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Perpetually #huangry. Occasionally #huangover.

#Huangry: Cold Day, Hot Pot

I've been talking about writing a food column for the Greenville Journal for a few months now, and just got around to actually doing it. It'll be a biweekly thing, and I won't be reviewing food, per se. Just talking about what it's like to eat all manner of things, from Cook Out fancy shakes to food truck tacos. This is the first installment. Originally published on October 30, 2015.

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Hot pot is a humble dish. It has no pretenses. It’s exactly what it sounds like: a hot pot. I’m at Mekong Restaurant on a blustery, gray fall day—it’s not quite cold enough to warrant a chili or stew, which incidentally means the perfect conditions for hot pot.

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I’ve ordered the hot and sour mussel variant, and it arrives at the table in a stainless steel pot that resembles a Bundt cake pan. The central hole is home to the burner, and when the server lights it, an impressive flame springs out. It might be the novelty of the presentation; it might be my history of underwhelming hibachi onion volcanos; or I might not have outgrown my adolescent pyromania. Regardless, this is incredibly exciting. I mean, my meal is kind of on fire.

There’s also a heaping plate of rice vermicelli, two dipping sauces, two bowls, and a ladle—this is a dish designed for sharing, if you haven’t already guessed.

I let the pot sit covered for a few minutes—fire is mesmerizing, plus the ingredients need to finish cooking. Once uncovered, the pot reveals a bounty of seafood. There are generously sized mussels, rings of calamari, fish balls, shrimp, bok choy, long leaf water spinach, and onions that have been cooked into sweet, translucent oblivion. But the real star is the spicy lemongrass broth.

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The broth is mostly clear, spotted with bits of chili oil. There’s a bit of tang and citrusy brightness—the lemongrass at work—as well as a subtle heat that comes on late. It’s the kind of spiciness that creeps into the back of your throat—a comfortable warmth, rather than a four-alarm fire. In a word, the broth is clean: it delivers a soothing landscape of flavor without being overwhelming.

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The ingredients also deliver an abundance of textures—a healthy chew, the satisfying feeling of sinking your teeth into something really good. And there's the water spinach. It looks stalky, fibrous, and generally a nuisance to eat, but the shoots are surprisingly tender and sweet in their bath of broth, and their hollow stems add a little punch with the spices that accumulate within.

Ladled onto a bowl of vermicelli, the combination is hard to beat. The noodles absorb the broth’s flavors, while providing some substance to the soup. It’s warm, inviting, eminently slurpable, and it won’t send you into a food coma. And did I mention? It comes with a fire.

(+) PROS

  • Clean, balanced broth
  • Generous portions
  • Slurping noodles is fun!
  • FIRE!!!!
  • Makes for a great interactive experience & conversation piece

(-) CONS

  • Please don't burn yourself!
  • Slurping is kind of messy

 

 


Tasting Notes

  • I didn't find the dipping sauces necessary — there's plenty of flavor built into the broth.
  • Fair warning on portion sizes: the small hot pot is plenty of food for two very hungry dudes.

Mekong Restaurant
2013 Wade Hampton Blvd, Greenville, SC
(864) 244-1314
Hot & sour mussel hot pot: $18.99 (small); $36.99 (large)