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Malatang now a hot tourism attraction

By Ma Jingna in Lanzhou and Zhang Xiaomin | China Daily | Updated: 2024-04-16 06:55
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A malatang vendor tries to attract the attention of tourists at a food street in Tianshui, Gansu province, on Sunday. TIAN XI/FOR CHINA DAILY

The unassuming city of Tianshui, in Northwest China's Gansu province, is experiencing a tourism boom fueled by its signature dish, the fiery malatang hotpot.

Featuring a mix of vegetables, meats and seafood boiled in a spicy broth, it has become an unexpected internet sensation, drawing visitors from across China.

Tianshui has welcomed 7.54 million tourists since the start of last month, generating tourism revenue of 4.37 billion yuan ($600 million), according to the provincial culture and tourism department.

This influx has left local restaurants scrambling to keep up with demand, particularly the popular Haiying Malatang establishment in the city's Qinzhou district.

A photo of a visibly exhausted Haiying Malatang staff member went viral online, sparking lighthearted discussion and highlighting its overwhelming popularity.

Ha Haiying, the owner of the restaurant, laughed as she recalled the photo, identifying the employee as her cousin, Pingping.

"Pingping returned the next day with a smile, ready to serve the happy visitors," Ha said.

She's been running the restaurant for 26 years, catering primarily to locals, but now faces daily crowds of more than 1,000 out-of-town patrons. Lines snake their way from its door from 6 am until 9 pm, with wait times averaging an hour.

The secret to Tianshui malatang's success? Flavor and affordability, according to Ha. She attributes the unique taste to the special Gansu pepper, renowned for its distinctive kick.

The spicy delight isn't the only draw, however. The surge in malatang consumption has led to a corresponding rise in visitors to Tianshui's key attractions, including the Maijishan Grottoes, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a temple dedicated to Fuxi, the legendary ancestor of the Chinese nation.

Social media has fanned the flames of Tianshui's malatang phenomenon. The provincial culture and tourism department reported over 510,000 online posts and videos shared in 24 hours on Sunday, garnering a staggering 24.73 billion views, two billion likes, and 1.5 billion comments.

Hashtags such as "Gansu Tianshui Malatang", "Gansu cuisine", and "Gansu cultural tourism" have exploded in popularity.

Capitalizing on the city's newfound fame, Tianshui's local government is taking steps to solidify its position as a culinary destination. Plans are underway to establish a malatang association and explore the production of convenient seasoning packets, allowing visitors to recreate the authentic Tianshui malatang experience at home.

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