The hot pot craze is boiling over in Seattle, check out these two places.
by Jay Friedman
November 14, 2018
In Seattle’s International District, hot pot has been around for some time, with Seven Stars Pepper and Sichuanese Cuisine leading the way on the corner of 12th and Jackson. Things took off when Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot (a mega-chain in China and beyond, famous for its all-you-can-eat hot pot) and Boiling Point (a smaller chain started in California, noted for its individual hot pots) burst onto the scene in Bellevue before branching out in Chinatown. Now there are even newer places doing their own versions, making hot pots the undisputed “king” in the ID.
Hot Pot King, which opened in May, reflects the growing popularity. The owners are from Guangzhou, a city in Guangdong province that is said to be the birthplace of Cantonese cuisine—which is far from spicy. But, they say, young people in the region are now craving spicier food, making hot pots more popular.
Like most of our local hot pot places, Hot Pot King offers two broth options. I recommend getting the split pot to try out both broths. The mild “original” broth is made from a mixture of pork and chicken bones and comes with cut cobs of corn, tomato slices, green onions, and bean sprouts. This is a broth you can and will want to actually drink, its flavor enhanced as you add your chosen hot pot ingredients.
By contrast, the spicy broth—which you can order to your desired spice level—comes loaded with whole chili peppers. Note that this is Chongqing-style, so it can get seriously spicy. The cute bear figurine you get with your order is actually tallow—rendered beef fat that you throw into the spicy broth for extra body and flavor. Drink this broth after eating…if you dare.
The paper menu, aside from a few cold dishes that serve as starters, includes a wide array of ingredients to customize your hot pot. Meats range from lamb shoulder and sliced pork belly to more adventurous beast parts like pork kidney, beef tongue, duck gizzard, and goose intestine. Consider both taste and texture as you make your selection. There are also seafood options and various meat (or fish) balls. A column of vegetables includes items like crispy cabbage and crunchy lotus root. Mushrooms make a nice addition, as do various forms of tofu; Hot Pot King has house-made fried bean curd roll that’s worth a try. Dumplings are fun to drop into the broth, with noodles a nice way to end a hot pot meal.
The soup base runs $6.99 per person, with no extra cost for the half and half split. The price includes access to the sauce bar, enabling you to experiment in creating your ideal dipping sauce. Feel free to order hot pot ingredients as you go, as they come out of the kitchen quickly and can get quite filling. On a recent visit, my hot pot with ribeye, three vegetables, bean curd, and egg noodles totaled $41.
Sizzling Pot King built on its recent Bellevue success to open an ID location in September. The restaurant offers a diverse menu of dishes that originate from the Sichuan and Hunan regions, including dry pots. Sizzling Pot King puts its own twist on dry pot, offering customization for endless variation, whereas in cities like Chengdu and Chongqing you’d typically get one predetermined type of meat and a fixed set of vegetables.
While you’re free to do as you wish, the owners recommend limiting meats to one or two and consulting with your server for vegetable choices that make a good match. Meats go from the mainstream to specialty items like duck head, pig feet, and bullfrog; my favorite choice has been beef tongue with lobster balls. All pots come with cauliflower, potatoes, celery, and sprouts, with a multitude of other items available as additions.
Dry pot preparation is very different than hot pot. For dry pots, Sizzling Pot King offers a choice of sauce flavors (like sweet & sour, spicy & hot, garlic, and hot & sour) which come in a variety of spice levels. Meats are marinated in different ways ahead of cooking. The chef starts by tossing aromatics like garlic, ginger, and green onion into the wok before adding the sauce and ingredients of each customized order. Unlike hot pot, no additional sauce is needed at the table, as the finished dry pot is flavorful enough.
The base order of most large dry pots at Sizzling Pot King will cost about $37. To the table comes a distinctive pot of meat and vegetables that indeed sizzles and smells delightful. It makes a fine centerpiece to a feast with friends (I recommend magic tofu and the preserved egg with eggplant and green chili peppers, among other dishes), and is now a nice alternative to hot pot—which remains an engaging and interactive dining experience that’s also enjoyable with a group.