One of the best parts about moving to Edmonton from back East was discovering new restaurants in our new town. There is a lot I miss about Halifax’s restaurant scene, where you can walk or take a quick bus ride to almost any restaurant, and where there are a myriad of excellent Japanese and Thai choices (two of my favourites), but with Edmonton being so much bigger there is obviously even more to explore here.
A few of the restaurants we like most are in Chinatown, which is a quick walk from our downtown apartment. And one of them is unlike any place either J or I had ever eaten.
The first time our friend Joyce took us to King’s Noodle and Hot Pot, I was apprehensive. Let’s put it bluntly: I was cranky and worried I wasn’t going to like the food. But when we left a few hours later, I was completely sated and happy about finding such a new, fun kind of dining.
Since this is the only Chinese hot pot restaurant I’ve ever been to, I don’t know how typical it is. But let me give you a run-down of what happens here:
1. Ordering. The first time, we left it all up to Joyce as the native Chinese person. She asked us a few questions about what we like, but we ended up trying a whole bunch of stuff. You write your choices down on a little sheet of paper, kind of like ordering dim sum. Since our first visit, the restaurant has started catering a little more to non-Chinese speakers and now offers a menu full of colour photos of each dish. We’d still be totally scared to go without a Chinese person though.
2. Sauce-making. Once you’ve ordered, you head to the sauce table at the back of the restaurant. Here, there are containers of chopped garlic and green onion, fish sauce, soy sauce, sesame sauce, raw minced chile peppers, and hot sauce. You pick what you like and create a little dipping sauce to flavour your food with during your meal.
3. The food arrives. The various raw ingredients are shuttled to your table on a little metal cart. Beef, lamb, pork, oysters, mussels, shrimp, tripe, mushrooms, noodles, watercress, spinach, tofu, and fish balls are among the offerings.
4. Cooking. You lower each ingredient into the simmering broth in a large metal pot in the centre of the table. There are handy little metal baskets to make it easier. We usually order two different kinds of broth, which come in a pot that’s split down the middle. This is where the real fun happens. Since certain ingredients obviously take longer to cook than others, the meal is long and interactive, and forces you to really enjoy what you’re eating. The thin slices of beef and the greens take mere moments to cook, seafood and noodles a bit longer, mushrooms and fish balls the longest. The combination of the broth, the ingredients, and your sauce results in fresh, vibrant food.
We brought J’s parents for hot pot when they were visiting Edmonton. We knew his Dad, an adventurous eater, would love it, which he did. His Mom wasn’t so keen – at the end of the meal, she called it “interesting.”
The point of hot pot seems to be to stuff yourself with as much food you as possibly can – after all, it is all you can eat ($24.95 per person, I think, with reduced prices from 10 pm to 2 am). Sort of like a buffet on a rolling metal cart. The first time we ate here, Joyce was appalled at the paltry amount of food we consumed. Since then, we’ve tried to do better. Usually we end up ordering more food halfway through the meal, and often there are some ingredients still left on the cart, or floating in the broth, at the end of the meal.
There are also a couple of dishes we like to order that aren’t cooked in the broth. Edmonton’s ubiquitous green onion cake is deep-fried here, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, and highly addictive. We also like a dish of hot rice topped with Chinese sausage that comes with a sweet sauce.
Going for hot pot is an experience like no other. A chance to linger over a meal, try new tastes (I know I won’t be eating the tripe again), and leave feeling like a bowling ball. The only frustrating part is walking past the tables of tiny, giggling Asian girls who are downing tray after tray of beef and seafood without blinking. I’ll never know how they do it.