For me, cold and windy weather means only one thing: It’s time for some hot pot! If you don’t know what a hot pot is the idea is very simple. Much like the Shabu-Shabu in Japan and fondue in Western cooking, Chinese hot pot where everyone at the table cooks their own food in a communal pot of simmering broth.
It is a social and communal dining experience where everyone (friends and/or family) gather around the table with a pot of boiling broth over a stove set in the middle of the table. You poach your raw ingredients in the boiling broth and at the same time engage in a conversation with your friends and/or family. Eating hot pot can be pretty full on, as it is a slow and interactive meal.
As fun as this sounds for me, hot pot might not be the perfect dining experience for everyone. If you don’t like the idea of sharing a pot with other people, or cooking your own food in restaurants, perhaps hot pot isn’t really for you.
If you are into the communal dinning experience, I’d like to introduce you to my favorite hot pot restaurant here in Taipei, Taiwan. Like Lotus Hot Pot 若荷蔬食火鍋 is an all you can eat vegetarian hot pot located 10 mins from Zhongxiao Fuxing Station.
Like Lotus’ interior design has a simple zen tea house set up. The restaurant is accented with dark wood, tea pots on shelves and simple calligraphy paintings on the wall. The dining area is spacious and a sections of the restaurant are divided off into smaller areas with wooden shutters to provide a more intimate dinning experience. At the end of the restaurant is where all the fresh ingredients are laid out.
Their menu offers six different types of soup bases, and you can choose at least two from the six depending on number of people you are dining with. If you are here with a party of three and more, you get to choose three soup bases, and if you are here with a party of just two you get to choose two bases. Choosing the right base that suits your palate is essential to the enjoyment of your hotpot experience. The broth is the key to a tasty and savory meal. If you are not sure what to choose, it is a good idea to keep one mild and the other spicy, it keeps things interesting.
I often come here and I would order the Chinese Herb and Schezwan Spice. These two are my favourite mild and spicy combinations. The Schezwan soup base is oil-stock mixture loaded with tongue-numbing Szechuan peppercorns, chilis, ginger, scallions, cinnamon, anise and fennel. It is earthy, hot and full of spices and aromatics. If you can handle heat, go for this soup.
If you are looking for something that has a strong flavour but not spicy, I’d recommend the Chinese herbal soup. Its on the mild side but not too bland. Aside from these two soups, they also have tomato, seaweed, thai lemongrass and pumpkin. These bases are a bit too boring for my palate.
After choosing the base, you get to select the raw ingredients you want to cook in the pot. Like Lotus has a wide selection of fresh vegetables, mushrooms, tofu alternatives, mock meat and tofu. The options they have on this shelf are mostly vegan with only one ingredient marked as vegetarian.
Cooking and eating the hot pot is easy. You simply dump the ingredients in the pot and enjoy the food with or without a dipping sauce. Tofu, mushrooms and noodles are great at picking up the flavours from the soup. The broth gets rich and condenses as it boils away. I usually drop noodles near the end of the meal when the soup is at its most flavourful peak.
A word of caution, since the food is cooked in the boiling broth, you should never ever eat the cooked ingredient right out of the pot. To avoid mouth burn or worse esophagus damage (trust me it really hurts), you should always let the food sit in your bowl until the temperature is lowered. In the mean time you can keep yourself busy by chatting to your friends.
Prepared hot and cold foods are also offered in the same section. After grabbing and dumping my ingredients in the pot, I usually go back to the buffet section and grab the cooked food so I can eat while I wait for my food to be cooked.
In the same section you can also find the condiment bar where you can build your own dipping sauce. The condiments bar is a mini-buffet on its own. Each person mixes his or her own dipping sauce from the array of sauces, herbs and aromatics that’s offered. This sauce, in addition to the broths, is what flavours the veggies and noodles. I’d don’t usually use condiments especially when my broth is already very strong. But when I do, I usually mix soy sauce, vinegar, garlic and coriander together.
The dessert section includes fresh seasonal fruit, as well as little pots of Fen Gui which is a jelly made from sweet potato start soaked in sugar water. They are chewy and a refreshing way to end the meal. Ice creams are also offered on the side, but unfortunately these are not vegan.
It costs $495 NT per person after the service charge to eat at Like Lotus. The value for money is pretty good since you are getting unlimited hot pot ingredients, a hot and cold salad bar, rice, beverages, fresh fruit, and dessert for one flat rate.
Overall, hotpot is a fantastic meal to have with friends and family. Doing the cooking all together and eating out of the same pot feels both primitive and connecting. Having a long, leisurely meal filled with chatter and conversation is one of the best ways I can think of to spend a cold evening.
HOW TO GET THERE?
ADDRESS: No. 58, Lane 160, Section 1, Dunhua S Rd, Da’an District, Taipei City, Taiwan 台北市大安區敦化南路一段160巷58號
TELEPHONE: 02 2752 0838
OPENING HOURS: Monday to Friday 11:00am – 2:30pm ; 5:00pm – 10:00pm ; Saturday to Sunday 11:00am – 10:00pm