Our daughter was enjoying dinner at a friend’s, so I suggested to my husband and son (a very adventurous eater) that we head to South Park Street, aka Little Melting Pot of Madison.
I had been hearing a lot of buzz about Mini Hot Pot, and after reading the reviews (all stellar) we decided to give it a try.
I scrolled through their Facebook page and read the instructions in preparation for our meal. Instructions? I have traveled, and know how to eat food, so how does this need explaining? Pick a meat, pick a broth, pick your vegetables, and put it all together and eat. I got this. I mean a lot of people have eaten hot pot, so it’s not really like there’s anything that needs explaining, right?
We enter the packed restaurant and are seated. We are given menus and pens by the friendly, if busy waiter. I look around. Small pots of broth, large platters of meats and vegetables, small dishes of sauces abound. On my right an Asian family is busily scooping stuff in and out of dishes and bowls and the pots of broth. On my left, a young mother with orange hair is trying to convince her infant that she needs to eat, so please stop fussing. My son looks at me. “How do I do this?” He meant fill out the menu card. At the suggestion of and Elite Yelp reviewer, I tell him that maybe he’s like the spicy pork hot pot. He’s fairly adventurous. My husband says he’ll have the same. So they check off the Pork Combo, and Szechuan broth boxes. I decide to go rogue, and order kimchi broth with lamb, baby bok choy and black mushrooms.
Within minutes the broth comes out in personal stock pots. We place them on the electric burner that is built into the table. How cool is that? You push the on button, then turn up the broth to desired heat to cook the vegetables. (My husband is cooking dinner!) It heats fast! Soon our broth is at a rolling boil, so we turn them burners down. Meanwhile the friendly server brings out rolled, thinly sliced meat, as well as other plates heaped with other things – round white things, small hot dogs, tofu in various forms, mushrooms, cabbage, something that looks like Spam and mussels. Oh! The meat is raw. Drop it in the broth and within a minute, cooked to perfection. Vegetables that take longer to cook go in first. Or not. It became like that memory game- what did I put in my stock pot? Whoops, that mussel has been in there for 20 minutes. I think it’s done.
Oh but there’s one more step. Along the back wall is a buffet of condiments, as well as cold par-cooked noodles, eggs, sweet potatoes and potato slices.
Before eating, you head to the back wall and make a dipping sauce. Luckily I headed back just after a confident customer made his sauce. A bit of sesame paste, some minced garlic, some “general” sauce, some “Mongolian” sauce, some chili sauce, some oyster sauce? Sure, why not. And scallions.
So by now, in front of me, I have a plate of rolled lamb, a plate of vegetables, 4 “fresh” prawns (like not peeled with heads, eyes, legs all waiting to be cooked), an egg, some noodles, a dipping sauce, more vegetables and the simmering kimchi broth. I plop the noodles, some veggies and meat in the pot, a minute or so later pull them out dunk them in the dipping sauce and hold the plate that held my noodles under my chin and eat. Is this how you do it? My husband just places everything in the dipping sauce bowl, and that becomes his mini soup bowl (which by the way, I noticed other folks doing later). Our son is trying to pull the head off the prawn and wincing terribly.
Soon we get the hang of it. I am making a terrible mess, but the lamb is tender, the prawns are sweet, the noodles delicious, the sweet potato getting soft and the dipping sauce delicious! We slurp and eat and dunk, and finally we are getting full. I haven’t eaten the egg yet, so I go to peel it and…it’s raw. As my son said, “Duh, Mom!” I stick it in the broth to poach-boil it. A very kind older gentleman brings around to go containers and makes sure we know to cook everything first before packing it to go. We set to work cooking vegetables, meats and packing it up for another meal.
Wait a second. I just realized that I still cooked dinner. But it was fun, delicious and I didn’t have to clean up!