Compared to the Chengdu-style hot pot, Mongolian hot pot looks like it came from another planet. Or at least a much older planet. Differing from most other hot pots, this one still uses hot coals rather than an electric stove. It also looks nothing like a pot and looks more some obscure ancient brass ware you might find at an antique store. The broth, which is essentially water flavored by ginger and scallions, fills a moat that surrounds the central silo. This silo contains the coals that boil the hot pot.
Mongolian hot pots can be found all over Beijing and depending on where you are, they can range in price and selection. In general, I have found Mongolian hot pot to offer fewer options and I have never seen one offer a sauce bar like those in Shanghai. In my recent visit to Beijing, we found a little hot pot place not far from Tiananmen Square and settled in. We ordered some lamb and beef for our meats and winter melon as well. If you don’t know what winter melon is, it is essentially a giant gourd (I’m talking like 3 feet long here) that has next to no flavor, but does a great job of taking on the flavor of whatever it is cooked in. Perfect for hot pot.
As for the sauces, there wasn’t much to choose from, so we went with the garlic and the bean curd sauce (which is nothing at all like cheese curds). Then we started cooking. Although winter melon takes some time to cook, we thought it would be a good idea to wait until some meat was cooked and the broth had more flavor. We started cooking some meat and it tasted great. Rather than being covered in the flavor of the broth, the light broth of the Mongolian hot pot really brought the taste out in the meats. Then, of course, we could douse it in our two sauces if we wanted to. The garlic sauce was incredibly potent, but not in a bad way. The bean curd sauce is an almost indescribable taste, so I won’t waste any time describing it except to say it works well with hot pot.
After a good amount of meat had been cooked, we threw in the winter melon. It took a while to cook through, but eventually we got the melons to a good gelatinous state that tasted great. And when topped with the sauces it tasted even better.
Mongolian hot pot is a must-eat for any visitor to Beijing. It doesn’t matter what the weather is, because hot or cold it is a hot pot that is hard to find anywhere else and when you eat it you can almost imagine being on the other side of The Great Wall, camping out in the Mongolian Steppes, eating hot pot and wondering when you will get a chance to bring your delicious food to Beijing.