3.358 Crystal Hot Pot

-Cycle 3, Item 358-
28 (Fri) December 2012

Crystal Hot Pot


at Crystal Jade Hot Pot Restaurant

-Sogong, Seoul-

with Wife, Dominic, the In-Laws

Huo guo is the Chinese version of the so-called "hot pot" method found in many cultures throughout Asia (see generally Wikipedia on hot pot).  The Chinese term means "fire (huo) pot (guo)," possible the etymological origin of the English term.  Unlike shabu shabu (see generally 1.008 Beef Shabuki) or sukiyaki (see most recently 3.006 Beef Sukiyaki), the more internationally famous Japanese counterparts, which can be simple and formulaic in composition, huo guo varies widely from region to region, table to table, in every aspect.  Famously, the Sichuan style features a spicy broth flavored with Sichuan peppercorns that produce a menthol-anesthetic sensation in the mouth.  The pot is sometimes split in half to accommodate two different kinds of broth, spicy on one side and mild on the other.  While beef is the most common meat all around, lamb tends to be more popular farther north and seafood farther south, with pork and chicken and goat and even dog appearing here and there.  Vegetables typically start with a mix of cabbages, greens, and mushrooms, but can include anything available.  Noodles and tofu are often added.  Dipping sauces range from simple soy and/or chili sauces to more complex mixtures comprising sesame and/or peanuts.  Anything goes.

The latest addition to the Crystal Jade family--a chain of restaurants, each distinct with a different subtitle and regional specialty unavailable at the other locations (see most recently 3.278 La Mian in Scallion Oil)--is Crystal Jade Hot Pot Restaurant.  As far as I'm aware, it's the first upscale establishment in the country to offer huo guo, which is otherwise limited at present to a few back-alley joints clustered in the Dongdaemun area (see for example 1.037 Yangjangpi) (of course, hot pot in general is ubiquitous at both high and low levels, but it's generally regarded as Japanese in origin).    

The menu also offered a few dishes a la carte, as well as some dim sum (which were actually quite good), but the hot pot was clearly the restaurant's raison d'etre.

We went there this evening for my birthday.  The original plan had been to go to Crystal Jade Palace, the luxurious Cantonese-themed flagship restaurant located in the Intercontinental Hotel--so extravagantly expensive, I'd been holding back for a special occasion, and the big four-oh seemed appropriate--but we discovered upon trying to make a reservation that it's been closed since June, supposedly with plans to relocate elsewhere at some future date.  So, we opted for the new hot pot place as the closest alternative.

Tabletop induction burner.

The meal was excellent overall.  Granted, I have no point of comparison, as this was my first huo guo experience.  We ordered the Crystal Hot Pot, a set consisting of beef and lamb, plus all the fixings.  The beef paired well with the mild white broth, both being pleasantly if innocuously plain, whereas the lamb was better in the spicy red broth, especially with the bitter greens, the strong flavors all complementing one another.  Incidentally, the spicy red broth didn't quite have the zing from the peppercorns that I'd heard so much about.  On the other hand, the selection of dipping sauces--8!--ensured that every bite was never boring--the server even suggested mixing them all together.  The tofu skins and rice noodles were good.  The egg noodles, which we had to order separately, were the best part of the meal, cooked in the very last of the two broths combined, resulting in an intensely rich/thick/pungent noodle soup layered with traces of the meat and veggies and spices--if I could somehow skip everything and go directly to those noodles in that broth, I'd be a daily customer.  From start to finish, an amazing variety of contrasting yet complementing tastes and textures.  23,000 won for the set (130 grams of meat), 3,000 won for the egg noodles, plus 10% VAT.  

At the outset...

2 portions of meat (260 grams).

2 portions of vegetables and fish balls.


Dipping sauces.

2 portions of dumplings, tofu, rice noodles, lotus root, and tofu skins.

...the very end.

1 portion of egg noodles.

Intensely rich/thick/pungent.

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