He says: Jess and I have such divergent views on hot pot that we’ve decided to have a bit of a face-off on the topic. Since I arrived in Beijing a month ago, Jess has been desperate to get me to try the hot pot on offer here.
However, ever since I was young I’ve just never seen the point. I guess it all started with Mum’s steamboat lunches, which for me were excruciating. First, the steamboat used to take a while to heat up – torture and boredom to a hungry young lad. Second, with all the food being put in at different times, how was one to know when it would be cooked properly? Third, being the youngest in my family, there was intense competition from my older siblings for the best pieces, plus I could never quite fully reach the steamboat to see the food properly anyway. Fourth, as a fellow hot pot loather recently pointed out to me, it’s a fine line between a nicely cooked potato and goo-ey mush. I could go on, but you get the idea. Overall I found these lunches very frustrating and usually ended up in the kitchen eating something else.
And so it is for me with hot pot. After much prodding I eventually gave in to Jess and we journeyed to the Wangfujing branch of Haidilao Huo Guo, voted Beijing’s best hot pot and outstanding Chinese restaurant in the Beijinger’s 2010 Restaurant Awards.
In its favour, the food at Haidilao is very fresh, the staff incredibly courteous, and the ambience quite nice. The guys who do a little dance while spinning noodles are also quite entertaining, if a little gimmicky. I’ll let Jess describe the food but all my old issues with steamboat lunches came back. I did give it a fair crack though, so much so that I felt like I was going to explode … another point I can add to my dislikes of hotpot is that it’s so easy to lose track of how much one eats during the meal! Even Jess felt like she ate too much? Right Jess??
She says: When I first moved to China about four months ago, one of my friends told me she didn’t like hotpot. I thought she was an anomaly. Couldn’t understand it. Even the arsenic stories weren’t enough to put me off this delicious style of dining and food. Now the hot pot haters seem to be coming out of the woodwork. Since Dan’s professed to not liking it, I’ve also spoken to two other friends who also aren’t fans. But for me, the communal cooking of the hot pot is part of what makes this such a fun meal. I can’t say I’m a fan of the individual style ones – I think it detracts from the joint nature. Anyway, back to Haidilao Huo Guo, which offers free manicures and shoe shines if you have to wait a long time, as well as games, snacks and sweet black tea. You can even order half sizes of meat and vegetables, perfect for couple dining. Our extremely friendly waiter ran us through the menu, even allowing Dan to photograph the “fresh grass crap slices” and “crap head” soup (easy spelling mistake to make, I think). We got beef, lamb, lotus root, sweet potato, potato, coriander, tofu skin and cabbage, plus some of the unique Haidilao noodles – hand pulled by your very own hip-hop dancer at the table. Quite fun I thought, and something that makes the night a bit different.
There’s a self-service sauce bar, which we made our own sesame sauce concoctions, and our waiter ladled out fresh broth from the un-spicy side of the pot. He also mixed up some soybeans, chili, dried meat, coriander and spring onions to make another type of soup. Free peanuts, shredded potato, shredded tofu and fruit were nice touches too. But as Dan is having issues with the “mala” – incredibly spicy and numbing Sichuan peppercorns – I was left to eat the hot side of the pot while he ate from the fragrant side (aka the ying yang hotpot). I do agree with Dan though that although it didn’t feel like we’d eaten a lot, we came out feeling absolutely stuffed, to the point of feeling sick. That was the only downside of the meal. Oh, and now having to find a new hot pot partner. :(