Hot pot, steam boat, shabu shabu, sukiyaki, lau – they all describe that communal act of dipping meat and vegetables into a boiling broth. It’s a popular dish in Asia and probably originates from China; the main difference is the broth base, what gets dipped and the dipping sauce.
Most hot pot versions rely on a tasty but relatively mild broth base to cook the ingredients allowing you to taste their flavours. Additional flavours come from various dipping sauces which you control. You don’t get that choice with a Sichuan hot pot; it’s unashamedly about knock-you-out chilli and pepper and they’re already added to the soup.
Tonight Penny has got a group of us food bloggers heading to Spicy Sichuan just off Haymarket to try one of the most popular Sichuan hot pot restaurants in Sydney. We call it our #ringsoffire adventure. Booking is recommended, at 7pm on a blisteringly freezing Friday night, there’s already a long, meandering queue of young Chinese sitting on blue plastic stool around the entrance pasting time on their smart phones. Upstairs is a-la-carte (which noodlies must try soon), while downstairs is devoted to hot pot.
Step inside and it’s quasi feudal China complete with substantial wooden chairs and marble top tables, bamboo garden walls and lots of regal red and gold. At the entrance is a brass-look wishing trough filled with small denominations of Chinese coins and notes.
We order the medium hot pot. The broth comes out in an ornate octagonal brass-look dish custom-made for the gas-fired cooker that’s built into our table. The broth base is a rich crimson colour from the chilli oil, chilli paste, fiery dried whole chillis and Sichuan peppercorns. Check out the noodlies video above to see just how much chilli goes into the broth. The dish’s round centre contains a plainer, milky soup that’s particularly tasty thanks to big chunks of fish simmering at the bottom.
Ordering is simple, there’s a clip board with an extensive choice of raw meats and vegetables to cook in the spicy or mild broth – from thin slices of beef and pork, quail egg, to a bewildering choice of offal, duck gizzards, tofu and vegetables. You can order as you go or go the all-you-can-eat for $25 per head. Our table elects the all-you-can-eat, of course. There’s a generous range of dipping sauces including a deliciously creamy bean curd dip. Unlimited refills of soft drink is an additional $2.50 per head.
We go for pretty much most things on the menu except offal, though I managed to sneak in an order of liver when no one is watching. By the middle of the night, all the ingredients taste very similar, a burning, head rush of chilli and pepper sting, it’s really just the different textures of the ingredients that distinguish them.
Service is fast and efficient for refills of drinks, dipping ingredients and top-ups of broth.
Spicy Sichuan Restaurant
2 Cumberland St, Sydney
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