What should we know about Yang Guo Fu?
Serving up malatang, a popular street food which derives its name from the spicy numbing sensation of its Sichuan and chilli pepper sauce, Yang Guo Fo has the same same as the 6,000-strong international franchise, but despite some initial confusion, it apparently has no connection to the original Chinese brand - coincidence or copy you decide.
A little bit like a faster and less communal answer to hot pot, malatang usually uses a pay-by-weight system where punters fill up a bowl with ingredients and hand it over to be cooked in a bone broth and finished in the distinctively fiery mala sauce. They quietly cropped up on Marlborough Street earlier this year (with no website or social channels), and after hearing some approving noises from the Chinese diaspora, we had to give it a look.
What should we have?
The world, or Yang Guo Fu at least, is your oyster. Though oysters are one of the few things you won’t find among the 40-plus options laid out here. On arrival you’ll get a friendly word of intro from staff to assure you that malatang is something very special and walk you through what you need to do. Don’t be shy about asking what everything is - the container labelling is wildly inconsistent and there are plenty of things more squeamish eaters will want to know about before popping it into their bowl.
Your mixture will be charged at €3.80 per 100g, so canny diners can skew toward the lighter ingredients for a cheaper meal. The buffet starts with a variety of leafy greens like spinach, pak choi, broccoli and Chinese cabbage alongside six kinds of house noodles. If you want to add in the packaged chicken-flavoured instant noodles from the baskets up top (the staff will keenly urge you to do so) we advise passing on the others to leave room for some of the more interesting ingredients.
Chief among those are the mushrooms, like white fungus, wood ear and the distinctive enoki, and meats from safe bets like mini sausages and spam to adventurous options like stomach, tripe, and curdled pig’s blood (we warned you). Plenty of varieties of tofu and rice cake are available too, and seafood spans fish balls, crab sticks, and several types of squid.
Once you’ve finished, hand over the bowl and select your spice level before weighing in and paying up. When it’s ready just a few minutes later, you can tweak the taste at a condiment station with sugar, satay, chiles and vinegars.
Why should I go?
There’s a huge variety of possible combinations here and no two bowls will taste exactly alike - for our part we found it a deeply soothing meal we can imagine playing all the better on a cold winter's day. It’s ideal to add a little of everything you’re comfortable with, not only to try a wide variety but also to enjoy the fun of finding something new to explore in every ladle.
Our top tips are to try a few fish balls, don’t skimp on the seaweed, and definitely stick with just one kind of noodle, but at Yang Guo Fu it’s all about doing your own thing and putting your own twist on a real Chinese street food experience you won't find anywhere else in Dublin.
Yang Guo Fu
27 Marlborough Street, Dublin 1