Hot Pot at Xiao Long Kan 小龙坎老火锅
When in Rome, do as the Romans do and when in China, eat like the Chinese eat. Most of us claim to have a pretty good idea of what Chinese food is all about. But when we actually spend some time in China, we soon understand that the Chinese Noodles back home have not much in common with real Chinese food. Especially when it comes to HOT POT, we understand the difference. Hot Pot has originated in Mongolia and came to China about 850+ years ago. After that it spread throughout China, where regional variations developed and persist to this day.
Hot Pot typically involves a huge bowl of quite a spicy boiling broth, placed in the centre of the table. Common hot pot ingredients include various types of thinly-sliced meats, vegetables, mushrooms, noodles, dumplings, firm tofu and seafood including shellfish and fish balls. Hot Pot goes very good with beer.
To eat a good Hot Pot you better make a reservation. My recommendation is "Xiaolongkan", one of my best restaurant experiences ever. As we enter the venue we find ourselves in a large waiting room full of locals, maybe 100 people. A receptionist is busy sorting out some reservations and is serving jasmine tea and crackers. Good that we have a reservation. The receptionist brings us inside when the whole restaurant staff suddenly stop what they were doing and happily shout our names and some greetings toward us. I ask the receptionist why they give such a special welcome to us. She says that it is a tradition in Xiaolongkan's restaurants to greet all guests like this.
We take our seats when the chef greets us with the most important question of the evening: "you want broth spicy or no spicy?" For the next two hours, I'm really happy that we took the "no spicy" option. If our broth here is no spicy, then I don't want to taste the spicy one. It still takes a little time before we can dip our food into the broth and special sauces without getting watery eyes, attacks of sweating or shortness of breath. Tonight we started to understand what real Chinese food is all about. I think from now on, each time we order Chinese noodles back home, we will remember our sweaty faces, watery eyes and broken voices from the Hot Pot of Xiaolongkan.