Hot PotEric | August 21st, 2005 | 5:54 am
Angela and I had Hot Pot in Shanghai last year and it was a tasty and spicy extravaganza. During my trips to China I was able to go to Hot Pot on a regular basis, but always with my Chinese co-workers. I pretty much sat back while they ordered all the stuff and took care of all the particulars.
If you are not familiar with Hot Pot, it is basically a version of fondue that knows somebody. You get a plate of shaved meat, like pork, chicken, or beef, also cuts of seafood and prawns, and meatballs made of all of the above, as well as vegetables like frozen tofu, bok choy, mushrooms, and other sundry items. Then you get a big pot of broth that either is like a batch of chicken soup or chicken soup with hot peppers and chili oil.
So, since I had always gone with my Chinese buddies, I never had to order anything myself. When Angela and I went the first time in Shanghai, no one, and I emphasize – no one, spoke any english. At the time my Mandarin consisted of “Thank you” and “beer”. Luckily we had menus with pictures of all the things you could order. Unfortunately, pots of liquid and cuts of red meat all pretty much look indistinguishable in a picture book. So, like anyone in the same position trying to impress his lovely companion, I winged it. What I thought I was ordering was a bunch of shaved meats and assorted vegetables (which I did) and a pot of mild chili broth (which I didn’t). Inadvertently I had ordered the hottest of the hot pots. In our favor was the endless supply of liter sized Tsing Tao beers. Even though we almost melted away to sweaty pools of water. After suffering through the beginning of our meal (which tasted wonderful, but was tremendously hot), we clued into the fact that where the hot pot would roil from the boiling heat below, the chili oil would move aside. So the trick was to dip in anywhere, but remove your item from within one of these boiling points. The great thing about hot pot, and unlike fondue in general, is that the meat and vegetables cook almost instantly, so you aren’t waiting around starving while your little piece meat cooks (and then invariably falls off your fondue fork).
So, Angela and I were excited to have found a restaurant in China Town that served traditional Szechuan Hot Pot. And to make it even more convenient, everyone speaks English here – well, Aussie English anyway. Unlike the Hot Pot in China where there is a big hole in the middle of the table where the pot goes, they used those portable grills you often see in Korean restaurants. So we told our helpful waiter that we wanted Hot Pot and he brought over the menu – but it seemed they only had Chinese menus left. So, I told him what we wanted from my previous experience. He was happy to oblige, but reminded us that the Hot Pot was a fixed price and all you can eat of anything you wanted. I told him that we couldn’t possibly eat all that we had ordered, but he was not dissuaded. I then requested that he add anything, non-offal, that he would recommend. So we got some mussels, some fish fillets, and some different kinds of vegetables. Now, you can’t have Hot Pot without beer, and our beer of choice is Tsing Tao. And they were able to supply – but we were also entitled to a free soda as well. I told him it wasn’t necessary, but our waiter could not be put off. So, what the hell, we both ordered Cokes. We were a little surprised then when he brought two small plastic cups and a 2 liter bottle of soda. That’s a lot of Coke. I don’t even like Coke that much. But it was good to have, as we had finished our beers near the end of the meal and a little Coke was a nice finish to the filling meal.
Soon our pot of chili broth arrived and was set a-boil. Then came out all the raw items to dunk in our spicy cauldron. It was very good, just the right amount of spice, and way too much for two to eat. But we kept thinking to ourselves, what do they do with all the left over food? I mean, we had probably over 10 pounds (5 Kg) of food before us. We couldn’t imagine them just tossing it out. Whatever. We ate our fill, got the check, and were ready to leave. Angela suggested that we take the what remained of our almost full liter of Coke back to our hotel room where we were staying. It had a fridge, and it would be nice to have some soda for the next few days in the room. On our way out of the restaurant into the street one of the waiters stopped us and told us that we couldn’t take the soda with us. We were quite surprised, but it was not an issue. But then it made us think that, if they are recycling the soda everyone was drinking, what the hell were they doing with all of the food we left on the table? I shudder to think and Angela and I would be hard pressed to go back there again. I just hope all stuff we had was not the leftovers from the 6:30 dinner crowd…
Hot Pot. It’s an adventure.