With a charming use of spice and unconventional ingredients, the hot and fiery — but also soothing and aromatic — Chinese cuisine can conquer even the coldest heart. For all the curious people out there who aren't sure about what to expect, you're about to join me on my journey of my first hot pot experience.

This is the first article of a series about my personal journey and discovery of Chinese cuisine. Starting with hot pot, I will narrate my experience with ox tripe, chicken feet and other traditional delicacies my guide — aka the boyfriend — encouraged me to try.

Convinced by Simeng's love for hot pot, a friend and I decided to go all together and try this Mongolian delicacy, which is very common in the Chinese culture. Spoiler alert: we fell in love with it as well!

Dish of the month: Hot Pot

soup, vegetable, meat
Michela Quecchia

Hot pot (also known as da bin lo) is a traditional Mongolian dish that became very popular in China with the Song dynasty — variations of it are present in the Japanese cuisine as well. 

A simmering pot of broth is brought to the table, where you can cook the raw ingredients you order. One of the things I love about hot pot is that you have the possibility to order two or more broths in the same pot — the options depend on the restaurant. 

pasta, noodle, rice
Michela Quecchia

You will be given a choice of raw meats, seafood and vegetables. The latter are very important in Chinese cuisine. You will find common choices like bok choy and bean sprouts. For the more adventurous among you, I recommend trying more unusual greens like the morning glory — their full but light flavour will surprise you.

Last but not least, the sauce (this is prepared by the clients, according to their own personal taste). You'll find a range of basic sauces like black bean sauce, soy sauce (even its gluten-free version!), and other ingredients to complete it — sesame oil, chillies, garlic etc..

The place: Hot Pot Restaurant

platter, fondue, feast, vegetable, salad
Michela Quecchia

Situated right next to Chinatown main entrance, this lovely Hot Pot Restaurant — whose blue hue cannot go unnoticed — offers a hot pot set menu for the afternoon and à la carte hot pot in the evening, with a student discount available.

To start, I feel the need to praise the menu: for every ingredient — broth included — there is a list of the allergens they contain. The notation is very clear: on the left of every ingredient there is a point whose colour depends on the nature of the allergen it stands for. Intolerants are living the dream!

coffee, tea
Michela Quecchia

We tried the Mala Sichuan — a fiery broth of fermented beans, Sichuan peppercorns, dried chillies and other herbs — and the Chicken soup, a light broth with chicken, ginseng, goji berries and Chinese rice wine. The chicken soup was an aromatic and welcome relief from the spiciness of the mala sichuan.

Our meat choice was sliced lamb and marinated beef, chinese cabbage and morning glory for vegetables, and glass vermicelli noodles to get the most out of the broth and to fill our tummies. After having cooked meat and veggies it is recommended to add some noodles to the broth to get a nice, aromatic soup.

Final thoughts

wine, tea
Michela Quecchia

I appreciated these the most: the allergen menu, the gluten-free options and the possibility to make your own sauce surely help this restaurant — and hot pot in general — get a really high score.

However, there is a problem I cannot omit: hot pot is expensive. The meat portions are very small, so you will probably need to order a second time, raising the bill to about £40 each. However, they do offer a student discount, which is always welcome!

All things considered, I'm leaving Hot Pot with a solid 7/10. It earned a high score because of the amazing flavours and fun experience it offers; however, I couldn't ignore the price and the small portions. 

For sure, hot pot is going to charm your taste buds!