Hot Lady Hotpot
#1185 – 8580 Alexandra Road
I need to get this preamble out of the way first…This restaurant does not have an official English name. The banner in front reads 麻辣妞妞火鍋專門店. Urbanspoon translates these characters (perhaps via a contributor) to mean “Hot Lady Hotpot”. My Chinese friend prefers to call this place “Spice Girls Hotpot”.
The characters 麻辣 translate to “ma la” or “numbing and hot “, the signature spicy Sichuan flavour combination. The next two characters 妞妞 “niu niu” both stand for “little girl”. The next two characters 火鍋 are “hotpot”. Finally the characters 專門 mean “specialist” and 店 means “inn” or even “place.” So…this restaurant tis called “Hot and Numbing Little Girls Hotpot Specialist Place.” Hmm…
I think I’ll stick to “Spice Girls Hotpot” – Urbanspoon bedamned.
Unlike dim sum, All You Can Eat hotpot is a type of Chinese dining has not hit the Western mainstream (and it may never). The idea of cooking your own food by dipping it from a raw state into a shared vat of boiling broth may not jive with Western sensibilities. It is an undeniably popular way of eating for the Chinese here. The popular hotpot restaurants are always packed.
Food historians believe that hotpot has its roots in Northern China. They further postulate that it was usually reserved for winter familial meals – perhaps doing dual duty as a meal and a way to keep warm. With such deep connections to familial survival, you can see how this strongly rooted tradition endures.
All the Chinese families that I know have a hotpot set – consisting of a pot (though usually not the divided “yin-yang” variety found in Sichuan hotpots) and a modern induction tabletop cooker or even a one-piece unit that looks sort of like a squat rice cooker. Using either type of electric hotpot are a far cry from huddling around a fire with a cauldron trying to keep warm.
Here, the demographics at hotpot restaurants typically skew young. Whenever I go, most of the diners seem to be in their twenties. Tonight was no different. At all the other tables were seated young twenty-something Mainlanders (I imagine mostly students) busily dipping into their broths to celebrate yet another Friday night.
When ordering for a Sichuan hotpot (also often called “ChongQing” hotpot), most people opt for two types of broth – one side of the pot will hold a mild broth and the other will hold the “ma la” broth. We ordered the hotpot “bold” or “extra spicy.” (The incredulous waiter looking at our table of non-Chinese had to send his co-worker over to confirm that “extra spicy” was indeed what we wanted). We ordered a variety of condiments, meats and vegetables using the supplied pre-printed paper order pad.
Our hotpot and our first batch of dippables came in short order. We can see that the meats, vegetables, and condiments were of a high quality. Within five or ten minutes the broths started to gently boil. The ma la broth was indeed spicy. It also had a depth and complexity missing from most of the hot pot broths served in town. (One possible exception is the broth at Spicy Legend on Kingsway – fodder for a future post.). But yes…the broth was damned hot. I am a spice fiend and can take the heat but this one was a challenge. It was also very good – the best Sichuan hotpot in town.