Every week, I document another dish that impressed and satiated me during my food adventures around New York City

MÁLÀ PROJECT, 122 First Avenue (between East 7th Street and St. Marks Place), East Village

The issue of spice can get a bit frustrating at restaurants where spice reigns supreme. I suppose some people might end up with a dish that burns their mouth off and then others might be expecting lots of fire and then end up with less than a spark.

So when the waitress at MáLà Project asked how spicy I wanted my order, I wasn’t quite sure how to respond. I wanted it the way that they make it best. This was a Szechuan restaurant and I know that means the heat is a big part of the cuisine.

My options were Non-Spicy, Mild Spicy, Spicy, and Super Spicy. I didn’t want either extreme, but I was confused as to whether mild spicy was a “mild spicy” for timid Americans or for Szechuan eaters who just wanted to take it easier than usual.

In the end I went with Spicy, and surprisingly, it wasn’t nearly as spicy as I had expected. But I still got to taste how full-flavored and numbingly bold the food at this establishment can be.

MáLà Project opened early this year and they specialize in what’s called dry pot, which is a play on hot pot which features a broth for cooking. This is called “dry pot” because it does not involve any liquid.

Basically, you choose a handful of ingredients from a large list of meat, seafood, vegetables, and carbs and after the kitchen stir-fries them together with a large quantity of spices, like chiles, sesame seeds, cardamom, cumin, and cilantro, a large bowl arrives to your table.

Dry Pot at MÁLÀ PROJECT

It’s fun choosing the items and I decided to pick one from each category, so my bowl came loaded with lamb, chicken thigh, fish cake, oyster mushrooms, and glass noodles. They were good choices as there was a range of flavors and textures.

But it’s hard to choose poorly here because the memorable aspect of this dish was the oil and aromatic spice. It’s that numbing tingly spice that is irresistible and makes you just want to eat more with each kick. The ingredients were tossed and browned well giving a smoky hint to the complex flavorings.

The name MáLà means “numbing” and “spicy” so I would have expected no less. I guess it’s good that they offer less spicy options for the uninitiated, but I wanted the full authentic experience – spice and all. I ultimately got it, but might have been disappointed if I ordered the wrong spice level. I think at a Szechuan restaurant the food should all be spicy and if you don’t want spicy, then you probably should eat somewhere else.

MÁLÀ PROJECT
122 First Avenue (between East 7th Street and St. Marks Place),
East Village
(212) 353-8880
malaproject.nyc
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About the Author

Brian Hoffman is a classically trained actor who is now a full-time tour guide, blogger, and food obsessive. He leads food and drink tours around New York City, which not only introduce tour-goers to delicious food, but gives them a historical context. He also writes food articles for Gothamist and Midtown Lunch in addition to overseeing this blog and a few food video series, including Eat This, Locals Know, and Around the World in One City.

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