When I write about restaurants on Instagram, they’re usually brief takes accompanied by a photo or two. (You can see my feed right here on ethnojunkie.com, updated almost daily, by selecting the “Instagram” category from my home page – no signup required.) But because of Instagram’s character count limitations, it’s often necessary to break up a review into several parts. This one originally appeared as six posts, published on March 25 through 30, 2019.
I may be late to the game in terms of writing about MáLà Project, 122 First Ave in Manhattan, but that doesn’t stop me from working my way through their menu now. Their famous Dry Pot notwithstanding, four of us set out to explore other menu items, so we started with ten (count ’em ten!) dishes from the Appetizers, Snacks, Vegetables and Rice sections of the menu; I’m posting a barrage detailing the whole lot.
Here they are, in no special order. (Click any photo to view in glorious high resolution.)
I’ve been nibbling my way around roast poultry necks since I was a kid. At Thanksgiving, some families argue over politics; we argued over who’s going to get the turkey neck. So I was happy that there were enough MáLà Duck Neck joints for the four of us. I don’t recall these being particularly spicy though, neither má nor là. Good anyway.
Fuqi Feipian 夫妻肺片 is a Sichuan málà classic. Choice of specific ingredients varies among chefs (not to worry, it never includes actual slices of lung) but tripe and tendon are traditional and ox tongue and beef shin can appear as alternate paramours – always two items though and always delightfully spicy.
MáLà Pickles, 四川泡菜, from the Snacks section. Just what it sounds like: Sichuan homestyle spicy pickled vegetables of sufficient variety that we worked our way to the bottom of the crock with ease.
Shāo jiāo pídàn, 烧椒皮蛋. These eggs are of a certain age, but not in sync with their moniker; thousand year eggs, also known as hundred year eggs, century eggs and preserved eggs undergo a process that actually takes closer to weeks or months. They’re covered in a mixture of lime (the calcium compound, not the citrus fruit) and salt and packed into clay or ash to cure (a bit of an oversimplification, but you get the idea). As you can see, the yolk becomes greenish grey and the white a gelatinous translucent brown. The funky flavor pairs perfectly with the fried spicy green pepper.
Xiangxi Fried Rice, 湘西炒饭, with egg, Chinese bacon, pickled vegetables and chilies. The waiter informed us that it would be spicier than its menu mate “Leftover Fried Rice”; I believe him having not tried the alternative, but this portion, although certainly delicious, wasn’t especially fiery. Good comfort food though.
Liangfen of Happy Tears, Shāngxīn Liángfěn, 伤心凉粉. I’m not sure when shāngxīn (伤心) which I thought meant sad or heartbroken became “happy tears” but I suspect it has to do with the zesty deliciousness that this dish delivers. Liángfěn refers to mung bean jelly “noodles” – long, thick-cut, slippery, wobbly chopstick challengers (for some) in a spicy soy sauce based dressing. Good eats.
A powerful snack: Candy Garlic, 糖蒜.
😠 It’s Candy! 😣 It’s Garlic! ✋ Stop! You’re both right! 💑
Think pickled, not candied – neither dessert topping nor floor wax. Of course, if it’s date night you might want a breath mint after consuming a couple of them, but these piquant cloves are approachable…with Certitude 🙃.
Eggplant with Roasted Garlic, 蒜蓉茄子, is a surefire winner. Eggplant and garlic seem to have an affinity for each other like chocolate and nuts, or bacon and pretty much anything. Again, MáLà Project did a good job with this one.
Mouthwatering Chicken, 口水鸡, another classic Sichuan delicacy. Often made with white meat chicken (one of the few recipes in which it’s a worthwhile choice IMHO), it’s poached chicken in chili sauce and this version was excellent.
Sticky Rice Stuffed Lotus Root, 桂花糯米莲藕 was delicious. The Chinese characters read osmanthus, glutinous rice, lotus root. As I understand it, the cavities in the lotus root are stuffed with sticky rice and the root is simmered in a sweet syrup, often with the addition of goji berries and red dates, until tender. It’s sliced and then gets a bath in its cooking sauce for serving. Osmanthus flowers adorn the top. It’s a sweet dish, but not intensely so. Excellent.
Okay. Next time, we’ll save room for the Dry Pot!
MáLà Project is located at 122 First Ave in Manhattan.