Photo by Michael Gardiner
Stinky tofu hot soup
It’s probably a bad idea to be the first to adopt that brand new operating system. Sure, early adopters get that shiny system first—and the invaluable bragging rights that go with it—but the folks waiting for Version x.3 or x.4 are likely to own a more stable system; one that works smoothly and sticks around for a while. Tasty Pot (4698 Convoy St., Suite 107) appears to be an example of that.
Last summer I reviewed Boiling Passion. I was excited by its survey of the world of Asian hotpot. It was something new in San Diego; something different and exciting even if, at times, it was imperfectly executed with a staff that seemed uncertain how to work the equipment. And then, early this year, Tasty Pot came along and offered the same sort of thing with better execution.
Tasty Pot describes itself as offering “Taiwanese-style hot pot” with the soups served in individual bowls instead of a communal pot and coming pre-loaded with various combinations of ingredients already simmering in the broth. The combinations on the menu roughly correspond to a series of internationally themed options: Chinese, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Thai and a few with less distinctly national flavors. Optional additions to each dish are on the back of the menu.
At the core of Tasty Pot’s offerings are two that are typically Taiwanese. The first is the stinky tofu hot soup, clearly to Western ears the oddest sounding name on the Tasty Pot menu. But it is also the best. While the name is earned, the fermentation that results in that supposed “stink” also gives the stuff a deep, complex flavor that can be addictive. But don’t ask yourself how someone came up with the bright idea to eat that stuff. Banish the thought and get past that first whiff. It’s worth it if only for the way that warm, fermented flavor enhances the savoriness of the broth.
If you can’t stomach the stink but do like spice try the Taiwanese supreme spicy hot soup. The bowl comes with a remarkable variety of protein of which the cuttlefish rings, fried tofu and sliced pork were standouts. The clams, on the other hand, looked better than they tasted. As for the broth, I was expecting more of a Sichuan-style mala featuring the numbing, flowery peppercorns but got a purer heat, even at the “medium” level. It was a bit monochromatic…until I popped in a few pieces of a spicy fermented tofu add-on. That did the trick.
Not everything at Tasty Pot was great. The curry flavor hot soup was ordinary, thin even. And while I enjoyed the kimchi dumpling hot soup, it really wasn’t better than I’d get at a Korean tofu house down the Convoy. But Tasty Pot offers a lot of hot pot flavors in one place, which is a Taiwanese characteristic. At the end of the day, no matter how off-putting the notion of “stinky” tofu is, it is an absolute must-order.
Tasty Pot has, not to put too fine a point on it, done what Boiling Passion set out to do. And Tasty Pot has gotten it right.