Now that fall is here, anyone who fancies hot pot for dinner better be prepared to wait in line. The steaming pot of broth invites diners to dip raw meats and vegetables into it and restaurants serving the communal dish have exploded in popularity throughout China and the U.S.
Building on that popularity Chinese hot pot chain, Haidilao is scheduled to go public this week on Hong Kong’s stock exchange, giving people a shot at investing in the broth industry.
This popularity is playing out in the Flushing neighborhood of Queens, New York, an area with a large Chinese population and hot pot spots on nearly every corner, like ChongQing Liuyishou. The hot pot chain recently opened restaurant number 1006 in the area.
The night before its soft opening, cooks prepped little plates of raw hot pot menu items while staff in the dining room dipped those ingredients into a pot of boiling, red broth. This scene is set against the backdrop of a new Haidilao restaurant under construction across the street.
“I mean it is a good competition, but we know this market, maybe, a little bit more than Haidilao in New York,” says ChongQing Liuyishou’s Lucy Wang.
If her restaurant knows the New York market already, Haidilao’s been studying up. The chain opened a restaurant in L.A. in 2013 and has plans to open more in Houston and London. Its IPO is priced to raise nearly a billion dollars — money it’ll use to fund a global expansion.
Haidilao’s known for its customer service-oriented dining experience. Employees offer massages to customers waiting in line. Dine there alone and they’ll bring out a teddy bear to join you. One highlight: the noodle show, where a chef stretches out a noodle and dances around, twirling it in your face.
“They’re trying to beat their competitors by their customized service,” said Jason Lee of the China Market Research Group in Shanghai.
Customized service and noodle dances are just some of the ways a hot pot place can stand out. Tang Hotpot in Manhattan offers premium items, like Kobe ribeye and goat leg, along with a broth thickened with beef fat. Owner Yu Li says with hot pot getting so competitive, newer restaurants have become more fancy and more expensive.
“People want to spend more,” Li said. “The economy’s been booming both in the U.S. and in China.”
Li’s not surprised that Haidilao’s expanding, in part because hot pot restaurants are easy to scale. The raw foods and the soup base can be standardized.
“You don’t depend on [a] chef that much,” Li said. “Once you have ingredients ready, it’s almost like a copy-and-paste thing.”
If you don’t want to stand in line for hot pot, here’s a recipe to try for yourself from Yu Li at Tang Hotpot:
Chengdu Beef Tallow Broth recipe (Makes up to 24 quarts of soup broth)
- 1 whole hen bone
- 5 pounds of pork bone
- 6 tbsp Shao Xing cooking wine
- Salt, MSG to taste
- Pi Xian Dou Ban Jiang (broad bean paste, available online or in Asian grocery stores)
- A blend of Sichuan spices in a tea bag, to taste. Try to go for Sichuan peppercorns, cloves, star anise, amomum, cinnamon. Use about one handful of each ingredient or about 50-60g each.)
- 100g Sichuan dry chili (roughly one bag)
- Sliced ginger, scallions
- 500g beef tallow
1. Blend all the Sichuan spices together in a blender and put them in a tea bag
2. Put the tea bag in cooking wine and soak for 30 mins
3. Put a chunk of beef tallow into a pot on low heat and let it melt
4. Cut 100g of Sichuan dry chili in halves and add to the melted beef tallow
5. Add 32 oz of Pi Xian Dou Ban Jiang and fry the sauce in the pot, turning the heat to high
6. When you can smell the aroma of the chili bean paste, add a handful of Sichuan green pepper
7. Put the bag of Sichuan spices into the pot, turn the fire to medium, and let it simmer for around 30 minutes.
1. In a large stock pot, add the hen bone, pork bones and cover them with water. Bring to a low boil and as it simmers, clear the meat “foam” from the top of the broth with a slotted spoon. Once the foam is gone, take the bones out of the broth and rinse them with cold water.
2. Add the bones back to the broth, along with the sliced ginger and scallions. You can also add 1-2 peppercorns to add more flavor. The broth has to cover the bone at all times, so you can keep adding more water to the broth when simmering.
3. After the broth starts boiling, turn the fire to low. Add the cooking wine, salt and MSG to the broth to taste.
Finally, mix the spicy beef tallow sauce with the pork bone broth. Add it slowly — all of the sauce might be strong for people with a low spice tolerance. Garnish with Sichuan peppercorns and dried chili.
Add the finished broth to a hot pot at the center of the table. Bring to a low simmer with an induction or propane hot plate. Dip your favorite hot pot ingredients in the broth, and enjoy.