Drop the ingredients into the boiling stock, let ’em bob up and down while you watch and chat, tak’em out and whack’em on top of a wad of noodle, pour a ladle of broth, and inhale the sweet steam… So what constitutes a good hot pot? Well, the stock is of course the key, then it’s common practice to have some meat, seafood, vegetables (some kind of leafy greens and mushroom), some noodle for the starch base. But there is no set rule. Whatever you want in your mouth, you can put into the hot pot. We opted for the half-and-half stock: Vietnamese lau and Japanese shabu. The two are quite similar, but the Vietnamese lau has tomato and is slightly more seasoned. Both stocks contain green onion and sweet onion, the taste is neutral, neither too salty nor too sweet, just downright savory. In increasing order, you can add more tomatoes, pineapple, or tamarind to make it sour, and any kind of chili pepper until your eyes water.
Canadian style thin egg noodle went well with everything. As for the add-ons, we also picked the moderate route, with beef rib eye, beef meat ball (hidden behind the Napa cabbage), broccoli and spinach, fish ball and tiger prawn, a garlic sesame oil sauce (suggested by the waitress but did little to enhance the flavor). Opinions split about the fish balls: Mother and Mudpie like their soft, almost gummy texture, while the rest of the crew voted for the firm and definitive beef balls, which I believe contain ground bits of tendon.
We forwent beansprouts and mushrooms to make room for the yau ja kwai (or dau chao quay, Chinese deep fried bread sticks, usually accompanying soups and porridge). Its misleading name in the menu, “Chinese donuts”, gave the impression of sugar glaze, perhaps even rainbow sprinkles and chocolate? Asian cooks are inventive, but we are not that Picassoesque. No, they are just simple crispy oily sticks of dough to jazz up yet another texture in the variety. Their fluffiness soaks up the broth, delivers it to your mouth packaged and speedy. I remember dau chao quay in Saigon are a tad more salty and less flaky than those served here. The owner of this restaurant is Chinese, so perhaps he prefers it the original way.
Address: Hot Pot City
8300 W. Sam Houston Pwy
Sugarland, TX 77478
1 Half-n-Half soup base for 6: 8.95
3 Noodle: 3 x 3.50
+ beef rib eye slice, beef meat ball, fish ball, tiger prawn, napa cabbage, spinach, broccoli, dau chao quay, garlic sesame oil sauce
= total +tax: 57.72
The bill is softer (~$35) if you order the pre-selected combinations and let the kitchen surprise you with what goes into your bowls. Either way, hot pot might just be the easiest solution for a small gathering, as everyone can pick their favorite ingredients, cook and enjoy at the table in their own way without the worries about preparation and post-party cleanup. It can be problematic if a member has some hard feelings against soups or anything cooked in liquids. They would then have to enjoy the posh fractal designs on the walls and Lady Gaga’s rhythmic gnarling in the background, since the menu here offers nothing but hot pot.