Mouth-numbingly Good - Jeff Li’s Sichu Malatang

May 03, 2023 – Alike Editorial

Second-generation Chinese-Filipino Jeff Li and his brother introduce authentic Szechuan noodles to more Filipinos through Sichu Malatang. 

It was on a chance trip to China while sourcing novelty items to import where Jeff Li found his calling. On a cold, rainy midnight, in an unassuming food stall he discovered the spicy Sichuan soup known as malatang. 

Born to Chinese migrants arriving in Binondo, Li studied in Chinese schools, even speaking the language at home. Combined with his business degree and further studies at culinary school, starting Sichu Malatang in 2019 came naturally.  

Ingredients to Success  

Cooking was always a part of Li’s life. His father always made it a point to cook for his family on the weekends. When he was around 6 years old, Jeff’s dad taught him how to cook. In high school and college, Li practiced this skil by cooking for friends. Jeff’s early businesses also revolved around food— running a commissary serving Chinese restaurants and importing luncheon meat from Hong Kong. 

Fast forward to now and, Sichu Malatang is run by Jeff and his brother, with the former handling operations and the latter overseeing back-office matters. Their father lent a stall in Pasay after Jeff completed culinary studies, and they opened Sichu version zero. 

Opening Sichu version zero with a Pasay stall leased from their father, the Li brothers introduced malatang as a cousin of the more familiar hotpot, as an entry point for Filipino diners. “It’s not so much a new concept but a new flavor,” explains Jeff. 

Spice for All Seasons  

Malatang or ma la tang is a Chinese, Sichuan experience, which roughly translates to “numbing hotpot.” Mala refers to a type of peppercorn, the core ingredient, but can also mean the experience of “mouth numbing spiciness.” 

Sichu Malatang serves ma la tang, noodle soup, ma la xiang guo, dry noodles, and ma la pan, dry noodles with soup on the side. Each has a different base but all are rooted in Sichuan mala

Sichu proudly makes all its sauces and broths from individual ingredients. And while it is easy to research the malatang recipe, but Li reveals that making it is quite another story. 

“At minimum,” Li observes, “you’ll need at least an hour in a hotpot restaurant, but in malatang-type places, just 10 minutes is enough.” To compensate for the hours involved to bring out malatang broth’s full flavors, Li reveals that their recipe is already boiling long before the stores open 

Nevertheless, the culinary geek suggests that malatang is best enjoyed slowly, and with friends. 

Today, Sichu Malatang has three branches: Double Dragon and Mall of Asia in Pasay, and the recently-opened Bonifacio Global City branch. Each has at least one chef from mainland China. 

Visitors to Sichu are greeted by fresh ingredients on display. Diners get tongs and a tray then weigh their picks by the gram. Php 250.00 is enough for one person, while a bowl worth around Php 1000.00 can serve four. 

Sichu serves five different spice levels. The level Li recommends to taste the mala is Level 2, observing that Koreans and Chinese go for the spicier levels. It’s also notable that despite being rich, the broth doesn’t block but enhance the taste of diners’ chosen ingredients. 

One can pair their noodles with the various Chinese skewers on offer, or with Sichu’s signature egg fried rice for a more filling finish…or all three…and washed down with authentic Chinese beer (or any tea-infused drink on offer). 

Lovers of the Sichu-ation  

Aside from more Sichu branches, the Li brothers also hope to open new concepts, eventually becoming a restaurant group. “We want to bring food from China that hasn’t yet been introduced here in the Philippines.” States the entrepreneur. “China is so big. What we know as “Chinese food” in the Philippines is really mostly Cantonese food. We want to introduce Chinese food from other parts of China in a way that’s welcoming to Filipinos, to anyone, actually.” 

“It’s been fun, our journey here,” Li shares, looking back at 2019 to the present day, “our friends who only know hotpot are pleasantly surprised when they try malatang.”  

The world can be a complex place with complex relationships between groups, but sometimes, a good meal well-prepared can bridge some of the widest gaps – real or perceived. 

Try it for yourself, visit any of their branches now.  

Sichu Double Dradon- Double Dragon Plaza, Pasay City 

Sichu Mall of Asia - South Entertainment Mall, Pasay City 

Sichu BGC - Food District on 5th, One Bonifacio Mall, BGC 

Soon to Open  

Sichu Eastwood - Citywalk 1, Eastwood City, QC 

Sichu GH - Greenhills Center, San Juan City 

For more information, message 09178982392.


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