Nonsense. I think our group of fabulous foodies worked this Chinese hot pot broth with the skill you’d see in a troupe of synchronized swimmers. Maybe with a bit more of a splash around.
The first time I had hot pot was in the U.S., in Philly’s Chinatown, courtesy one of my most awesome college buds, Yin. Now Yin is a superstar in her own right, one of those crazy phenomena you see spinning around the planet, singing, dancing, strategizing about businesses, consulting other failed businesses, recording music, pumping out taekwando, traveling, cooking these awesome Chinese dinners for people…yep, pretty much changing THE WORLD. She sat me down with a group of people around a pot, a yin-yang pot, part spicy, part mild broth, and rattled on to the Chinese server about strange and exotic ingredients. Heck, you could say boiled cabbage in Mandarin and it’d sound exotic to me.
I remember staring at a plate of raw slippery seafood in front of me, staring at the lobster, the lobster staring back at me. I was still in my early days of pushing the food boundaries. Yin looked around, anyone want yummy lobster, anyone, anyone, no? okaaaay then – *CRRRRAAAAAACKKKKK* *SPLASH!* *BOBBITY BOB* [dead smashed lobster bobbing in broth].
That act of heroic lobster-cracking was my moment of truth. I don’t even know what I ate after that, all I know was that I had been…inducted. I was now part of a new, higher level of foodism that stretched beyond the cooked, the curried, and the awww-now-doesn’t-that-look-pretty-on-my-plate.
I don’t know why I’ve waited for so many years to repeat the hot pot experience. Maybe it was because I didn’t have enough friends who dared to be caught shoving anything in the same pot of broth as me. No matter, it has finally happened this year, with a huge and awesome army of friends that dove into the herbed broth at Xiao Wei Yang with the raw zeal of hungry chopstick-wielding cavemen.
Elaine was our translator, our hot pot mentor, our ingredient orderer, our knuckle-rapper if some of us naïve ones got distracted with less worthy dishes on the menu, and our temperature gauger to make sure things were cooked through before some eager beaver shoved a raw strip of beef or a half-done fishball into her mouth.
We got the yin yang pot of spicy-mild broth, keeping ancient gluttonous memories alive, and cause if you can have both spicy and mild broth, why would you force yourself to pick? Here’s what we dunked into the broth: superfine marbled beef strips…
…fishballs, fish heads, chinese cabbage, lettuce, blue crabs that turned red in the boiling broth (Poseidon’s answer to gobstoppers)…
Look at them noodles, fresh hand-pulled works of art. The key it to wait until you’ve dunked everything else in, swirled it all around, let the fishymeatyveggie juices become one in the broth, and THEN. Then, when the broth is all clear and all else on the platters has been demolished, that’s when you slide the noodles in. At the peak of brothy flavor, when all the noodles can soak in everything and become these hoses of broth-busting flavor.
I’ve eaten a lot of noodles, but these ones will never forgive me for slurping a mediocre noodle again. The bar has been forever raised.
Now waiting for all the raw flotsam to cook up in the broth can be the worst taste-bud tease ever, especially if you’re sitting elbow-to-elbow round a table of foodies who can’t stop chattering about what they ate last Sunday or what they cooked this morning or how they’re dying to try some tantalizing sounding dish in some part of town. Nope, on a table of foodies, waiting for food is not an option. The strategy is basically to eat food while you’re waiting for other food. And so the fillers we sagely ordered before, during and after the meal (with the scallion pancakes being at all three points of the meal), included, these scallion pancakes. Thin warm slices of oniony carby Chinese-style pizza, so madly addictive that I think I may have given them a little too much importance over the main hot pot star on the table. All you have to is schlep yourself over to the self-serve sauces table and grab one bowl of leek chutney, another of garlic oil, dab some of each on, preferably one condiment on each alternate slice to avoid a confused leek garlic mash (though that actually sounds pretty delicious now that I think about it), and you’re GOLDEN.
These things up there looked pretty darn close to Indian paranthas. They tasted pretty darn close to them too. So close that Elaine glared at us for ordering something that was clearly not as authentic as the rest of the stuff bubbling in the broth. Regardless, it had a funky name, one like Hand with Crispy or Crispy Hand or some such thing, and if I hadn’t tasted it before I’d left, then…then…then I guess I’d have gone home with more broth and less crispy in my tummy. Yeah I know, not the end of the world.
And these spice rubbed beauties here are the pre-cooked BBQ’ed lamb ribs, coated in thick dry spices. A bit chewy on the bone, but somehow, it sort of grows on you, just as anything spice-rubbed and meaty and yummy naturally would.
We annihilated two pots of broth, and at least two plates of nearly every raw ingredient. We started out as synchronized swimmers, and ended up as overstuffed octopi. Yin, you’d have been so proud of me…you’d have been proud of us. Gluttony hath ne’er felt so good.
**Special mention to all my fellow foodies who silently endured hot broth splashing on their faces when I clumsily lost control trying to chopstick-twirl a bunch of noodles out of the pot: Hot pot mastermind Elaine (aka Lady Scribblelicious) and her hubs, FooDiva, Kooksfood, Sunny D and his chopstick champion friend Taka, FooDee, Dina and her baby Hello Kitty, and the seductive noodle-slurping Ginger and Scotch.
Xiao Wei Yang International Palace Restaurant
Phone: +971 (4) 2215111
Baniyas Road (straight down from the Radisson Blu on the Deira Creek), Dubai