Recently, Hot Pot has become a popular trend in the Bay Area so I said to myself, why not hop on the hype train. Entering Hai Di Lao is an experience in itself. The fresh fruits and quick bites outside, the delicious, rich and creamy soft serve and the vibrant lights and red sheets and posters surrounding you. All of this is even before you enter the restaurant. Once you enter, it just gets better. There is even more red and beautiful costumes and dances and vivid colors that lead you to your seat. As you sit, you are given an iPad with various choices of meat and vegetables ranging from beef shoulder to pork brains and congealed pork blood. They also have seafood and vegetables medleys with a delicious assortment of noodles. Finally, you chose your broth, which could be range from spicy pork to bone broth to a hearty mushroom broth.
Broth: When we go to Hai Di Lao, our standard broth order is the spicy pork broth. Although it doesn’t have the deep and rich flavors of a tonkotsu like bone broth, it gives an instant kick. It has always reminded me of a Soon Dubu (Korean soup) with its cabbage, spice and thinner consistency.
Meat: One of my favorites cuts of meat is pork tenderloin, which is why that was the meat the caught my eye. Tenderloin is long thin cut of meat from near the spine and as the name suggests, is a very lean tender cut of meat with mild flavors that act as a supporting cast for the more intense flavors of the broth. The meat in hot pot is served raw and for such a thin slice of meat, the cooking time in the broth is no more than 15-20 seconds. Once it boils, the fat content stays relatively low and doesn’t overpower the flavor of pork. The tenderloin also absorbs all the spice from the broth and the whole experience culminates in one delicous bite.
Sauce: At most hot pot places, what tops of the meal is the sauce bar. The last time I went, this sauces I mixed together were the following: raw garlic, a tiny bit of thai chilies, a lot of sesame sauce/paste, green onions, chili oil, mushroom sauce, some soy sauce and finally some coriander. The chili oil, garlic and thai chilies contribute to the spice level while the sesame paste/sauce balances out the meal with it’s mildly sweet notes.
Vegetables: Because my mom is a vegetarian, their vegetable medley which consists of bok choy, various mushrooms, broccoli, carrots and cabbage is a solid option. The hidden gem is in fact not that dish, but their frozen tofu. When tofu is frozen, it retains its moisture and contains it within itself. When it is boiled, all that moisturizes stats their while the broth is also absorbed. The texture also becomes chewy and when you bite into it, the tofu perfectly embodies the flavor of the broth and with the chewy texture, it is out of this world. Also a fun tip is to dip it in your sauce which takes the tofu to another level with the combination of sweet, spicy, salty, creamy and chewy.