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2008/07/23

100 Days, 100 Restaurants: It's Getting Hot, Let's Have Hotpot!?!

Hotpot is a classic Beijing dish and great for a night out with friends, something about the communal enjoyment of boiled beef and veggies over (lots and lots of) beer makes it the perfect winter dish. While many stay away from hotpot in the summer, those visiting during the Olympics shouldn't pass up the opportunity to try it at least once. Basically, hotpot is a boiling soup base in which you add meat(beef and lamb are favorites), vegetables, and noodles. It's a very simple dish, but when done well, there's nothing better. Below are some of the best spots in Beijing to sample a great hotpot meal.

For many in Beijing, and around China for that matter, when they think hotpot, they thing Dong Lai Shun. It's one of Beijing's "lao zi hao", a restaurant that has been around for hundreds of years.Unfortunately, like a lot of the "lao zi hao", its passing by on name recognition and 2 great locations at Wangfujing more than on quality food. The Wangfujing location at Xin Dong An should be avoided at all costs as its not only over priced (RMB8 for a bowl of zhimajiang?!?),but also lacks taste. Everything from the soup base to the too thinly sliced meat to the insanely expensive zhimajiang, this place is just disappointing. It's sad really, because such a great name that can usually offer a top product at other locations, fails so miserably in such a heavy tourist spot.

The hotpot meat of choice in Beijing is lamb and the source of those lambs is usually Inner Mongolia. Xiao Fei Yang is an Inner Mongolian chain that gets its goods directly from the source. They pride themselves on a soup base so flavorful that you can eat everything straight out of the pot without dipping it in any sauce. They also offer a wider range of "diverse" offal cuts and some other interesting items including many noodle choices. Service is usually fairly good and decor is tasteful, but kept to a minimum.

Hotpot isn't a dish one identifies with southern China, but the Macau import Dolar Shop (which has long had a Shanghai outpost), recently opened in Joy City. This restaurant's speciality is a classier environment and a DIY sauce bar that is a lot of fun. Another interesting speciality is a large selection of different "meat" (often seafood) balls or "noodles" that include unique tableside presentation. A number of soup bases are available, but fans of spice might be disappointed with this place. When you're done with a meal,there are ice and fruit bingsha's available to cool you down.

If you're looking for something a little less Beijing and a little more Chongqing to satisfy a spice craving, Hai Di Lao is the king of the spicy hotpot. Not only that, but they go over the top in customer service. As you are waiting (and you will wait awhile if you don't have a reservation), they offer drinks, snacks, games, and even shoeshines and manicures. Once you get inside the restaurant, you'll notice that the interior is far nicer than your typical hotpot joint(though maybe not at the same level as Dolar Shop). The spicy hotpot is the way to go, but its highly recommended you get a half-and-half as it IS very spicy and its good to have an alternative to the spice.A very good lemonade and suan mei tang are on offer as well to help minimize the heat. The menu is your usual assorted meats and vegetables, but another spot where this place shines is in its hand pulled noodles presented at the end of the meal. The whirling and twirling of your noodle guy would earn the admiration of even the best gymnasts competing in the Beijing Olympics.

Feng Gu Hotpot is another DIY sauce bar, offers free bingsha, and is fairly popular among the locals. Some mediocre, but serviceable options include the Hotpot Loft for extremely fancy (and overpriced hotpot), I Rock My Pot (an expat favorite), and T6 Hot Pot (a decent choice for those in the CBD). Hotpot is an extremely simple dish, so the key is the quality/freshness of ingredients, the service, the price, and the extras that make the difference between a top restaurant and just an average spot.

Hotpot is not your summer dish and so for most visitors, it will comedown to a choice, that choice should be between Hai Di Lao and XiaoFei Yang (with Dolar Shop coming in just a bit back for the bronze),but I think on most days, Hai Di Lao wins out. If you're just looking for a quick, fast food version of hotpot, Taiwan's Xiabu Xiabu has a number of locations around the city that do a good job. So find some friends, hit your nearest hotpot spot and enjoy the evening.

23. 东来顺 (Dong Lai Shun)
2 Xiaoyangmao Hutong, Jianguomen Neidajie
建国门内大街小羊毛胡同2号
6524-1387

24. 小肥羊 Xiao Fei Yang (Little Sheep)
Locations around the city

25. 豆捞坊 (Dolar Shop)
7th Floor, Joy City, 131 Xidan Dajie
西单北大街131号大悦城7楼
5971-6881

26. 海底捞 (Hai Di Lao)
Locations at Sanlitun, Xidan, and in Haidian

27. 丰滑火锅 (Feng Gu Hotpot)
8 Xuanwumen Dajie, 5th Floor Sogo Mall
宣武区宣武门外大街8号庄胜崇光百货新馆5楼
6310-4703

28. 藏酷 (Hotpot Loft)
North Gongti Rd in the restaurant complex behind the Comfort Inn
6501-7501

29. 锅儿滚 (I Rock My Pot)
37-38 Chaowai Dajie
朝外大街37-38号
5879-0999

30. T6 Hotpot
Locations in Jianwai Soho and Xiandai Soho

31. 呷哺呷哺涮涮锅 (Xiabu Xiabu Hot Pot)
Locations around the city

1 comment:

Hotpoter said...

Xiao Fei Yang and Hai Di Lao are my favorite. Another nice hotpot restaurant is Hua Ji Chu (花积厨) originally from Yunnan, now you can find it at Jianguomen (建国门)