For generations, pig pickings were reserved for political rallies, church suppers and family reunions. But eaters eventually tired of having to wait for a celebration to feast on a pile of pulled pork, so commercial joints started smoking whole hogs and selling off their meat by the plate. Traditional southern barbecue no longer requires a crowd.
A similar evolution may be underway in the International District, where a new restaurant is serving up individual hot pots. Typically a communal meal, hot pot - sometimes likened to a Chinese fondue - has been scaled back to a solo activity at Uway Malatang, where lunch is priced by the pound.
"It's a very popular style in China," says staffer Jack Han.
At Uway Malatang, $8.99 buys a pound's worth of ingredients from the fixings cooler, which is stocked with a range of shellfish, meats, mushrooms, noodles and greens. Once a diner's assembled the desired amount of, say, seaweed, pig's feet, instant ramen and tofu skin, the bowl's turned over to the kitchen to be remade as a Sichuanese dry pot (similar to a stir fry) or returned to the table with a pot of boiling broth.
Although spicy broth is the specialty of the restaurant, which is owned by Spicy Talk's Cheng Biao Yang, bone soup, kimchi soup, curry soup and miso are also available to eaters schooled in other swishy soup traditions. All orders include a plate of sliced beef or lamb, and access to a sauce bar featuring half a dozen sweet, garlicky and gingery dips.
I'm not sure Uway Malatang's spicy broth is a contender for the region's best hot pot - as much as I appreciated its rambunctious heat, it was slicker and more straightforward than the broths I've tried on the Eastside - but the concept is brilliant. Since I frequently dine alone, I'm accustomed to servers reminding me that hot pot's for two people. And while I'd certainly hate for the sociability and conviviality of hot pot to fall prey to the per-pound trend apparently sweeping China, I can't quarrel with a quick, affordable lunch distinguished by honest spice and fresh vegetables.
Also, Han assures me the hot pot buffet isn't just drawing loners. Dinner is an all-you-can-eat affair, priced at $19.99 a person. "We get parties of many people," he promises.