Last night I just really didn’t want to go home. I have finished my the Games of Thrones Marathon and I did not find a replacement yet. After a day at work, yoga class and 4,5 km walk I got hungry. And as it is quite difficult to find dining after 10 pm in Beijing, but we all know Hai Di Lao is always there for late night diners.
The only thing served there is Hot Pot. It is a very traditional family style dining. In Chinese it is called Huoguo, and Hot Samovar in Russian, and it literally means a hot pot. So what hot pot actually is? It is a huge pot with a boiling soup, which is right in front of you and on the side you can order anything else. Previously, there were only two options for hot pot base – spicy and not spicy. Now with the Western influence, you get more options: my personal fave is mushroom soup base.
Hot pot sauces
Firstly, a staff member brings a huge bowl of soup and fires up a warmer and you have to wait for some time. During that time, you can choose an apron and also make you own sauce at the sauce bar, which is quite big in Hai Di Lao, which offers a selection of around 20 sauces and condiments like sesame paste, soya sauce, XO, a few chili options, seafood etc, so you can make it just up to your taste. I almost always mix the same: sesame paste, sesame seeds, soya sauce, vinegar, garlic and some greens.
Hot pot mains
As for the side dishes (which in fact are main) you can choose from a variety of sliced meats, freshly cut fish, vegetables, mushrooms and noodles. There are also things like brains, chicken hearts, chicken feet for the ones who want to go more local.
Normally, the order goes by full portion or half portion. For two people it is more than enough to order 7-8 half dishes. My fave are crab stick, sliced beef (which you eat close to raw just like with pho), needle mushrooms and noodles. If you need to add some healthy touch there is a salad bar with leaves selection as well as cucumbers and cherry tomato.
Hot pot traditions
Firstly, I used to put everything in the bowl and wait until it boils. However, later on I was explained that there is a certain order you should eat hot pot. First you start with vegetables and meats. Remember a very important rule: You can’t order spinach and tofu for the same meal, as per Chinese people, it can poison your soup and damage your health.
After you are done with that you normally should take a break. Men usually go for a cigarettes, and women just relax. After that you go for the second part, which would be the rest of order.
Noodles for Hot Pot
The final part of eating hot pot is noodles. In Hai Di Lao you dont get just a plate of noodles, but a noodle show. It is a process of making noodle from a piece of dough in less than a minute. The Noodle Master twists it, dances with it and then splits and you get hand-pulled noodles.
You usually get quite heavy after hot pot, but this is an experience that you must go through when you are in Beijing. Hai Di Lao is by all means the best place to go as it is open 24/7, has plenty of locations and in general provides high quality food.