A typhoon was sweeping through Shanghai – or rather, we were faced with a mild drizzle in lieu of what had been hyped up to be the storm of the century. Nevertheless, it was a good impetus to huddle indoors and slurp up something hot and soupy. So we found our way to the hotpot place on Wuding Lu, near Jiazhou Lu, across from the row of wine bars that had literally sprouted up overnight. We had walked by the place so many times, it felt so familiar, the families and couples gathered over the rising steam of the boiling pots, the dark paneling and tabletops, plates and plates of food about to blanched.
But, as the server told us, there was a specific recommended order that the soup and our order should be enjoyed, something about Cantonese style or other. First, we were to have some of the white soup, once it was brought to a boil. Then we should add the herbal mushrooms, and then have more soup, and once we satisfied our appetite for soup, only then should we cook the meat and finally the vegetables. I suppose that makes sense in terms of flavoring the soup, which I only assumed to be the focal point here, but it never mattered much in any previous hotpot visits. The restaurant manager, who had corrected us the first time after we prematurely threw in the corn, came over to cook the beef:
Corn on the cob goes really well with spicy hot pot; if you’ve had cajun corn on the cob like the kind they have at the Boiling Crab restaurants in Southern California, it’s a similar combination of sweet and chewy and spice.
Lao Wang also had a sauce bar, so I set about making my adaptation of the sesame oil and salt combination that I’d loved about Sichuan spicy hotpot, but with a little more flavor via a heavy dose garlic, green onions, and chili peppers, along with just a dash of soy sauce and vinegar.
It was a nice way to warm up on a night of crummy weather. We ordered enoki mushrooms, and the spicy half of the soups also had many cubes of tofu that also soaked up the chili oil. The recommended order of eating was actually not a bad way of not only separating flavors, but pacing our meal a bit, since you don’t feel as rushed to eat certain things that cook faster or let other ingredients cook too long and dominate the soup flavor.
I had watched the restaurant gain customers over the past few months, from a half-empty dinner service to a crowded weekend night, and the manager told us they’d been open since the beginning of the year. Lao Wang will lead a curious coexistence with the wine bars it faces, but the extra foot traffic should be good, and I look forward to the chillier nights in autumn and winter when the heat will really hit the spot.
Lao Wang Hot Pot
1052 Wuding Lu, near Jiaozhou Lu