I came back from Asia 2 years ago thinking “Oh, I won`t miss much of it” and very soon it turned out that not only I did miss my people but most of all… Hai Di Lao!
I first experienced Hot Pot in Beijing, my first trip to China in 2009 where I literally got hooked with the real Asian cuisine! The fusion of tastes, consistencies, colors, chinaware, ways of serving, people around – it all gives you a hypnotizing, exotic to the bone, unforgettable experience that will soon be appearing as severe hunger for having it again!
What I personally like about this style of dining is the feeling of fellowship, family & closeness.
It is because you share pretty much everything. There is a lot of fun too.
Your setting consists of a small plate, small bowl, chopsticks & chinese spoon, glass.
There is a pot in the table that can be divided depending on the soup preference.
As you see the food comes in on separate plates or in bowls.
It can be spicy (in China it is really spicy), mild, mushroom, chicken, fish etc. kind of soup.
2009, somewhere in Beijing.
Learnt how to use chopsticks by eating peanuts with them.
Remember, the higher your keep them the easier to eat!
Usually the food comes in on a trolley and host`s assistants should take care of it. If you are with family/friends everybody does that.
First thing you need to know is that Huo Guo, Hot Pot aka Steam Boat, Shabu Shabu it is all the same. It just may vary depending on the region but the idea is still the same. My beloved place for Hot Pot was Hai Di Lao. Not only the food was delicious but the service! They were just ahead of you all the time while not being intrusive or over-serving – quite an art right?! Since this joint was as common as Mc Donalds here, they were very crowded, but forget about lousy or almost dead staff – energetic, well organized, prompt and on top of their job they were! While waiting, you were served free tea (anyway, tea is free everywhere in China or water, depending on the season), than you were escorted to your table, offered a special apron (boiling pot can make your white tee full of spots), after that your belongings on chairs were covered with special cloth (to avoid somebody else destroy your coat/bag with sesame,garlic & chili sauce). Their service went so far that special waterproof “condoms” were offered for your phone in order to not getting oily! All with a smile and “yes” attitude!
So how do you eat Huo Guo properly? Decide on the soup first, you can have half mild and half spicy or in other combination. You select veggies, I strongly recommend lotus roots, all types of mushrooms Enoki,(my favorite ones that Chinese call “See you Tomorrow”, why? You will see on the next day;) ), Shimeji, other than that try also tofu in different forms, shrimps, shrimp paste, beef rolls, try all the items that you feel like eating otherwise you will end up just being arrogant, (skip intestines).
A lovely waitress will take care of the soup and the pot, she will also later be overlooking if it boils properly and if it needs a drop of water.
While the food is being prepared you approach the sauce station to combine your own one. Do not ask me to name all the condiments as there is at least 20! Spring onions, chili paste, sesame paste, peanut paste, minced garlic, coriander, sesame seeds, crushed peanuts and omg 15 more! The rule is – mix what you like! So my favorite was peanut paste + garlic + crushed peanuts and spring onion (sounds horrible right?!).
When you come back to the table, soon after the food comes. Wait until the soup boils and start putting ingredients, there is no particular order, you put what you feel like eating just don`t put everything at once. It is suggested to have the ingredients boiled 2-3 minutes but don`t stand with your clock, just be wise. Since hot pot caused plenty food poisonings in Thailand they changed the name into steamboat to avoid this defiled with bad reputation “label”. But it was mainly caused by tourists eating too eagerly. I never had any issues after enjoying hot pot in my whole life.
You can use soup spoons to take the food out or you take it out with your chopsticks, put it on your side dish and dip in your sauce – baaaaam! Ready to eat! According to savoir vivre all is good just don`t poke and stick the chopsticks in your food.
What beverages go well with Huo Guo? Beer. Absolutely.
So here I am in Poland, still in the clouds of Hai Di Lao, hungry, craving for hot pot! Urara Sushi & Shabu Shabu popped on my Facebook Page. I remember having Shabu Shabu at my Japanese boss place. His lovely wife Kuni San & himself prepared Shabu Shabu only for us – what a great experience! Pretty much the same procedure! Having that in mind I booked a table at Urara via Facebook. They answered promptly.
The restaurant is quite small which makes it cosy, design is very simple yet gives you this asian but more japanese/korean look. I was greeted in english by a pleasant Taiwanese colleague and show to the table. Right after came local waitress handing the menus. Quickly made my choice, I went for the whole Shabu Shabu set with veggies, additional lotus and beef. I also switched rice for noodles as rice is rarely seen in Hot Pot. I selected the spicy soup too – so real! Beverages were served quite fast after taking order. The waitress came back with the soup and asked me if I ever had Shabu Shabu before, I said yes so she felt that she has nothing to explain and she left. Than the soup started to boil, splashing all over. A little introduction to minimize the heat should be necessary so that guests just won`t hurt themselves. My food came – my dreams came true, I was in heaven. My friend even stopped talking to me as I wasn`t listening… I was in my zone! I put cabbage, mushrooms and lotus in. What I missed the most was the selection of sauces. The lady brought a ready one introducing it a “Shabu Shabu sauce”. Ok.
Overall the food was of first quality, fresh and tasty. I have no doubts it is authentic. Big up for that! Portions are quite small comparing to China but hey, it is Poland – well understood. In between we ordered Bubble Tea – Zhen Zhu Nai Cha – very entertaining tea because of the tapioca balls. It was quite a disappointment as for a huge glass there were like 5 bubbles! Not worth it at all, plus jellies inside?! Nevertheless Shabu Shabu is absolutely worth trying and experiencing and I would recommend it to every Asian food connoisseur. I haven`t tried sushi there but from what I`ve observed – glorious feast.
What I would suggest is offering plastic aprons (c`mon guys – doesn`t cost anything) as I left with few spots and deeper introduction about Shabu Shabu/Huo Guo etc. to the waitresses would make it easier for them to handle guests. Overall you are doing a fantastic job and I will be back!