If you’re in China and are looking for an authentic Chinese hot pot experience then visiting Hai Di Lao is a must. Hai Di Lao is a chain of hot pot restaurants that was initially founded in the Sichuan Province in 1994. Today, there are over 80 locations in and around China and Singapore, with the first one being opened in Los Angeles in 2013.
What is Hot Pot?
The main premise behind hot pot is that you cook your own choice of food in a steaming flavoured broth right at your table. Hot Pot is more affectionately (and less accurately) known by westerners as Chinese Fondue! It’s one of the most popular dishes surrounding any social gathering in China. The origins of hot pot date back to over 1000 years, where it first appeared in Mongolia. It was very popular in the southern parts of China during the Tang Dynasty.
Today, hot pot serves as one of the most popular dishes throughout China! There are many different ways to eat hot pot and may different types. Often each type is unique to different regions within China however the city that is most famous for this delicious dish is Chongqing in the Sichuan Province. Chongqing is known for its spicy dishes.
How to dine at Hai Di Lao
After being seated, the waitress will provide you with five main essentials for your evening of hot pot dining:
- A new hair band to keep long hair out of the way
- A zip lock bag to store your phone in. this is to prevent any of the boiling broth from splashing onto your phone. Don’t worry though; you will still be able to use your touchscreen through the zip lock bag.
- A lens cloth for those wearing glasses, since there is a lot of steam produced from the boiling broth
- A black covering cloth to place over your bags and jackets
- A black Hai Di Lao apron to place over your clothes so as to prevent any stains or splashes on your clothes
Begin by ordering your dishes to be cooked from a neatly presented online menu using an iPad. The menu is usually in English and Chinese and each item can be ordered in a full or half portion size.
First order your choice of flavored broth – tomato, spicy, mushroom and so on. If you like, you can divide your cooking area such that it holds two different flavored broths. We usually get a spicy and non-spicy based one. Mushroom or tomato soups are best if you’d like a non-spicy broth but you can also add additional dipping spices, sauces or condiments after cooking your portion of vegetables or meats.
Next, order what you’d like to cook in your hot pot – a variety of meats, fish, tofu, leafy greens and even noodles. Our usual favorites included meat balls, shrimp paste, quail eggs, mini dumplings and endless sides of Chinese fried pancakes.
After placing your order, your waitress will then guide you to the accompaniments and spices area. Here you will be able to choose from a mix of spices and make your own dipping sauce. Choose from a range of flavors and green additions.
Then pick your snacks and sides like corn, baby cucumbers, bean curd, sliced fruits, shrimp crackers, bugles and so on.
While waiting for your dishes to arrive, you can wander on to the initial waiting area. This is for guests waiting to be seated as well as those inside the restaurant too. Depending on which branch of Hai Di Lao you are at, you will find a variety of internet kiosks, board games and even a print-and-go photo area. Every Hai Di Lao does however have an area for manicures, shoe shining and hand massages making you feel as good as new.
If you don’t speak Chinese or are afraid that you might not know how to work your hot pot dish, don’t be afraid. This is why Hai Do Lao is the best place to go to. While other hot pot franchises will just leave you work everything by yourselves, here the waiters and waitresses will not only help you order but also help you cook and serve you too. They will constantly monitor the heat of the broth, add your meat and vegetables in, switch to clean utensils in between and dish it up for you.
The service here is fantastic and is what has made Hai Di Lao famous all around China, Singapore and now in Los Angeles too. If you’re ever travelling to China, then a proper Hai Di Lao experience should definitely be on your bucket list.