In winter, our lips become completely numb after countless attempts to warm ourselves up from the inside out by dipping our chopsticks into Sichuan-style hotpots around town. By the time February rolls around, we’re usually longing for feeling in both our mouths and extremities to return, so we decided to sample the decidedly less mala hotpot specialties of other regions for a winter pick-me-up.
Lao Beijing Hotpot
What: Dongbei-style hotpot, heavy on the lamb
Where: 352 Wulumuqi Lu, near Fuxing Lu. Tel: 6471 5147
Why: You like your hotpot gamey
There are many things that set Lao Beijing apart from other hotpot joints around town, but the street-side carving of a Mongolian sheep carcass is the one that stays with you the longest. A skilled butcher with an overworked space heater beneath his sidewalk table cuts the lamb into uniform strips, separating the unctuous, fatty slices from the less marbled grain on aluminum platters. A Hello Kitty-apron wearing waitress whisks the meat through Lao Beijing’s bright red doors, where it lands on your table, ready for dipping into the boiling pot that looks like the lovechild of a sombrero and a vase.
The main event at Lao Beijing is the meat, not the broth, which costs a mere 10 kuai, and consists of a dressed-down soup with a handful of vegetables and not much of anything to be called seasoning. The meat is so flavourful that it doesn’t need anything else, and the velvety peanut sauce comes with a hearty dollop of cilantro to elevate the accompanying veggies.
Speaking of side dishes, Lao Beijing’s dipping options don’t stray too far from the norm. Greens, mushrooms, tofu, lotus root, bean sprouts, noodles – the standard fare is all on the menu. Some dishes are shockingly good (their egg dumplings are some of the best we’ve ever had), while others are more miss than hit. The dragon’s mouth, or longkou, noodles were disappointingly brittle and the oyster mushrooms were left practically untouched.
In a city full of sweet teeth, Lao Beijing brings the capital’s much-needed savoury cai to keep us warm through Shanghai’s brutal winter. After all, who needs radiators when you have warming lamb to heat your qi?
This article was originally written by Jamie as a review series for the February 2011 edition of Shanghai TALK.