Shanghai might be considered southern China, but in the depths of winter the chill really sets in. This is when locals make a beeline for hot pot restaurants, where vegetables, thinly-sliced meats and other goodies are cooked in a boiling, soupy brew. While Sichuan is most famous for fiery renditions, there are also loads of healthful hot pots with delicious soups worth drinking in their own right. Here’s where to find them.
Coconut Taste (Yēzi bù yǔ, 椰子不语)
Restaurant, Chinese, $$$
This trendy Hainan-style hot pot spot uses a base of chicken boiled with coconut milk to create a rich, slightly sweet and meaty broth that pairs well with the vegetables, beef and other sundries that cook within. The dipping sauce is also a treat, a zingy soy sauce and red chili concoction that mixes with calamansi juice to bring brightness to every bite. The interior is also quite lovely and modern, making this a good atmosphere in which to eat away the cold winter blues.
Yan Gege (Yàn gégé, 焱格格)
Restaurant, Chinese, Vegetarian
Prominent Hong Kong actor and animal rights activist Lü Songxian founded this vegetarian Beijing-style hot pot restaurant to show off the beauty of produce and clear vegetable broths. Be sure to try the delicious fresh tofus, and the huge selection of mushrooms that take up a whole portion of the menu and tout various different medicinal curative properties. Also delicious are the crisp lotus roots and egg dumplings.
Hong Chang Xing Mutton Hotpot (Hóng zhǎngxìng, 洪长兴)
It’s impossible to miss the towering blue dome when driving on the Yan’an overpass towards the Bund that marks Shanghai’s oldest halal restaurant. Founded in 1891, this century-old restaurant is a family-owned mutton hot pot restaurant, where you’ll find tables huddled around a bubbling pots of clear broth, heated by a charcoal fire. You’ll dip in an array of thinly-sliced meats, vegetables and tofu for a long and perfectly warming meal. While there are other locations, this is the one where the atmosphere is just as interesting as the food itself.
Elixir Health Pot (Wú lǎo guō, 无老锅)
This hot pot serves soup that you could simply drink straight from the pot, as it’s a bubbling potion touted for its health properties and skin rejuvenation by celebrities across Asia. The white ‘collagen’ pot is particularly wholesome (and delicious), made from pork bones and knuckles that have been simmered for hours, until the resulting soup is thick and fragrant, somewhat akin to tonkatsu ramen broth. Later, Chinese herbs including goji berries, ginseng and other roots are added to impart their curative properties. This is a hot pot that rejuvenates as well as warms the belly. Be sure to order their special house made ‘ice cream’ tofu (bīngqílín dòufu, 冰淇淋豆腐), the light little egg dumplings (dànjiǎo, 蛋饺) and the special mushroom platter (蘑菇拼盘, mógupīnpán) to pair.
Anthony Zhao, the founder of this hot pot spot, trained in some of Shanghai’s finest dining establishments before he broke off to pay tribute to his native Shanghai cuisine. At Holy Cow, the kitchen serves primo, pesticide-free beef from Dalian and vegetables grown on their own farms. They also serve frozen soup dumplings that go into the hot pot and come out fat and delicious. The soup itself also merits being consumed by itself, as it’s a clear meat consomme that’s bolstered with Chinese herbs. It’s a healthful, flavorful and delicious experience sure to satisfy a crowd.
Lao Beijing Shuan Guo (Lǎo běijīng shuàn guō, 老北京涮锅)
For a traditional, old-school Northern Chinese experience, head to Wulumuqi Road, where you’ll see men cutting marbled slices of mutton into paper-thin slices. Inside, traditional Mongolian hot pot is served, the simple lamb broth bolstered by goji berries and jujubes. The pot itself looks like a donut with a big chimney stack in the middle, where hot coals keeps the soup bubbling and boiling. You’ll be given a checklist of food items to add. Obviously lean mutton (shòu yángròu, 瘦羊肉) and fattier mutton (féi yángròu, 肥羊肉) are a must, as well as the frozen tofu (dòngdòufu, 冻豆腐). Make sure you get the spicy peanut dipping sauce for the side. Note: there is no English on the menu.
Qimin Organic Hot Pot
Made up of blonde wood and communal tables, Qimin Organic Hot Pot centers around clean eating and bright flavors. As per the name, the vegetables and meats are all local and organic, and very delicious. The soup options are also top notch, ranging from a light, restorative chicken vegetable, and earthy matsutake mushroom, a vibrant tomato beef and more. The branch located inside the Reel Mall is a lovely tribute to the green philosophy, the lovely vegetables on display reflected on the plates of happy diners.
Hai Di Lao (Hǎidǐ lāo huǒguō, 海底捞火锅)
Restaurant, Chinese, $$$
This particular chain is from Sichuan and has made a killing not only for its spicy hot pot, but also for the service. During peak hours, there will generally be a wait for a table, but the staff will make it worth your while. In the lobby, you’ll find free fruit, manicures, shoe shines and more which will help make the time pass quickly. There are several locations around town – this is one of the more popular.
Little Sheep Hot Pot (Xiǎoféiyáng, 小肥羊)
Opened in 1999, this Inner Mongolian-style hot pot restaurant has more than 28 branches in Shanghai and a reach around the world (now that it is part owned by Yum! Brands). This has not at all diminished its popularity back home. The name of the game here is top quality lamb (the name translates literally to ‘fat little sheep’) and broths made with a whole host of medicinal herbs and spices. A delicious winter warmer, served amid a buzzy, clean atmosphere.