There are many varieties of the infamous hotpot in China. In general they all consist of the same basic idea: dipping cold things into soup and boiling the flavour into them. In Shanghai it is possible to get many of them, so over the course of a weekend we tried a couple.
Beijing Hotpot. Again
We had already tried Beijing Hotpot, but we were wandering around Shanghai looking for food and Yi really wanted to have it again. We spoke to one of the people who worked there and they said they had a spicy sauce that would taste different to the one we had in Beijing.
This time we ordered a soup that contained sheep’s spine, so we had a bit of meat and the soup actually had some stock in it. The sauce was still sesame sauce, but was spicy. Sesame sauce is starting to grow on me – I found that as long as I didn’t use too much it actually tasted quite nice.
After finishing up we went to a bar. Yi said that she knew of another place where we could try some ‘mystery food’ and that she would take me there the next day. After a couple of cocktails we headed home.
The next day Yi took me to a place near West Yan’an Road station that served Guangzhou style chicken hotpot. Before we put anything into the pot some of the soup was scooped up into our bowls. This is typical Guangzhou thing – they always drink soup before they eat. The stock was a peppery chicken soup and was much to my liking.
Next we dumped some bright orange mushrooms into the soup. This was to add flavour to the soup that would affect everything we ate afterwards. Once the soup started bubbling we were able to eat the mushrooms. We also took more bowls of soup which had taken on an entirely different taste.
After this we had a typical hotpot experience – boiling the various meats, mushrooms, tofu and vegetables we had ordered and dipping them in sauce. We also had rice which came in the Cantonese style I was used to from back in England. Once it was all over we were still able to take more soup, which had now been enriched with the flavour of everything we had thrown into it.
I would say this was my favourite style of hotpot, but it was actually my second favourite. I decided that the next day I would make what I thought was the best hotpot in the world.
When I first started dating my girlfriend she told me she really wanted to go get some hotpot. I was surprised that a Chinese girl was craving the Lancashire Hotpot that was infamous in my home county. I was almost insulted when she wouldn’t believe that I could cook it. A few days later she took me for my first ever Chinese hotpot and I learned that China has a much more famous dish that is also called hotpot.
After this weekend of hotpots I decided I would finally prove to her that I was capable of cooking hotpot and so set about gathering the ingredients needed to do so. Beneath were I live is a great market where I can get fresh fruit and veg for next to nothing. The local import shop provided the meat and the herbs I needed.
Unfortunately I realised too late that we were out of salt, and that the meat wasn’t as juicy as it could have been. This meant the stock ended up pretty flavourless. I also found that the casserole dish was nearly too large, and our oven too small, so I burnt my fingers when it finally came time to pull it from the oven.
It wasn’t the best hotpot I had ever made, but it still did the job.