Chinese food is well-known for its communal dining style, of which hotpot is the zenith. Although some fast food joints now offer individual bowls for solitary dunking, hotpot really is an occasion for gathering friends around a bubbling cauldron. With the mercury adroop for the winter months, warm up with one of China’s many hotpot styles, all of which can be found in Beijing.
Leave it to the ultra-luxe Rosewood
Beijing hotel to turn one of the
most basic winter warmers into a
sleek, up-market affair. Red Bowl
is the Vogue
-ready version of what
is often reserved for the drunken
small hours of the morning, but
don’t let the chic crimson decor and
attentive service fool you: this is a
full-on good time. What Red Bowl
might lack in dismissive wait staff,
it makes up for in platefuls of plump
tiger prawns (78RMB), ribbons of
top-shelf organic lamb (68RMB)
and fresh, local veggies (48RMB)
from its partners in provenance. A
more dignified hotpot experience is
not easily found in Beijing, and with
no service charge and daily deals,
elevating your hotpot doesn’t mean
depleting your bank account.
The rugged inhabitants of Yunnan make good use of the bounty from their jungles and hills, filling their hotpots with sour lemongrass and fiery chilli. Diancaoxiang
turns the atmos up to 20 with its exorbitantly themed restaurant in Sanlitun, which feels like you’re sitting in the most lavish of Yunnan jungles. The hotpot here is no casual affair – drips of broth and sauce all over the table might fly as collateral damage elsewhere, but at Diancaoxiang it feels blasphemous.
The classics have their place
for a reason, and the pungent
fragrance of chilli oil and subtle
tingle of Sichuan peppercorns
that permeate every corner of a
steamy hotpot restaurant (and
your mouth) have no substitute. If
that’s what you’re after, Chengdu-based
has got your number.
With a decor and layout designed
to mimic the winding alleys and
manor houses of the old city and
a menu offering the full spectrum
of broths – from sweet tomato to
proper Sichuanese face-melting
heat – it’s hard to go wrong at this
Probably one of the most popular hotpot chains in Beijing, Haidilao
is famed for its service as much as its food. Expect free fruit platters, board games, manicures, shoe shining and more to keep you occupied in the often-long queues, while tableside entertainment comes by way of skilled noodle-flingers wanging around the hand-pulled mian
to some wild beats.
3 to try: other Asian hotpots
It’s not just China that enjoys some tabletop cooking. Other countries in Asia all have their own versions of meat and veg in broth, all with different flavours and styles. Try these three to get you started.
Thai Thai hotpot springs from the Chinese tradition, but with the addition of coriander and lime, tasting much like the Yunnan variety. Unlike Chinese hotpot, however, the Thai often serve their jimjum with an egg yolk to dip the meat in.
Japanese Like China, Japan has many different styles of hotpot. The most popular is sukiyaki, which is made of sliced beef and vegetables in a sweet soy sauce. The bits and pieces are then dunked into a raw egg mixture before being eaten; with barely blanched beef and raw eggs on your plate, this is one to avoid for the pregnant.
Korean The most famous Korean hotpot is budae jjigae, known as 'army stew', so-called because of its warming, energising properties, handy for facing life and death on the frontline. There is, naturally, plenty of kimchi. There is also a ram-packed meal of sausages, noodles, spam and veg. Not for the simply peckish.