There’s something about cooking your own food at the table that makes it even more fun than cooking food yourself in the kitchen. Szechuan hot pot is a great example of this. Servers bring burners to your table and place pots of spicy peppercorn-infused, boiling broth atop them. Then come the trays of vegetables, noodles, meat and seafood, all to be dunked into the liquid with wire scoops. You can pull them out minutes later with the wire basket or your chopsticks.
There’s no use stoking the flames for just a few pieces of meat; Szechuan hot pot requires large groups of eaters. And ever since my friend Vladimir Pudding told me about the delicacy, I have been looking for a chance to get a group of people together to go out to one of the hot pot restaurants in Flushing, Queens. Nine of us, including EB, VP, Auntie Pasti, Cousin Ketchup, my cousin Bagel with Lox and three of their friends, took the 7 train to the end.
Flushing is New York’s real Chinatown where a large portion of that community’s citizens now live. Vladimir Pudding spent a year living in China and speaks Mandarin well. This is a big help at many of the restaurants in the neighborhood. We walked down one of the side streets to Shanghai Tide, a restaurant VP had tried before. They had space for the nine of us, and we sat down. VP quickly took charge of the ordering. It’s pretty straightforward. Everyone pays $24 for as much food and beer (Budweiser in a can) as you can drink. There was shrimp, a strange spongy tofu, three kinds of noodles, mushrooms big and small, thinly sliced beef and lamb, bok choy and watercress. There were also fantastic soup dumplings and some doughier steamed ones. A nearby sauce bar had a vast array of options, ranging from peanut sauce to a green leek sauce.
Our hot pots were divided in the center between mild and hot, but the hot was the only one with any flavor. It also wasn’t as hot as I was expecting it to be. I was hoping for some real sinus-clearing action that I didn’t really get. But the mildness meant we could eat as much as we could fit into our stomachs without concern for taste bud destruction. And eat we did, consuming nearly all of the large platters of food. VP and EB ordered some pig’s blood to add to the mix near the end, but even EB didn’t care much for the flavor. By the end of our meal, one of the pots had seen so much action that we couldn’t tell the mild from the hot.
Szechuan hot pot is a meal to mark occasions. Fittingly, it was Bagel WL’s birthday. I plan to come back for more the next time I have something to celebrate.
13520 40th Rd.
Flushing, NY 11354