Mongolian Hot Pot: Hot or Not?

Wednesday night I had a Girls’ Night with two very good friends (S and H), and I had the privilege of introducing them to the joys of Mongolian Hot Pot.  I had been one time previously and have been dreaming about going back ever since. For those of you who have never had Hot Pot, I will explain the experience to you.  And it is an experience—this is not just dinner, it is a complete food experience for the senses. The smells, the sights, the flavours—everything will tweak your brain’s happiness receptors.  This is not a meal for when you’re on a tight schedule. Plan for at least two hours of leisurely eating, and plan on leaving full.

The location of Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot we visited is in Mississauga’s China Town.  At a strip mall with several different restaurants serving several different Asian cuisines, Little Sheep was the only restaurant with a thriving Wednesday night business.  And maybe it’s cliché, but I find it very encouraging that my Girls and I were the only non-Asians in the place.

Hot Pot Pots

When you walk in you are struck by the savory, spicy aromas of the Hot Pot broth. There are two seating options: individual broth pots or a shared, yin-yang style pot.  If everyone in your party has no particular food issues, restrictions, or intolerances, sharing a pot can be fun and you get to experience both the regular and the spicy broths at once.  Within our little group S and I wanted the spicy broth and H wanted regular since she can’t tolerate really spicy food, so we opted for the individual pots. Having said that, our server offered H a lightly spiced pot, which totally did the trick for her. When the broth comes, it is full of aromatics like garlic, green onions, and cardamom pods, and hot spices like red chilis and peppercorns.  The smell is divine.

The tables have induction burners built right into them so you can cook your food yourself.  The beauty of the induction burner is that it only heats the pot and its contents, not the surrounding area, so while you’re cooking your food, you’re not overheating.

littlesheep-hotpot 2

So Many Choices

Once seated, you get your pot of broth, some complimentary tidbits (ribs, seaweed salad, and a Mongolian Kimchi), and a menu checklist of ingredients. There are protein options (meats, seafood, plant-based), dozens of vegetable options, and starch options (noodles, rice, potatoes).  You go through the checklist and write in the number of portions you want of each ingredient you want to try.  It’s all you can eat, although you are limited to turning in your menu checklist three times. This is not as restrictive as it sounds, because you can order as many items as you want and a portion for each person at your table. We actually ordered A LOT of food our first round and didn’t go for a round two, but nobody went home hungry.

This is a (probably incomplete) list of everything we tried: sliced beef, pork, and lamb; garlic chicken and garlic beef; mussels; fried tofu; watercress; napa cabbage; lettuce; spinach; broccoli; button mushrooms; shitake mushrooms; king oyster mushrooms; corn; potatoes, sweet potatoes; quail eggs; udon noodles; egg noodles; spinach noodles; wontons; dumplings.  You drop them into your broth, a few pieces at a time, cook them or warm them through, and then fish them out with your slotted ladle. The meat only takes a few seconds to cook, the veggies and noodles a few minutes. They don’t bring all your selections out at once; the food comes out in waves, so you’re constantly adding new flavours and textures to the party taking place in your mouth.

There is an equal or higher number of items we didn’t try.  Not everyone ate everything, and there are some choices I can do without having again, but I think that’s normal.  Not everyone likes everything. I am going to say my absolute favourite thing is the Napa cabbage. I know, I know.   Napa cabbage? You bet. Alchemy happens when you put those thick cabbage leaves into that boiling, spicy broth. They become these sweet, spicy, juicy, fresh morsels of heaven on a plate. Next time I go, I’ll be expanding my menu selections.

xan's hot pot

But Wait! There’s More!

After sitting back and taking a digestion break we had a look at the dessert options.  There are three choices on the menu: green tea ice cream, sweet mini bun, and sesame balls. Because this meal was about gastronomic exploration, we ordered everything.  The green tea ice cream, by all accounts, was delicious—lightly sweet, and lightly flavoured. The sweet mini bun, I have to be honest, is the only terrible thing I have eaten there.  It is a tasteless, dry, white roll, covered with your basic icing sugar and water glaze. The glaze was the only thing that had any taste, but even that was just sweet tasting without any real flavour.  I’m a bread lover, and there was nothing about this dough that pushed my buttons. Hard Pass on this one for any future trips. Now, the sesame buns, I have to say, were a real revelation. I’m trying to figure out where these have been my whole life. Who knew a light batter filled with red bean paste and rolled in sesame seeds would be so incredible? They’re barely sweet, but a nice complement to a spicy meal, and if they’re going to be the last thing you eat at the end of the gastronomy of Mongolian Hot Pot, you’ll go home with a very happy mouth.

So…Hot or Not?

Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot has locations across Canada and the U.S., so if there is one near you, and you’re an adventurous eater who enjoys a good food experience, I highly recommend it. It’s not for everyone.  Make sure you go with other foodies who are willing to take their time and enjoy the ride, and not that person who just wants a plate of food they can snarf so they can get home in time for the game.

So to answer the question posed in the headline: Mongolian Hot Pot: Hot or Not? So, so HOT.  I can’t encourage you enough to give it a go.

 

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