Posted on Nov 26, 2013 by Samantha Lancaster
As temperatures nosedive in northern China, Beijingers know that the perfect way to take solace from those icy Siberian blasts is to head for the nearest hot pot restaurant.
Hot pot – or steamboat as it’s also known – is thought to have originated in northern Mongolia before spreading to all parts of China. It is an institution around these parts, as is fondue in mainland European. Hot pot is a large, inviting pot of rich, simmering broth centrally placed to allow a table of guests to dunk and cook various meats, fish, shellfish and vegetables selected from a generous platter, in a communal style of eating. Fondue is cheese and forks whereas hot pot is noodles and chopsticks, but the convivial atmosphere and fun factor remain the same – especially if you’re eating alongside inexperienced hot pot diners, liable to frantically fish for errant food items before they overcook. If you’re visiting Beijing, hot pot is a must.
Although hotpot has many regional variations – from sectioned bowls containing a variety of broths, to huge single bowls of fiery rich, tongue-numbing soups typical of Chongqing and Sichuan versions, or the slightly sour versions found in Manchurian style hot pot – the fundamental sharing principle remains the same. Meat is usually served slightly frozen so it can be sliced thinly to ensure the middle remains soft, while the outside cooks and absorbs the delicious broth flavours. Lamb is a favourite ingredient, with many restaurants serving mutton specially flown in from Mongolia. Diners then choose from a selection of accompanying dips and sauces.
A good tip is to start the dunking fun with the meat, to add depth and flavour to your broth and, by the end, you’ll have a rich soup that’s good enough to eat on its own. Whatever style you choose, the most important ingredient to bring to the table is good company and a sense of adventure. Hot pot lends itself perfectly to a relaxed and informal dining style, and here are some of Beijing’s best places to experience it.
Haidilao Hot Pot
With branches all over Beijing, this perennial favourite regularly tops diners’ lists for best hot pot joint, thanks to its expat-friendly environment and great service. The wait times for a table may be long, but you’ll be treated to a free manicure or shoe-shine and offered fruit while you wait. The convivial atmosphere isn’t all for show either. Once seated, the fiery Sichuan style hot pot doesn’t disappoint and is considered by many to be the best in town, and with free drinks refills and hot towels on offer too, it’s no surprise this chain remains top of the tree for locals and expats alike.
Man Fu Lou
Another popular choice that’s been around for some 20 years – no small feat in Beijing’s ever-changing dining scene – with atmospheric, imperial style décor and impeccable service that manages to impress locals and expats alike. The cooking method is a little different here: each diner is served their own delightful copper cooking pot, with a choice of broth bases and the freshest ingredients for dunking, including free-range Mongolian lamb. The individual pot concept is ideal if you’re squeamish about sharing. 38 Di'anmen Nei Dajie, Tel: +86 6403-0992.
Ding Ding Xiang (Hot Pot Paradise)
A more upscale take on the traditional hotpot experience, this award-winning chain offers white tablecloths and individual pots with a choice of broths, including a mushroom version, a light, thai-style option and a range of delicious condiments such as the ever-popular sesame sauce that always wows the crowds.
Taipo Tianfu Shanzhen
This Yunnanese style hot pot restaurant is famous for its delicious mushroom hot pot which consists of a broth that uses a whole black chicken, slow cooked with over 20 types of wild mushrooms to create a stand-out soup that only gets better with every additional dunking. Chaoyang, Huizhong North Rd, Tel:+86 6496 9836.
Chongqing Kongliang Huoguo
The place to come if you need a little fire in your belly, this authentic Chongqing style restaurant hits the spot in terms of its spicy food and courtyard setting. The eel is hugely popular but the pigs brains might require a little more of an adventurous streak. 218 Dongzhimennei Dajie, Chaoyang District, Tel:+86 8404 4906.
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