L loves to introduce his friends to hotpot at the Cultural Centre restaurant. This poses work for me, as I am left to deal with their bewilderment at the ensuing chaos. As the Cultural Centre doesn’t post instructions for hotpot, the questions and concerns roll towards the only Asian at the table.
Some friends become unhinged when they find out that they have to share a communal pot. Geez guys, it’s not like we’re all strangers here. Then there are those who inquire how we are to know whose food is whose in the pot? For god’s sake, it’s an all you can eat buffet. Does it matter if someone ate your oyster? Just go up and grab more food. I also have to deal with those who freak out about how long to cook an item. Suddenly, no one can figure out how to boil food and I become a food authority, fielding questions about how long instant noodles should simmer in the broth. Come on people – use your common sense! It’s not rocket science. As for the cross contamination question my vegetarian friends pose, it’s a good thing there are two separate broths. You stick to your side, I’ll stick to mine, and we’ll both be just fine.
So, rather than vent at my friends, I thought I’d break it down for readers who haven’t ventured into the Cultural Centre for hotpot. Let me soothe your worries as I explain what happens at this exotic land of hotpot. First, a server seats you at a table and asks if you want a la carte or the hot pot menu. Once you tell the server you came for hotpot, pick any two broths listed on the menu. A burner is brought to the table along with a pot divided into two sections, filled with two different broths. As you wait for the broth to boil, walk up to the buffet and help yourself to all the raw meats, seafood, vegetables, noodles and greens you desire. Drop by the sauce bar to make your own dipping sauce. The dipping sauce is used to dip your cooked food. Once the broth begins to boil, drop your food into the pot. Designate chopsticks for the specific use of handling raw meats and seafood.
Generally, the thin beef slices barely need any time in the broth to cook. Just watch for the pink meat to turn brown. Dumplings should boil for at least five minutes or until they float up to the surface. Leafy green vegetables take the least amount of time while taro root needs at least 10 minutes to soften. The fish balls are really hot when they come out of the boiler, so let them cool down before consuming. Generally, you should just cook the food to your preference.
The selection of food in the buffet changes from one night to the next. Including dessert, there are at least 50 different items from which to choose. Dessert and pop are included in the cost of the meal. The last time we visited, a server told us about their beer special – 3 bottles for $10, and a choice between Heineken or Sing Tao. Twelve beers later, we cleaned the restaurant’s supply. Chinese restaurants aren’t known for their booze selection, and I guess in this case, their supply as well.