Every time I travel simply have to try a local dish. I think this is a great and delicious way to get to know more about the place I'm visiting. The way it's prepared, the tradition and the ingredients used to produce a certain dish can tell us a lot of things about a place. Food is also culture, dear readers!
In my trip to China, it was no different. I had already read on the Internet about two very typical dishes from there: the hot pot and the dumplings and I must say: scorpions, larvae and insects are not part of the chinese basic meal as a lot of people think. These are usually touristy meals. On a day-to-day basis, the Chinese don't eat any of that.
My boyfriend and I went to the Hot Pot King, a restaurant very well recommended by his Chinese teacher, who gave us the pleasure of his company. Having a local with us made everything much more easier and clearer for us, since he knew exactly how and what to order. But don't worry if you don't have any local with you. They have menus in English so there will be no surprises when you order your meal.
In a simplistic way to say it, the hot pot is the cousin of the meat fondue. On the center of the table, there is a big pot with vegetables stock, very, very hot, steaming hot actually. You can choose the regular pot or, for the brave, the spicy pot. If you want, you can also order a bit of both to give it a go. Then, we had coming in two portions of raw meat (we ordered sheep and beef), mushrooms, some raw shrimp cakes, pork and raw vegetables. You also could customize your gravy to go with the meat: mine had coriander, pepper, parsley, soy sauce and vinegar.
And then the game starts! You get your chopsticks and a spoon and dip the meat in that boiling stock and in a matter of seconds it is ready to be eaten. Don't rush, you have to appreciate it very slowly. Then, you through in some mushrooms, which take a little longer to get ready. After the mushrooms, the vegetables and the shrimp cakes, which cook pretty fast. It's part of the tradition to eat in this order: don't ask me why!
At the end of everything, when the stock is already delicious because of the ingredients that were cooked in it, you get a bowl and have it as a soup! Delicious! To drink, we ordered some beer, which, in my opinion, "harmonizes" very well with the dish! hahahah Well, just as the fondue, the hot pot is a dish for the winter. For that reason, the places available in the restaurants are more scarce, while in the summer there are very good deals to attract the public. The hot pot was for me one of the most amazing surprises. The food is light and healthy (lots of vegetables), nothing fried or fat. Excellent!
The Hot Pot King is one of the most popular places in Shanghai due to the quality and freshness on the ingredients. For that reason, don't go there without a reservation otherwise you might not get a table. The reservation must be done at least two days in advance and it is desirable to arrive about 15 minutes ahead of schedule. If you don't make it on time, you are at risk of loosing your table.