Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Uncle Liu's Hot Pot

Rating: Good
Genre: Chinese, Sichuan, Hotpot
Neighborhood: Falls Church

If you love do-it-yourself type dinners, then you'll LOVE hotpot! I was unaware that the term "hotpot" was actually unknown to quite a few people until I got blank stares when suggesting it to a few friends of mine. The only way I could think of explaining it was comparing it to the concept at Melting Pot except that it's much better, cheaper, and has a greater variety of foods to cook! So basically, your table shares a boiling pot of hot soup on top of a mini gas stove and you order an assortment of raw foods to cook in it such as meats, vegetables, and noodles. Hotpot is also referred to as Shabu Shabu but that's usually referring to the Korean style of hotpot. My favorite type of hotpot is Chinese Sichuan style hotpot because I love the spicy burn of chili oils and peppercorns that comes in the soup you cook your foods in.

In recent times, the only place I've had hotpot (besides the ones we prepare at home) is in Taiwan, so you can imagine it's hard for anywhere around here to compare to that. My cuz discovered a place called Uncle Liu's Hot Pot over on Gallows Road in Falls Church, in the same shopping center as Great Wall. At first I moaned at the thought of having to delve into that shopping center because (and anyone who's driven there can vouch for me) none of these Chinese people in the parking lot know how to friggin drive!! Seriously! Be on guard when you go cause you will get run over by a Chinese person if you're not super careful! Usually when I go to Uncle Liu's now, I just park faaaaaar away to prevent any sort of blunders, so I recommend you do that same.

When walking into Uncle Liu's you'll notice the bright yellow walls and the underwhelming decor. There's a buffet bar to the left, but you'll see that most people are here for the hotpot. The diners here is made up of a lot of older folks and families, so don't except a Honey Pig type atmosphere just because the concept is similar (no Jay-Z and K-Pop! As a matter of fact, I noticed this place play Christmas music all year round). You'll be asked by your waitress if you're here for hotpot or buffet (and of course answer hotpot) then you'll receive your hotpot menu. You'll then be asked if you want spicy, mild, or half and half. The half and half is a pot with a split down the middle so some people can enjoy the spicy soup and some people can enjoy the mild. I like the spicy and that's what I recommend you getting (don't worry, it's not very spicy). From the menu, I typically order the tender beef, chicken, taro, enoki mushrooms, tofu, rice cakes, pork dumplings, and some type of noodles and an egg.

After you order, get up and head over to the make-your-own-sauce bar. They got plenty of choices of ingredients to toss in your sauce, but I've always made mine the same way for as long as I remember. The majority of my sauce is made up of Chinese BBQ sauce (Sa-Cha), then I toss in garlic, peanut sauce, soy sauce, vinegar, scallions, and ma-la hot sauce. Will you be able to remember all that? Be careful when making your sauce, cause if you don't know what you're doing, it could turn out really bad!

When you get our food, I usually throw in all the rice cakes and taro first cause they can take awhile to cook. The thing I love about these two is they soak in the soup really well so you get that spicy, peppercorn flavor coming through. I'll also toss in a good amount of the dumplings because they can take a bit to cook as well. The mushrooms take only a few seconds to cook and come out chewy and slathered in flavor. The meats only take a few minutes to cook as well. Some people freak out when eating the chicken because it's consistency is still really soft even after cooking it, so they think it's still raw. Don't worry, they marinate the chicken that way so it keeps its soft consistency even after being boiled. As for preparing the egg, you gotta have someone hold up one of those fishing spoons above the soup, then crack the egg into the soup, and gently lower it to bottom and wait a few minutes.

This place isn't like Honey Pig where the waitresses will come and cook all your food, let you known when it's ready to be eaten, then pick it out into your plate for you. You are doing all the cooking yourself in this case and you've got to keep an eye on the stuff you toss in there and remember what you've tossed in there. Sometimes people will throw in a piece of beef and the thing will be forgotten and cook for 20 minutes until someone fishes it out by accident. If you can't multi task, then maybe this isn't the place for you unless someone else at your table is willing to do all your cooking for you. But it is fun and unique from most dining experiences so I recommend you try it once.

As for you folks out there who are use to eating hotpot, I'll admit that this place isn't the best I've had. Now that doesn't mean its bad. It still satisfies my cravings when I really want me some spicy hotpot. I wish that the soup were spicier. I like to have my tongue seared off then go numb from all the chilies and peppercorns. I also like having a greater variety to choose from when ordering. More seafood, fish cakes, and other things like that. Again, don't get me wrong, there are still plenty of things to order and I always over order, then over stuff myself every time I come here.

With that, I can say, even though I order enough food for four people when I come here with just one other person, the price has always been decent. I typically spend about $15 here and that's when I stuff myself up to a disgusting amount. I also will warn a lot of my friends that I bring here about the potential "aftermath" from eating the spicy side of the hotpot. If your stomach isn't use to gargling spicy chili oil, you might have some, ahem, digestive issues the next day. I've had my friends complain to me about this, but I guess my stomach is just use to it. Also, I don't recommend trying to drink the spicy soup cause you'll most likely just get a big spoonful of that layer of chili oil at the top. All-in-all, its still a delicious and fun experience and I definitely recommend you trying it; especially if you want something new and different.

2972 Gallows Rd
Falls Church, VA 22042

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