When it comes to food, there are few things I hold a distaste for and chief among them is hot pot. I never liked the concept of throwing in different food items into a bowl of simmering broth that seemed to swallow and excrete empty husks of whatever the broth digested. There’s no respect for the ingredients that ever goes in and when you’re sharing it with other people, it’s a cesspool of a soup. So, it came as a complete shock that I told my partner: “let’s have hot pot!”
Traditionally, hotpot consists of a large pot suitable for at least 2 people whereby it’s heated by usually be an open-flamed stove. CQL Mini Pot bucks this trend by giving you a variety of broths for you to individually eat from. This place also harbors something I have a distaste for: all-you-can-eat buffets (but that’s another essay altogether). I begrudgingly picked the all-you-can-eat option since it just seemed more sensible (and cost-effective) at the time, and you know what? I never regretted that choice.
I chose the Spicy Beef Broth and my partner the Chicken Broth with Ham from the touchscreen the waitress whips out. When our broths arrived, we raced to the stalls to meet our potential victims: sauces, meats, vegetables and sides. My goodness was there a dizzying array of sauces ranging from Seafood sauce (essentially hoisin sauce), spicy chilli oil flakes, peanut butter, to the misleadingly simple BBQ sauce that tasted like fermented bean and beef paste. Astonishing!
Meat is frozen and you’re offered a choice between thinly sliced beef, lamb, chunks of faux crab and a myriad of frozen fishballs and meatballs When you’re probably going to be overcooking in the broth, whether it’s fresh or not is a moot point. Like the meat, the seafood offerings were mostly defrosted fish, prawns, thawing mussels and the occasional minced prawn and fish cocktail plates.
Next to the seafood are the side-dishes of spicy chicken, kelp salad, Chinese fermented cabbage (kimchi) and others. Look a little beyond and there’s an insane selection of mushrooms, Chinese vegetables, handmade noodles, three different varieties of tofu, kelp and a lot more. My heart flutters with joy!
Heading back toward my broth with my bounty, I am actually smiling as I cook in my own pot of broth. I feel like I’m painting on a soupy canvas with plant and meat brushes and sauces as paints. My diminutive broth sits there simmering away as it cooks the ingredients one by one and I can gleefully pick them out with ease. In my overwhelmed state, I made an abomination of a sauce consisting of four different sauces tasting like bland oil only to be rescued by the hoisin sauce, I call it: the bastard sauce. Dipping meat, vegetables and dish into my very own sauce has never been more satisfying.
I look around and notice that the patrons are all of mainland China, surely a good sign. And as I sit there basking in the ambience, the songs of Faye Wong, the Mandarin chatter, broken only by the occasional attentive waitress checking whether I have enough broth or not. I love the service here, it’s cheerful and they do their best to satisfy you like they were still in China catering to tourists. By the end of our two-hour marathon, my partner and I sampled each other’s pot, commenting each other’s broth like we were budding artists critiquing each other’s work. If it’s still winter by the time you read this, do yourself a favour and go create your own masterpiece.
~ Jambon Cochon
P.S. And if you need to visually represent your taste in food, check out McCormick’s FlavorPrint.