allows you to pick only the ingredients that you personally love, it means that everyone will be totally thrilled and satisfied with his or her own bowl of soup.

The broth, of course, is the star of the show. I can highly recommend both the mala broth and the pork bone marrow broth. I think that choosing these two is a good idea as one is very strong and the other is milder. This allows you to supplement the flavors of each soup with one another and alternate between two very distinct flavor profiles.

The price you pay depends on what ingredients you end up adding to your hotpot. My wife and I each had our own bowl of soup and our own ingredients, and our final bill was just over 500 THB (about $15) for both of us. That's a really good deal for the amount of food you can get. After lunch, I was so full that I couldn't eat anything else all day!


Yi Jia Mala Hotpot is located in Bangkok at Pradiphat 20 Alley, แขวงพญาไท Phaya Thai, Bangkok 10400. It's not far from BTS Ari station. 

inside Yi Jia Mala Hot Pot, Bangkok, Thailand
inside Yi Jia Mala Hot Pot, Bangkok, Thailand

See the map for the exact location.