The Taiwanese love hot pots and although when I first arrived in Taiwan, I wasn't a big fan of hot pots, I have grown very fond of them over the last year. Spicy hot pots are especially popular in Taiwan and our office just happens to be right next door to a famous hot pot restaurant here in Taichung - Ding Wang Spicy Hot Pot (鼎王麻辣鍋).
Tonight, we ordered Ding Wang's specialty: "Yuan-Yang Guo" (鴛鴦鍋) which is a hot pot split down the middle with two different broths. The red side is the traditional spicy hotpot or "ma la guo" (麻辣鍋) that comes with duck's blood (鴨血) and tofu (豆腐).The white one is a sour hot pot that comes with pickled cabbage (東北酸白菜鍋).
Personally, I'm not a such a big fan of the sour hot pot, but I do think it's really good if you mix the two kinds of broth together - mm mmm delish! One of my absolute favorite things at this hot pot restaurant is the duck's blood. If you go to this restaurant with foreigners, it's very common to hear "wow, I really like that brown tofu! what's it called?"
It is a bit like tofu, with a mild flavor and a smooth texture, although it's not as light as tofu - it gives you something you can bite into. It's really unlike anything I've had before, it's just so smooth! I love it.
As this is specifically a hot pot restaurant, the tables all have built-in burners in the middle. As soon as you decide which hot pot you want (three choices - red, white, or combo) they bring out the pot and sit it in the middle of the table where it continues to cook throughout the meal.
If you order this hot pot, you get unlimited duck's blood and tofu in the spicy, red side, unlimited cabbage in the white side, and unlimited broth for both. Then you can order anything else you want to put into the pot. We had 15 people, so we got tons of food to put in our hot pot including:
slices of beef, chicken, and pork (all raw - it cooks in the pot)
meat balls and mushrooms
Fried tofu skin
lots of different kinds of dumplings - these ones are hand made
and fish paste - which turns into a fish meat-ball when it is cooked in the soup!
Hot pots make for a very social and busy meal. Everyone is helping out - dishing out food or broth or putting things into the pot to cook. The pot is relatively small and you can't fit everything in at once, so this is a continual process through out the meal and everyone pitches in. It's a really fun way to share dinner, although it can certainly get a bit hectic with 15 people!
Of course as you eat, and as the pot cooks, you run out of broth, cabbage, duck's blood, and tofu, but the ever-attentive waitresses are always there to fill the pot back up and make sure things are running smoothly.
One of the awesome things about this place is that when you leave, they will fill the pot back up with soup, cabbage, tofu, and blood, and then you can take it home with you - along with any other goodies you haven't eaten yet. I certainly don't know of all-you-can-eat places in the US that will let you take your leftovers with you, so I think this is a pretty cool feature.
mmmmm hot pot!