Monday, April 05, 2010
hotpot/taiwanese: i recommend QIAO TOU HOTPOT
QIAO TOU HOTPOT
(or BRIDGE HEAD HOTPOT)
No. 157, Dun Hua S. Rd, Sec 1, 2FL
hours: 5:30 PM - 3 AM
$$ cash only
Kid friendliness: no high chairs spotted; spicy side of hot pot will be too spicy for most kids
Visit reviewed: 3/2/2010
Qiao Tou is the kind of mala hotpot place for seasoned mala huo guo eaters who know what they want and how to do it.
There's no menu with pictures or English (you order off a check off sheet), the accompanying sauces are off to the back near the counter with no explanation of the right soy sauce/vinegar/chili ratio, and even the location is a bit hard to find with a 2nd floor location with a might-miss-it sign and an entrance that looks like you might be going up an apartment building. (It's a couple doors down from Cosi o Cosi.)
But once you get into your groove, it is good. I managed to get a good 50/50 ratio of soy sauce and vinegar with a dash of sesame oil (I think) to offset the spiciness of the mala soup and add a level of complementary sourness. I like to alternate scooping up stuff from the spicy and the non-spicy side to save my tastebuds from total numbness. When you first sit down, it might feel a little cold with the fans and air con, but you'll appreciate it when it starts getting warm from the steam from the hotpot and heat from the spiciness.
One of my favorites is the crispy you tiao to dip in the deep red soup, but a few seconds is long enough if you want to still have some crunch.
You can't overthink mala huo guo- the murky, blood red broth is complete with big chunks of all-you-can-refill congealed duck's blood- otherwise it starts to look like a meal only a vampire would love. (A perfect date night idea for the Twilight lovers in your life to role play, anyone?). Over the years, ya xue or duck's blood has grown on me- the unique firm and jelly-like texture, more meaty than tofu, accented with a coat of spiciness from being boiled in the pungent soup.
Some won't be able to stomach it, while others crave it.
And speaking of stomachs, I wasn't a fan of the tripe, which has a crunchy chewy bite feels like trying to eat an oversized rubber band with goosebumps.
Instead, try the pillowy handmade fish dumplings, and swish around the fresh cabbage leaves and slices of meat until they wilt and curl up.
Or the chewy slices of pork intestines.
For the uninitiated (or vegetarians), a menu that includes duck's blood, pig's stomach and intestines and chicken feet can sound horrifying, but know that you can enjoy mala hotpot without ordering those items. And if you can't handle the heat, you can stick to one side of the pot.
For first mala hotpot first timers, I can see how a place like the popular Tripod King works better with its English menu filled with pictures, but at Qiao Tou you have a lot more elbow room and don't have to wait hours for a table without a reservation.
A complimentary grass jelly dessert comes to the table after the meal, but skip it and wander to next door neighbor Gelateria Cosi o Cosi instead, like we did, to soothe the lingering heat in your mouth.