Monday, February 7, 2011

Chinese Fondue -- Cook Hot Pot At Hunan Taste With AYCE Meats And Vegetables In Two Broths

New to the HowChow "to do" list -- hot pot at Hunan Taste in Catonsville.

All-you-can-eat hot pot is something that I've spied at Chinese restaurants.  It looked like Asian fondue, but I didn't know how it worked or how to order.  

That's until I heard from Min about hot pot at Hunan Taste and got her how-to instructions about how to order several rounds of food.  Min starts with two types of soup base, then picks rounds of sliced meat, meat balls, fish, soybean products, and vegetables.  She has full instructions:
Hot pot is kinda like fondue where you cook your own food in the broth. We have a half/half soup base: half hot & spicy; half mild.  Over the night, they served plates of thinly shaved pork, beef, and lamb, a variety of meat balls, lots of soybean byproducts and veggie.
It takes some planning to put different types of foods into the pot in order. (This is very much to each one's personal preferences, and the variations are just unlimited). 
1) Mix your own dipping sauce.  At HT the waiter asked for what we'd like to have. Fermented tofu and sha cha paste were offered. I asked for minced garlic, white vinegar (to offset anticipated heat from the spicy pot). Other considerations would be chopped scallions, sesame paste, minced ginger, etc. 
2) Order food from the menu: I started with veggies that would add flavors and depth to the broth, plus some soy products, and various meatballs that take longer to cook.  Vegetables. Napa cabbage, mushrooms, shitake mushrooms, tofu, slices of lotus roots, slices of daikon radish, winter melon. (We did not order all of that; general rule of thumb is to avoid veggies that may cloud the broth (e.g taro) or that would overcook easily (e.g. yuchuoy or baby cabbage).)  Soy.  Soft tofu, frozen tofu, fried bean curds, bean stick.  Meatballs.  Cuttle fish balls (made in house), beef tendon balls (store bought).
3) Wait 'til the broth comes to a boil and start placing food in the broth. (I suggest ask for extra pairs of chopsticks to work with uncooked items. Use your chopsticks ONLY for cooked food.) 
4) Order more. Meat.  We ordered lamb, beef and pork and didn't have room for fish, chicken, crabs, and head-on shrimps. But upon departure we saw the owner and the wait staff enjoying a pot, and the crabs sure looked good.  Vegetable.  Add those that cook quickly: bean sprouts, towel gourd, baby cabbage, wood ear (translated as white fungus on the menu), yuchoy.  More Meatballs.  Try house made fish balls and meat balls (fried pork meatballs) (soy products) 
NOTE: The broth may turn cloudy after the meat is cooked. Just use the ladle to scoop away the foams. The waiter provided a container right when he saw me clearing the broth. Repeat the process of ordering - cooking - eating as many times as necessary.  That's the spirit of A-Y-C-E.
5) Starch: Taro (cut into slices and fried so it does not break apart easily) and vermicelli (soaks up lots of broth) 
6) Enjoy some soup -- by now the broth in the mild pot has become a very delicious soup. Too bad there's no dessert offered.
AYCE hot pot isn't cheap.  Hunan Taste charges $26 for adults, $14 for kids (3-4 feet), and free for kids under three feet.  But it certainly seems like an experience.

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