Cheap Eats (again!): Hot Pot?

30 Apr

So of course Rachelle and I went to the Shaxian Snacks place outside Xiaogang Park the other day (it’s our favorite one) and this time we had some kick-ass 云吞汤, or wonton soup if you aren’t trying to be a douche like me.  Add to that a heaping plate of fried noodles’n'eggs (I forgot what the actual name for it was, but asking for 鸡蛋炒面 – ji1 dan4 chao3 mian4 – got the point across) and, at the older lady manning the counter’s insistence, a surprisingly tasty black chicken and ginseng soup, whose menu entry claims it has medicinal properties, and we had filled our bellies for around 20 kuai.

But I already talked about those cheap eats.  Another way to get food without spending much money is to have many Chinese friends, and to talk to them often.  Before long, you will be invited to lunch or dinner, and they will almost always insist on paying the tab, and you will usually get to discover some new place to eat which you otherwise would never have known about.  And thus begins my first taste of the dining phenomenon known as “Hot Pot.”

Of course I had heard about hot pot, I had seen people eating it, I had heard it was a wonderful experience, but until that day I had never tried it.  It just seemed too daunting to try something so new, in a language I was still quite unfamiliar with, without any kind of guide.  One of Rachelle’s colleagues, who was also her workout buddy and good friend, invited us to hot pot with her and her husband.  Fuck yeah hot pot.  So we met near the gym (a short bus ride from campus) and all piled into a cab headed for the outlet mall which housed our dining destination.

I offered to be a good guest and pay the cab fare (only ten kuai) but our friends wouldn’t hear of it, and besides, cabbies and other service personnel will try their damnedest not to acknowledge a foreigner if there is a Chinese person in the group.  I have been told this is the case even if the “Chinese” person is American, or Japanese, and actually speaks no Chinese, and the foreigner is near-fluent, and this leads to all manner of frustration for all involved.  But I digress.

The restaurant had an English name under the Chinese, “Cool and Hot Cooking Pot.”  The gimmick here was that there were actually two cooking areas to a table.  Most hot pot restaurants have a well for the eponymous pot to sit in and boil, but this one also had a flat barbecue well, which was kept well-supplied with a steady stream of marinated fish, meats, squid bits, and other marvelous things.  One tasty, oily fish was explained to us as being called “Korean Fish.”  Nobody had a very good reason as to why, so I ventured that it looked a little like Kim Jong-un, and everyone had a good laugh.  Except for Kim Jong-un.

Hot pot itself is pretty simple.  They give you thin little pieces of meat (sometimes with lots of cartilage, which while not particularly desirable in the States is a nom-a-minute here in China) and you drop it into the broth, which in our case was divided into a clear, light broth and a spicy Sichuan one.  There are many other things you can put into the pot – it’s kind of like Chinese fondue, really – and this restaurant had a whole buffet of various things and meats and fish slices and mushrooms and veggies and unidentifiable other things that I was told are certainly delicacies in China…

By the time we were finished, I’m pretty sure I had gained a few pounds and my stride had been reduced to a waddle.

Oh, and for the friend food to be viable and for you to not seem like an asshole it goes without saying that you must genuinely be a good friend and from time to time treat them in return when finances allow.  In this case, since these particular friends have spent time in America and enjoy Mexican food, we plan to have them over for Rachelle’s home-cooked enchiladas, which are pretty much one of the best things you can give someone you like.

BUNNY UPDATE:  He really loves the fan.  We moved it and he found a chair nearby to jump onto so he could feel the wind in his face.  Maybe it feels like he’s running really fast.

OTHER UPDATE: Hey, just about everyone in China uses the QQ messenger, and now I do too.  But I don’t have any QQ friends yet.  If you want to try it, add 1354161861, because that’s me.

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