Hot pot on a train, absurd or amazing? We all know of sushi train, by far one of the best inventions for semi-fast food ever. Not only is there a huge novelty factor, but I am sure any sushi-train restaurant owner will tell you it increases their sales because people cant resist one more bite. But hot pot, how can you put that on a train?
I am a relatively new convert to hot pot, having only been introduced to the amazingness about 4 years ago. I remember the moment vividly. My partner and I had been together about six months, so were still getting to know each other’s friends and family. One of his friends was heading off on an adventure to cycle from China to London for charity and so was having a farewell… at hot pot. I remember walking into the restaurant, full of people I didn’t really know, but very much wanted to impress, and seeing a giant vat of boiling soup. I was so confused. I had no idea what I was supposed to do.
My partner, quickly sussed out my befuddlement and quietly instructed me on the fact that it was a communal meal and that there would be plenty of food passed around for us to dip in. He explained that one of the vats was super spice and one not. For the next two hours I slurped up tofu, prawns, bok choy and dumplings while listening to travel stories and fears. In so many ways, it was the perfect night out for me. Surrounded by food and people that were new and exciting, while having my hand held by someone who was just as excited to show me a new food.
Hot Pot Train – perfect for the solo traveller
After that first evening, I was hooked. Both on the delicious broth but also the atmosphere of bringing all of your friends and family together to enjoy a meal. I wouldn’t call my self a connoisseur, but I definitely like to eat it a lot. But what happens if you don’t have a group of friends handy to enjoy this delicious meal? Maybe you are travelling solo, or just want a quiet pot all to yourself. Well, don’t worry, hot pot train to the rescue.
I discovered it when I was in Xi’An. It was a rainy day (pretty much all of my days in Xi’An were rainy) and I was just walking around looking in shop windows to just see what everything was. I first saw the sign for hot pot, then instantly recognised the smell of the soup (drool). However, I couldn’t help but gawk as I realised there was a train going around. A train. For hot pot?! Blew my mind. Obviously, I would have to try it.
Here is the facebook page of the resturant (Beijiaxing) I went to if you are interested in trying it
How does Hot Pot Train work?
It is very much designed for single consumption as opposed to big group meals. Which makes it the perfect meal for the solo traveller. When you arrive you simply advise the staff what type of soup you would like. They bring you a very small little pot on a burner and leave you to it. You then pick from the wide array of food that is going around on the train. From your classics such as meat, veg and tofu to a few random ones such as hot dogs and chicken nuggets. Like with sushi train, you pay per plate that you grab, and like with sushi train, I ate a lot more than I needed to.
It’s all about the sauce at Hot Pot Train
In my limited experience in experimenting with hot pot I had never been exposed to the magic of the sauce counter. This all changed in Xi’An. It would be fair to say that I attracted quite a bit of attention sitting at my little hot pot station. Not only because I am blonde (which saw me transcend to movie star status some days in China) but because I was clearly a complete buffoon at eating hot pot. I ignored all of the looks I was getting, and just ploughed on, enjoying my slurpy delicious goodness.
After about ten minutes of watching me, one of the servers clearly snapped. This lovely, yet very firm older lady grabbed me off my seat and literally pulled me to the sauce bar. I didn’t know what anything was, it was all in Chinese, I recognised some things but not all, so tried to politely refuse. She didn’t understand me. But also, I think she just didn’t care. She promptly started pointing out the different sauces I should put in my bowl. When I still stood there like a rabbit caught in headlights, she grabbed my bowl off me and sorted it out for me.
Back at my hot pot station, feeling very red faced and nervous, I gingerly pulled out a piece of tofu from my boiling broth, dipped it into the sauce conglomerate creation and then into my mouth. Everyone (I kid you not, the whole restaurant and all of the servers were staring at me) stopped to watch me.
My face split into a huge grin. Everyone else in the restaurant laughed (at me… with me… who knows), the lovely server who had shown it to me, gave me a stern nod of approval. For the second time, hot pot had changed the way I view food. Creating a perfectly balanced sauce bowl takes the already flavoured morsels to a completely new level. This was 90% of the reason I ended up over eating so much. It was just too delicious to stop.
What I ate at Hot Pot Train
For the soup, I was rather conservative and went with the tomato broth. This is because my stomach was still adjusting to the locals version of “a little bit of chilli”. I loved it and thought it was very delicious, however if you are a traditionalist or love a bit of heat, you should definitely go for one of the pepper versions.
There were dumplings and hot dogs which you could dip as well as vegetables and tofu. I mainly ate the bean curd / tofu and vegetables because I knew what it was. I think you could order some meat and seafood directly from the servers, but the language barrier felt to insurmountable to me at that time. However, I did try this amazing tofu sheet things that were so amazing that I must have eaten about 4 plates of the stuff. Not the healthiest I know, but it was so delicious, especially with my new found sauce bowl.
One of the best things about travelling is when you do something that is completely new. And love it. This experience was a highlight of an already amazing time in Xi’An. In part because of the food, but also because of the lovely service and the excitement of trying something new. Although the circumstances were completely different from my very first bite of hot pot, the feeling of pure enjoyment was exactly the same. Once again because of the atmosphere and the food.