There are quite a few hot pot restaurants here in Guilin. Hot pot is a style of cooking where you are given a pot of broth, usually placed on a burner set in the middle of the table, and then you order ingredients to add to it and cook at the table. I really enjoy not only the flavor but also the experience of hot pot, but it can be a bit overwhelming when you can’t read the menu. Hot pot is so customized and personal that it is difficult to pull off without some decent language skills. Thankfully, we found a place that had the perfect solution yesterday: hot pot conveyor belts!
Creating Our Hot Pot
Hot pot is quite common in China, but the style of hot pot differs based on location. Here in Guangxi, most of the hot pot restaurants were ones that served up brothy soup and required that we order off of a long menu. In Sichuan, we collected our own dippers out of the restaurant’s fridges and given broth that wasn’t great for drinking.
The restaurant was located in the old town area of Guilin which is very popular among the tourists. Our server was very polite and patient with us. He kept his sentences short and demonstrated anything we didn’t seem to understand.
We started with a pot of “bu la” (not spicy) broth for ¥5. At this restaurant, the pot was meant to serve one person, but we chose to split it. Once we threw in all of the goodies, there was more than enough to share. Each restaurant has their own special broth mix, but it should be decently well flavored from the start. Many people will even drink the broth as-is.
Prepare the Dipping Dish
The server gave us two small, plastic bowls and pointed us to the oils and seasonings corner of the restaurant. These bowls were for creating customized dipping sauces. Unlike the hot pot bowl that we would be sharing, the dipping sauce bowls are individual and personal. I chose to mix oil, oyster sauce, green onions, and a hefty helping of garlic to my dipping bowl. Josh chose pretty much the same, but with a little extra kick of Sichuan spice.
Select and Cook the Sticks
This restaurant charged by the stick at ¥2 – ¥3 each. We grabbed spinach, mushrooms, pork, and noodles. We played it pretty safe, but there were a lot of choices, including some for the more adventurous eaters out there.
The waiter was a little baffled by the fact that we just threw everything in at once, but shrugged it off and let us make our own mistakes. A true meal of hot pot would include slow and careful placing of each item. The real joy of hot pot isn’t the food, it is the company. Everything should be cooked slowly and with plenty of time to chat with your friends.
There didn’t seem to be anything wrong with simply throwing everything in either. Everything was cooked through and tasted amazing. The broth in particular was the star of the show. We even fought for who would get the last few drops.
Overall, it was an amazing and cheap lunch. Not only was it fun to pick items off the conveyor belt, but it took a lot of the guesswork out of trying to order, and help ensure that we got exactly what we wanted out of our meal. I’m not sure what I think about paying to cook my own food at a restaurant, but if it needs to be done, this is the ideal. Look out, America! We might just be bringing hot pot on a stick to your shores!
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