Oh, the weather outside is frightful but the fire pot is so delightful…
Alright, so the weather isn’t ever too frightful here in L.A., but I’d say that the temperature has been dipping low enough to call it hot pot season, or huo guo as it’s referred to in Chinese. (Though we call it hot pot, the literal translation—fire pot—is more poetic, don’t you agree?) The hot pot concept is simple: heat up a pot of water or broth, then add thinly sliced meats and chopped vegetables to cook. As with stir-frying, the point is to heat the food as quickly as possible and enjoy it right away, to minimize nutrient loss.
While fun and possible to stage your own hot pot dinner at home, cook-it-yourself hot pot restaurants make things a lot easier by furnishing the heat, the pot, the cooking broth, the meats, vegetables, sauces, and everything else you’ll need. Monterey Park’s Hot Pot Hot Pot (apparently so good, they named it twice) is a favorite of mine for their exceptional broth, as well as their meat and vegetable choices that go above and beyond the standard selections you’d find at other better-known chain spots like San Gabriel’s Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot.
For the all-important broth, which flavors the otherwise unseasoned raw ingredients, I went with a “half & half” (also known as yin-yang style) of the chicken-based house original broth and the beef-based rejuvenation broth. The rejuvenation broth lives up to its healthful name, loaded with galangal root slices, two kinds of cardamom pods, goji berries, garlic, ginger, cilantro, green onion, and a mix of purportedly medicinal herbs that results in a palatable, sweet, herby taste, a pleasant surprise given that I was half expecting it to taste like China’s answer to NyQuil.
The sheer, raw slices of beef, lamb, and pork offered here all have the perfect amount of fat marbling through the flesh, giving the meat great texture and flavor. With the beef or lamb, my preference is to cook it just until it’s a delicate pink before proceeding to dunk it into sa cha—Chinese barbeque sauce. Other sauces included spicy black bean-chile, sesame, and fermented tofu; they’re all good, but for me, sa cha is the clear winner.
Hot Pot Hot Pot’s wide selection of offal and peculiar vegetables is another bonus that separates them from other hot pot establishments. The raw, jiggly pork skin cooks to become a porcine flavor sponge—a kind of waterlogged chicharrón—that eagerly soaks up the broth and sauces. The pork kidney is pleasant and slightly rubbery, but not mealy like liver. It doesn’t do a good job of flavor absorption, but is a textural delight. Beef tendon takes the longest to cook, but in the end, the gelatinous beef cylinders are a real treat for me and my fellow bolder diners.
In the plant department, the Buddha’s hand melon (a.k.a. chayote), watercress, winter melon, and abalone mushroom create a great counterpoint to the animal proteins. Eaten together, the watercress provides an earthy, bitter contrast to the sweet, fresh flavors of the Buddha’s hand and winter melons, while the abalone mushroom contributes an incomparable richness that make this hot pot meal one of the more interesting and exotic I’ve found in the city.
Hot Pot Hot Pot, 120 S Atlantic Blvd., Monterey Park, hotpothotpot.com