1/2 I’d never partaken in steamboat, shabu shabu, hot pot, Chinese fondue, whatever you want to call it, until recently (though I’ve broth-swirled a little Canadian horsemeat). Flushing’s Happy Family a.k.a. Little Lamb (a cartoon sheep with a shirt collar appears on various signage) proved to be a great jumping off point. Actually, it’s a little more advanced than amateur; we had some procedural ordering confusion.
In my day, Mongolian was simply suburban code for a pile of stuff cooked before your eyes. Here it’s all d.i.y. You pick your broth from red, white or green. The latter is herbal and I wasn’t feeling the urge. But you can also go yin-yang and choose two broths kept separate in a huge metal pot inset in your table. White=creamy soymilk. Red=hot as hell. There are all sorts of oddities floating in the liquids like a whole nutmeg kernel, jujubes (Asian dates) and a metal tea bobber filled with mystery herbs and chiles (opening it would’ve solved the mystery but I didn’t want to unleash any unnecessary fury).
The tricky part was how to acquire dipping material because you pick the hot pot by meat i.e. lamb hot pot or fish head hot pot, but there are also pages and pages of a la carte items like chicken, taro, and innards. We picked beef hot pot because it seemed neutral and it came with a plate of bean curd, greens, rice vermicelli, dried mushrooms, hard-boiled egg, bean sprouts and lots of other crunchy things. We eventually got our waiter to bring shrimp and pork-stuffed fish balls to supplement our thinly sliced beef. Practically anything could be improved by the hot pot treatment, but whatever you do abide the menu’s plea “please don’t bring other products into the store to cook (including beverages and liquors).”
Because we’re gluttons, we also got grilled lamb skewers to start. Cumin was definitely present but I was surprised at the chile level of the spice rub. This was my kind of food. I have a high tolerance for heat (though I’m not sure when I acquired this. I’ve always liked spicy food but I was just thinking about a birthday dinner in my early twenties where my mom took me out to Bangkok Kitchen in Portland and the tom kha gai was so punishingly hot that we couldn’t slog through it. Now, wiser and older, Portland Thai food seems pretty tame though I’ve never returned to Bangkok Kitchen for comparison. Were we NW wusses and I’ve toughened up or have my taste buds dulled from years of smoking? I only sparingly indulge anymore, f.y.i.) and even so there was a tongue-burning that persisted throughout the meal. Combined with the heat and steam emanating from the hot pot itself (and a few drinks—though no soju for me), sweating was nearly unavoidable. And as you might imagine, as the broth bubbles and cooks down the resulting concentrated soup is intense. It was nice to be able to alternate between the fiery and sweet chambers of stock.
Even though the hot-potted treats don’t really require them, there is an eighteen-slot condiment bar in the back of the long room that’s just kind of fun to poke around. Black beans, chopped garlic, sugar and soy sauce all kind of make sense, but if you’re feeling wild you can also take a scoop of pure MSG. Ah…sweet, sweet glutimates.
Almost completely irrelevant asides (you have been warned):
Hot-potting has become a euphemism in my household for what gastro-intestinal unpleasantness occurs about twelve hours later. There was a lot of hot-potting going on last week in Mexico City that has yet to cease. But I never realized how funny hot-potting was until I heard it referred to by someone who had no idea what hot pot was.
I met up with a former coworker a few weeks ago to get the dirt on who’d been fired, humiliated and so on. But I became intrigued when she started describing my replacement, a young Chinese-born go-getter with an apparent penchant for hot-potting. It seems that the girl whoops it up all over Flushing, indulging in hot pot with wild abandon, comes into work late, and then complains, “I have terrible cramp…very strong period” as an excuse. No one seems to think that these cramps are liquor induced except for my friend who now refers to binge drinking as hot-potting. But she’s suspicious, mean-spirited and astute like me so I’m inclined to believe the hangover theory.
Once the former coworker walked into the women’s bathroom to find the new me laying on the ratty entryway couch moaning in pain with her boyfriend at her side rubbing her head. Frightening (though not so much as the pair of abandoned shit and blood stained panties once left in front of a sink on the floor by god only knows. P.R. is a classy profession).
Hot-potting has become a great catch all phrase for everything unseemly. This former coworker (and no-nonsense dyke) also shared my love of the word hot pad, the self-given nickname of my butch Girl Scout camp counselor who resembled an obese John Denver. I don’t even want to imagine what hot-padding is.
Happy Family * 36-35 Main St., Flushing, NY