Hot pot, anyone?

Ever had a Sichuan hot pot?  Me neither, until last night.  Boy, was it tasty!

Mala Tang is a new Chinese restaurant in Arlington that specializes in these hot pots and Chinese street food and has gotten lots of good attention among the food critics.  While I was enjoying other delicious food in Paris, Tim (a friend from the newspaper and fellow food enthusiast) suggested that we check this place out when I got back.  Last night was the night.

The basic concept of a hot pot is this:  You sit around a pot of spicy, boiling broth, dipping various fresh vegetables and meats until they’re cooked to your satisfaction, and then eating them with a spicy dipping sauce. 

We started with some appetizers:  Dan dan noodles, pork water buns, zhong dumplings.  They were all very good, but the zhong dumplings were outstanding.  We could have eaten those all night — but we didn’t.  In stead, we moved on to the main event:  the hot pots!

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Hot pot with spicy chicken broth
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Wine marinated beef
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Enoki mushrooms, lotus root and cabbage
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Green bean leaves
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Dipping sauce specially concocted by our waitress from the sauce bar
(SO GOOD!)

Everything was incredibly delicious.  My favorite ingredients ended up being the lotus roots and green bean leaves.  The beef was tasty but had a tendency to get lost in the broth — by the time I could fish out the little pieces with my chop sticks, they were often overdone.  The cabbage was more annoying than anything else.

I particularly liked how the cooking process slowed down the meal.  Since you weren’t presented with a plateful of food ready to eat, you couldn’t just dig in and snarf your dinner.  Instead, you had to cook it and eat it piece by piece in a very active process.  So it took longer and provided a great context for conversation.

I also liked having my own pot.  Apparently hot pots in China are usually a communal affair, with everyone sitting around a single pot.  Neither Tim nor I are natural food sharers, though (my first recollection of Tim is from 2007, when he took a few summer associates to lunch and instructed us to ignore everything the waitress was about to say regarding family style sharing) and so, although a communal pot would still have been delicious, I was very happy to see individual pots on the menu.

By the time we were done, both of us were absolutely stuffed.  Fortunately, the restaurant is only a few blocks from my apartment, which means I was able to roll walk myself home — and will be able to walk myself back again (and again, and…)

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