Sunday, November 11, 2007

Hotpots in Taiwan, 麻辣锅

Taiwan is touted as the Capital of Beef Noodle Soup. I need to verify that. I am still looking for my beef noodle soup with a clear stewed soup broth/base(清炖牛肉面) . Maybe I need to visit Taipei some day to testify this.

While in Taichung (central Taiwan), Taiwan at this moment, I rather call Taiwan the "Capital" of hotpots. They are so many eateries offering spicy hotpot. It must have got to do with the neighbouring influence from Sichuan, China. Like in the US, it is officially the Fall season in Taiwan. However, what a mild Fall it is over here - almost like Summer/Spring in California PLUS the higher humidity. I reckon eating hotpots is the IN thing to do during Fall/Winter season here. It keeps people warm.

We have already tried two places offering 麻辣 (literally meaning, "numbing and spicy"; pronounced ma la) hotpots. Typically in these two places, there is an option of the spicy soup base and/or the clear/white non-spicy soup base. If you want to have a combination of two soup bases in one hotpot, order the combination hotpot or what they call 鸳鸯 (pronounced yuan yang, meaning "in pairs").

What is similar in these two eateries - the "dark tofu" and braised tofu in the spicy soup base is FREE FLOW!

"Dark tofu" also known as congealed blood cubes, blood jellies or blood puddings

"Dark tofu" is just a better, less digusting name for duck blood cubes. You have not heard me wrongly. Congealed duck blood that has turned into blood cubes or blood jellies. There is just a bottomless source of this, I suspect. Makes me wonder if eating hotpots is an unhealthy business. Well, the "soup-everything" seems to sound healthy but the "blood"...errr....

By the way, eating blood cubes like these should be giving you excellent source of "natural" iron but how much cholesterol...I don't know. Maybe you can tell me. We have eaten too much of these dark cubes that I know that the next time I go for the spicy hotpot, I am going to request them without "dark tofu" but just the usual braised (卤, pronounced lu) tofu.

Combination soup hotpot of spicy base(red) and pickled cabbage and pork non-spicy soup base (clear or white) - at Tripod King

What I like about these hotpots so far is that you can find some of the freshest handmade fish, cuttlefish or prawn pastes which you can add them to the boiling, simmering soups to get fish balls. These pastes sometimes come in a slender bamboo case and you can scoop them into the simmering soups.

Herbal soup base with wolfberries and other herbs - at Old Sichuan

老四川, Old Sichuan
台中市公益路343號, Taichung City GongYi Road, #343
(Other locations available including Kaoshiong and Taipei)
This restaurant's main branch is in Harbin, China, with over 30 branches spread across northeastern China. The minimum charge per table here is NT$650(~USD21). Personally, I prefer this place to the one below. The white soup base is herbal and of better quality than Tripod King's non-spicy soup base of thin pork strips and pickled cabbage.

鼎王麻辣锅, Tripod King
台中精诚店, Taichung City JingCheng Branch
(Other locations available including Kaoshiong and Taipei)
The signature service you get from this chain of eateries is that the servers will bow 90 degrees to customers especially after presenting your dishes on the dining table - maybe it's to represent high service quality standards but this acutally made us feel so uneasy. The spicy soup base was spicy but not numbing. This is another difference from Old Sichuan.

Prices are almost similar. As a personal recommendation, I would suggest Old Sichuan. However, if you are not so keen on getting your lips numbed, try Tripod King.

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