I guess the doldrums of winter have gotten to me lately, because I haven’t been motivated to do much of anything at all, much less use my brain after work hours and write. I mainly just want to curl up under the covers and hibernate until at least March. I realize these are all distinguishing characteristics of a clinically depressed individuals — or perhaps an average teenager — but they are also typical of persons experiencing their first true Northeastern winter. The high for today was 20 degrees, feels like “10 degrees.” The high.
A few months ago, Sean and I went with a group to try out Korean barbecue in Flushing, Queens. This past Saturday we returned to that Asia of America for another foray into authentic, DIY ethnic cuisine: hot pot.
It all started in December, when I read this New York magazine article raving about Little Pepper Hot Pot. What is “hot pot,” for those of you, who like me, feel like most of your encounters with “Chinese” cuisine comes from the likes of Panda Express? It’s more or less the Chinese version of fondue.
A boiling hot cauldron of seasoned broth is served on a tabletop hot pad, in which the diners place a variety of sliced meat and veggies and then fish them out with little wire nets for consumption. We got the “normal” broth/spicy broth combo hot pot that comes with sliced fatty beef (haha, “fatty beef”…mmm) and a HUGE platter of vegetables: cabbage, bean sprouts, watercress, unidentifiable Asian mushroom/fungus, and corn on the cob — my favorite. We also ordered an additional plate of fatty lamb, and were served complimentary bowls of this amazing tangy/sweet sauce (pictured above, topped with sliced chives).
This was the perfect dinner to warm our bellies for the chilly winter. Everything was so tasty. The broth really did a lot for even the more bland ingredients like the cabbage. The spicy broth was truly, truly spicy, filled with dried chiles and Szechuan peppercorns. The peppercorns were really interesting, because they release a lot of capsicum, which creates a numbing effect on the tongue, which some believe makes the burning sensation of the chiles less, well, painful — allowing one to fully appreciate the flavors of the food.
My favorite were the bits of corn on the cob that we let cook for a while in the normal broth. I already love corn, but the broth made it extra-flavorful. Side note: I have mastered the art of picking up corn on the cob with chopsticks. Gotta put that skill on my resume.
We both left feeling stuffed, and we only ordered one additional side dish. There were two other couples there enjoying a large afternoon meal, and they each ordered whole tables of meats and vegetables to boil up in the broth. I couldn’t believe it. I swear Chinese people have hollow legs. (Please, no one take that offensively. I mean that with the utmost respect and admiration.)
I also loved that they played Korean soap operas on TV (with Chinese subtitles, of course) the entire time we were there. So mesmerizing. I loved that the whole family that ran the restaurant took advantage of the afternoon slump to enjoy a quick meal — what appeared to be a giant soup pot of random leftovers — together. And I also really liked this distinguishing sign for those of us who can’t read Mandarin:
After our feast, we (somehow) found room in our stomachs for a Thai peach bubble tea from one of the many cheap bubble tea places along Flushing’s Main Street. Bubble tea is to Flushing as Starbucks is to Midtown, basically. Then we meandered into the mysterious New World Mall. The only thing it had in common with other malls I’ve been to is a Macy’s. There was a store called J-Pop that only sold Hello Kitty merchandise and posters of Japanese pop stars. There was a grocery called J-Mart that smelled overwhelmingly of fish, and had aisle after aisle of my favorite Japanese childhood snacks, like Pocky sticks and Hello Panda cookies. There was also a place called, quite plainly, “New Bra,” which made me laugh more than it should have.
And then there was the food court. Here is a photo I found online:
Aside from one juice stand, everything was so Asian. There were at least two places where you could get the fast-food version of hot pot (everything already dumped into a giant bowl of boiling hot broth), a place where we witnessed a guy make string-thin noodles with his bare hands, places with menus of plastic food, and a place where you could get a whole lobster on top of some noodles for $10. And more bubble tea places, you guys.
We did eye a place that served ice cream crepes, as in sugary pancakes wrapped up cone-style around generous scoops of unusual flavors of ice cream. It was so un-Asian and so very Asian at the same time. Then I observed two teenage Asian girls spontaneously burst out into the “Gangham Style” dance — no joke — and I was fully content with our little venture to the end of the 7 line.
Until next time, Flushing.