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Malatang restaurants are breaking lots of laws

July 23,2019
Malatang may be the hottest dish in Korea right now, but according to a recent government investigation, the trendiest food in town often falls far short of legal sanitary requirements.

The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety announced Monday that 37 restaurants serving dishes using mala sauce and their suppliers broke rules for managing ingredients and sanitation standards.

For a month between June and July, the ministry investigated 63 restaurants and suppliers as the “popularity of mala dishes boomed due to its addictive taste,” it said in a statement.

Mala is a spicy Chinese sauce known to numb the mouth. Its popularity in Korea was led by malatang, a soup-based dish that involves customers picking their own ingredients to boil in the broth, paying for the combined weight of the food.

In its early years in Korea, mala restaurants were mainly found in Daerim-dong, western Seoul, or near Konkuk University, the two areas of Seoul that are home to large numbers of Chinese restaurants run by Chinese owners.

In the past year, mala restaurants have very quickly spread across the country as this summer’s hottest trend, becoming a common sight in popular neighborhoods like near Hongik University in western Seoul and Gangnam District in southern Seoul.

Among the 37 businesses found to have broken hygiene laws, 23 were restaurants located in Seoul, Gyeonggi, Gwangju, Daegu and Daejeon. The other 14 companies were suppliers. Only the 23 restaurants were named by the ministry on Monday.

Violations included using or selling ingredients that were not approved for import or of unknown origin, violating sanitary standards and doing business without obtaining a government license. One restaurant in Seoul was caught serving ingredients that had passed their expiration dates.

Among the most severe cases detailed by the ministry was a restaurant in central Seoul found to be using “unhygienic” cooking equipment.

There was also the case of an Ansan, Gyeonggi-based supplier that produced sauce using imported ingredients that were smuggled into the country without being declared at customs and sold to restaurants without an expiration date. Another supplier in Gunpo, Gyeonggi, made dried tofu in an unhygienic environment, sold products under a false company name and with no date of production.

The 37 businesses will be investigated again in the next three months.

BY SONG KYOUNG-SON [song.kyoungson@joongang.co.kr]