It's hotpot season. Cold nights call for simmering vats of hot soup and a cook-your-own smorgasbord with friends. Hot pot. Steamboat. Either name will do. It's social. It's casual. It's all about fighting over the last fish ball.
There's been a huge surge in hot pot joints in Chinatown with at least half a dozen now lining the area I like to call Dixon Street north. On a chilly evening we went with ol' faithful, Shancheng Hotpot King, one of the original hot pot venues and easily the optimal choice to accommodate our group of eight.
Most hot pot joints give you a menu in the form of a paper checklist. Shancheng is all techno-fancy with mini iPads to both browse and order.
Half chicken stock / half spicy Sichuan stock $15
We order the half chicken stock and half spicy Sichuan base for our hot pot. The chicken stock comes with bean sprouts, shallots, tomato, dried dates and goji berries. The Sichuan base has plenty of kick to it, generously laced with chilli and a mouth-numbing amount of Sichuan pepper.
Special chilli sauce, garlic sesame oil and sesame seed paste $2 each
and chopped coriander $1
Sauce is essential. You'll want to dip your cooked food into sauce for maximum flavour. We ended up choosing the special chilli sauce, garlic sesame oil, sesame seed paste and chopped coriander. We found this was enough for four people.
Design your own sauce
Make up your own sauce in your dipping bowl and then get ready to eat!
Lamb slices $9; shrimp balls $6.50; coriander balls $6.50; fish dumplings $6.50; and fish ball roe dumplings $8
There must be close to 100 choices for hot pot here. Each order arrives on an individual plate, stacked onto trays that are delivered to a three level cart by your table. Most of the meat and seafood is frozen but it will cook fine in the soup. Once you drop them in, it will take some time for the soup to get back up to boiling point again.
Oyster mushrooms $7; Chinese cabbage $5; fresh mushrooms $7; tong ho chrysanthemum leaves $6; fresh tofu $4; and frozen tofu $4
We go crazy with our order (our docket is over a foot long), think we've ordered far too much, and then of course end up easily eating it all. Tong ho or chrysanthemum leaves are my mandatory order. I also like the netted sponginess of bamboo fungus. Frozen tofu is worth trying too, distinctively chewier in texture than silken tofu as much of the water has been drained out.
Trying to find room on the table already set with smoked pork $10; wagyu slices $18; and special beef $11
Getting all the dishes onto the table is always chaotic. This is not the kind of dining for people who like to be served. Everybody pitches in. Everybody's passing plates. Everybody's talking.
Frozen scallop with roe on $12
We load up on scallops, wagyu beef slices...
Lamb slices $9; smoked pork $10; beef ball $6.50; and shrimp ball $6.50
frozen fatty lamb slices, smoked pork and more fish balls and beef balls than you can imagine.
Ready to cook our steamboat
Generally you throw a bunch of things in and wait for them to cook. Serving your mates when you discover a glut of goodness is the polite thing to do.
Deep fried glutinous rice cake
A side order of deep fried glutinous rice cakes is one thing you won't have to cook.
Inside the deep fried glutinous rice cake
These tiles of deep fried crunch are as delicious as they sound. That crusty exterior against the core of sticky rice is oh so satisfying.
Cooking beef slices in the chicken stock
Thin slices of meat are best monitored so you don't overcook them. Occasional chopstick fights are inevitable.
Cooked razor clam, also known as bamboo clam
Keep an eye on the scallops so they don't cooked down to rubbery bullets. Same goes with the razor clams. These were super tasty cooked in the Sichuan soup.
All up we ate for about $40 per head including soft drinks. Guaranteed warm and full bellies afterwards!
Fish balls bobbing in our hotpot
Sydney's Top 50 Cheap Eats
SMH Good Food Guide 2017
And check out today's Good Food lift-out in the Sydney Morning Herald for my cover story covering Sydney's Top 50 Cheap Eats.
Back-to-back cover stories is pretty surreal but today's story is the culmination of several months of intense research all over Sydney in search of our city's best value feeds.
As always, I've tried to cover a diverse range of cuisines across the breadth of Sydney.
Pick up the newspaper for an abbreviated list of the top 20. You can read the full list online.
This list will also be included in the upcoming edition of the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide 2017.
Shancheng Hotpot King
8A/363 Sussex Street, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9267 6366
Open daily 11.30am-10.30pm
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6/14/2016 01:33:00 am