Nothing wards off the cold weather like lamb hot pot. At least that’s what my Taiwanese friends always say when cold fronts sweep across the Taipei metropolis, bringing rain, rain and more rain.
Situated within walking distance of the Xingtian Temple (行天宮) MRT Station, Chung Tan Shao Lamb Hot Pot (重炭燒羊肉爐) has been serving local diners for almost three decades. The restaurant, known more for its food than its service and decor, has a group of committed gourmets. On a typical winter evening, the wait for a table is 30-plus minutes.
Its popularity is really no wonder, considering the amount and quality of ingredients that go into the making of the dishes. Instead of using chicken broth and pure water as the soup base, for example, the cook insists on using three whole bottles of rice wine for the lamb hot pot (羊肉爐, NT$750). Wine lovers can adjust the flavor by adding an extra bottle of rice wine (米酒, NT$50).
Inside the clay pot, I was surprised to find jujubes (紅棗) as plump and juicy as a small tomato and many other Chinese herbs to get rid of the strong, distinct odor of mutton. Although I’m not a big fan of lamb, I found the boneless chunks not only acceptable but somewhat delicious. Veggie lovers can order servings of fresh cabbage, king oyster mushrooms (杏鮑菇) and greens to add to the pot.
Some side dishes my food companions ordered are also worth trying. Salty egg and bitter squash (鹹蛋炒苦瓜, $150), crispy bamboo shoots (脆竹筍, $100), blanched squid rings (美味透抽, $200), stir-fried ferns (炒山蘇, $150) and sesame oil noodles (麻油麵線, $50). The dishes are a little spicy and greasy but I guess the whole idea of having lamb hot pot is to warm up the body and even sweat a little.
I like the idea that Chung Tan Shao distributes o-shiburi, a wet hand towel you often find in Japanese sushi bars. The towel, made of a square piece of cloth, can be reused after sterilization. Compared to disposable paper towels or napkins, o-shiburi is definitely more environmental friendly.
According to Chinese medicine, lamb contains properties that promote good health. Warm in nature, lamb meat improves blood circulation, boosts the immune system and increases the production of milk after a woman gives birth. Because lamb warms the body, it is often not served during the summer months. Like many lamb hot pot restaurants, Chung Tan Shao only opens from October to April.