Two words: HOT POT
Hot pot, or huo guo, in case you don’t know, is Chinese fondue. However, instead of gooey cheese or chocolate sauce, you dip meat, fish, vegetables and tofu into a savory broth, then dip them in a sesame sauce and eat them. Afterwards, when the broth has acquired the flavor of everything you’ve put into your pot, you are encouraged to pour some broth into a bowl and drink it like soup.
Hot pot is something to eat if you are REALLY hungry (I ate the equivalent of an entire mushroom forest last night), and especially good in the winter time (yesterday was scorching, but I was ready to brave the weather as a price for hot pot). Every time I have hot pot, I have an excruciating stomach ache afterwards, but it’s not the kind of stomach ache that tells you that you ate too much… it’s one of those where you can feel all the vegetables and soup poking around your internal organs. But let’s get on to the eating.
The restaurant we went too is a famous hot pot chain called Ding Ding Xiang. Of course, there are tons of hot pot restaurants in Beijing, but a lot of them happen to have hot pot in addition to regular dishes. Ding Ding Xiang only serves hot pot. In fact, the moment you walk into the restaurant, you see everything laid out: what’s great about it is that everybody gets their own mini pot, so it’s perfect for vegetarians. We used to have a Ding Ding Xiang by our house, but it’s under construction 😦 . We ended up going to another branch that seemed much fancier! The ironic thing was that the service was ATROCIOUS! Actually, it seems that the service everywhere this summer has been bad (turns out that waiters are fired after three months, so they don’t really get a chance to learn the ropes. Also, there’s no tipping), but we had never seen anthing like last night’s. There were dozens of gorgeous young waitresses literally wandering around the restaurants and checking at random tables… there seemed to be no organization whatsoever! While we were ordering, our waitress was changed three times! Another waitress would come up to her and whisper, “the people over there want the check,” and they would do a kind of silent notepad handoff. They also had no idea how the menu was organized! The most basic thing about hotpot is to begin by picking a soup for your pot, and they didn’t even know what soup they had or where it was on the menu! The food also took ages to come. But enough ranting. What’s good about hot pot is that once they bring it to you, they don’t need to come back because you cook it yourself.
To drink, I ordered suan mei tang, a kind of housemade sour plum juice that I love and that my mom hates. It’s a deep purple color and tastes of fruit and Chinese medicine, which I don’t know how to describe, except that it’s supposed to be made of Angelica root. Either way, it tastes great to me.
We also ordered two whole garlic heads pickled in sugar and vinegar. You just crunch into it plain, and its unexpected sweetness makes it okay to eat an entire head of garlic plain.
As for the soup, we all got the mushroom broth, but they also have stock made with bones, chicken soup, and lots of others.
Our sauce was just the house sauce, which is basically sesame paste, a bright red sauce made
from fermented bean curd, and paste made from Chinese chive flowers. There’s also a little do-it-yourself bar where you can add more of all of these, in addition to hot pepper and scallions. My parents got lamb, which is the classic of all the meats. They got two kinds.
We ordered a LOT of vegetables and tofu: glass noodles, kelp, a basket of assorted mushrooms, winter melon, turnip slices, a kind of purple and green wild vegetable listed as “purple okra,” and three kinds of tofu: regular, black bean, and frozen. The black bean is really more on the grayish-purplish-green side and has a very mild flavor. The frozen tofu is my favorite because when you freeze tofu, it becomes porous and spongy. This means that when you dip it into the broth, it soaks up all the soup and when you bite into it, it releases hot stock into your mouth (Be careful not to burn yourself!). The broth itself was WONDERFUL, since I love mushrooms but hate the creamy concoction that seems to be the only mushroom soup people know of.
Last, but DEFINITELY not least, we ordered shao bing, the sesame bread that I’ve already
mentioned. At Ding Ding Xiang, they’re a house specialty, and come practically in miniature size. But the crunch of the sesame on the outside and the chewy, soft layers in the middle… I thought they were even better dipped in the sesame sauce. We saved one to take home that I will definitely eat for lunch. I can practically taste
it now as I’m writing about it… YUM.
p.s. I have to share the dessert menu with you, although we didn’t order anything. The translation of the dessert menu is the funniest thing I think I’ve ever seen:
- Tiramisu– “The brandy, the egg-yolk, the cream and the sugar are falling in love together layer upon layer, below matched by the Italian concentrated coffee. Fragrant and mellow, it is making everyone infatuated with.”
- Durian Cheese Cake– “The durian with the cheese, the devil and the angel. first hugs in together so close, with the coffee latte to be tangled up in a mess (or mass?), enticed by sweet they become one kind of happiness.”
- Chocolate Mousse– “The sexy chocolate with the gentle mousse, cappuccino of the thoughts are exquisite, in addition between lovely and honey a good mood spontaneously rises.”