While working in Beijing two years ago, Ting Yuan-ju (丁員如) visited a Sichuan hot pot restaurant that had done something different: rather than allowing customers to pick and choose items to boil in a blood-red broth, chefs fried the customer’s chosen ingredients and served the steaming concoction “dry” in a large stainless steel bowl. The unusual hot pot Ting found at Longshunyuan (龍順圓) is famous in China’s capital and after a meal at Red Monster (紅魔王麻辣香鍋), her Taipei rendition of the Beijing original, it’s easy to understand why.
Located five minutes on foot from exit No. 2 of Zhongxiao Dunhua MRT Station (忠孝敦化捷運站), the restaurant’s small interior is framed by non-descript white walls. A half-dozen square tables each seat up to four and three booths in the front are roomy enough for six. Spices from Sichuan used in Red Monster’s dishes are on display in a glass case embedded in one wall.
Our party ordered the set meal (NT$598) for three to four, which came with the dry hot pot, soup, rice and tea. We then chose how spicy we wanted the food on a scale of one to eight, from “not spicy at all” (一點都不辣), to “psycho spicy” (變態辣). We opted for six, or “big spicy” (大辣).
The bitter melon soup, which I usually avoid for its strong flavor, pleasantly surprised with its light broth that had chunks of melon and ginger as well as blanched peanuts and clams. We also ordered some appetizers, including a dish of sweet green chili peppers with black beans that stood out for its unique smoky flavor.
Unlike spicy hot pot — the ingredients of which begin to taste the same after five minutes of boiling — dry hot pot retains the individual flavors of the chicken, beef, prawns, crab, noodles, broccoli, tofu and cabbage, while delicate hints of ginger and cardamom were discernable through the spicy sauce that the mixture was fried in. Vegetarian hot pots are also available.
Address: 117 Yanji St, Taipei City (台北市延吉街117號)
Telephone: (02) 2775-2597
Open: Daily from 11:30am to 9:30pm; closed Mondays
Average meal: NT$200
Details: Chinese menu; 10 percent service charge for dinner; credit cards accepted
Ting said that the biggest difference between the Beijing and Taipei restaurants is that hers doesn’t add salt to the food and she uses considerably less oil, which became apparent as we finished off the last morsels (there was only a tiny puddle of crimson oil at the bottom of the bowl).
If you go to Red Monster, its “water from heaven” (甘露水, NT$150), a clear, sweet drink made from corn, sweet potato, lily root and sugar cane, is highly recommended. It will cool the taste buds after a spicy and delicious meal.