"I don't know," said Andrea as we made our way around HouHai Lake for the second time this morning, "I mean, the idea of boiling my own meat just doesn't sound all that appetizing." Luckily just as we thought we couldn't walk another step for fear of collapsing from hunger and exhaustion (on our "day off from all the walking" no less) we came across a packed restaurant, which just happened to specialize in Mongolian Hot Pot-- the very topic of our earlier debate. We were both so hungry, that we didn't even have time to argue... we just sat down and ordered what seemed like a reasonable amount of food. What this translated into was "small pot of competitive product," a huge bubbling vat of fiery broth filled with massive hunks of lamb bone with slow-simmered meat flaking off, one plate of raw, thin-cut "fatty cattle" (beef), one plate of mutton and a plate of daikon radish.
The first step in the nearly hour-long feeding process was to clear some room in the Hot Pot by grabbing a few big bones and gnawing off the tender, melt-in-you-mouth meat. The broth was thick with lamb flavor, which was perfectly balanced by fiery chilies and cilantro, and into this fabulous concoction we dipped the beef, mutton and daikon, allowing it to cook for a few short seconds before shoving into our mouths. The result was spicy, tender and filling, without being heavy or oily like much Chinese food can be-- in short, one of the best meals we have had since we got here. As delicious as the whole thing was, there was no way we could have finished the whole ridiculous pile of meat in one sitting, but luckily the place was nice enough to let you bring leftovers home with you, so after (barely) finishing the meat we cooked ourselves, we had them bag up the meaty lamb bones and broth to be consumed for dinner.
Hot Pot was brought to China (so the story goes) by the Mongols who conquered the place back when things were going so well for them. These nomadic warriors didn't have the time, tools or inclination to create the complex cuisines that their settled conquerees took such pride in, but what they did do was cook thin strips of meat in water which they boiled in their helmets. The barbaric roots are evident in the eating of this delicious meal: this is not your typical chopsticks-and-rice Chinese meal which can be eaten while following any kind of rules of etiquette. There is a visceral thrill to gnawing tender, juicy lamb meat right off the (occasionally identifiable- the trick is not trying) bone, dipping steambread into leftover broth and washing it all down with beer, and the act of eating it perfectly compliments the wild, spicy and generally unrefined character of the food. Allow me to demonstrate: