Photo by Michael A. Gardiner
Lamb hot pot
The idea of the boiling communal cauldron as cooking vessel is only as new as humans. It is also international. From Chinese "hotpot," to Japanese nabemono dishes and Singapore "steamboat" all the way to Swiss fondue, the idea of cooking meat in a boiling cauldron is ancient and archetypal. There's no better place to sample Asia's takes on the theme than at Boiling Passion (3904 Convoy Street).
As the origin of hotpot suggests, the dish often involves multiple diners using the same pot of boiling liquid to cook various meats, vegetables, noodles and other ingredients. Each would customize the dish to their liking by dipping the desired items into the liquid using a skewer or chopsticks. At Boiling Passion, though, the liquid comes to each diner in an individual pot. Instead of dipping the items over time, the pots come mostly pre-loaded with meats, seafood, vegetables and other goodies.
Boiling Passion offers 10 internationally themed options: Chinese, Taiwanese, Korean, Japanese and a few with less distinctly national flavors (satay, curry, milk and seafood). Additional optional additions to each dish are on the back of the menu. While the protein portions may be a bit on the shy side, the overall size of the meal is more than adequate for one hungry diner.
My favorite was the House Special Hot Pot, a take on Taiwanese stinky tofu. The tofu, frankly, lacked the distinct funk of fermented tofu that wasn't altogether a bad thing. The complex broth, mostly savory, featured a suggestion of sweetness and a beguiling hint of pungency from the tofu. As it cooked down, though, the various seafood flavors lent an additional complexity.
Lamb Hot Pot, on the other hand, was defined by the gamey flavors of the meat itself. This, again, wasn't necessarily a bad thing. Less good was the fact the "pickled" napa cabbage tasted, to my palate, a whole lot like un-pickled napa cabbage. A more pronounced pickled flavor would have lent a lot to the dish. But the pork blood rice cake offered a funk to the dish and tofu skins gave it a bit of richness and textural interest.
The Curry Hot Pot was another favorite. Perhaps that is mostly down to the fact there's not much in the savory world that doesn't play well in the sandbox with curry. With pork, meatballs, various seafood items and a slew of vegetables, the dish acted almost like a seafood take on an English-style Coronation Curry done as hotpot.
The biggest problem at Boiling Passion is hardware. The gel fuel source is a bit overenthusiastic, hardly user friendly and even difficult for the restaurant staff to control. It has a nasty tendency to boil down the broth to the over-saline and boil up the broth over the side of the pot. The choice ends up being between wearing your hotpot and letting it go cold.
That minor problem aside, Boiling Passion is a great local opportunity to survey Asian approaches to the hotpot concept. The dishes are tasty, they're fun to eat and they're varied. All, though, show a singular commitment—a passion even—for the boiled culinary arts.