The first time I tried hot pot, it was in Boston Chinatown with a few college friends after a long day of classes. Since that fateful day, I have been hooked. Once I moved to Shanghai, I immediately started looking for a hot pot chain to relive the first experience, and since then, I have found five of my personal favorites. All the places mentioned in this article have a unique selling point and are all big chains in China.
Haidilao is famous in China for its fantastic hospitality, lively atmosphere, and great selection of broths. While you wait in line - which can take from 1 to 2 hours - you can play board games with your party and also be fed snacks and tea in the waiting room. The restaurant also has a great selection of broths in which to dip your ingredients in such as mushroom, tomato, spicy broth. Lastly, don't ever worry about going there alone because a plush teddy bear will be provided in the seat across you.
Average price per person: ~ 150RMB (21USD)
If your stomach is very sensitive to spicy food, you can try Laowang which is known for its non-spicy Pig stomach and chicken broth. They are also famous for their clay pot rice which has sausage and veggies. Another added plus is that in addition to the watermelon always provided at typical hotpot restaurants they have unlimited tangerines!
Average price per person: ~150RMB (21USD)
Yezibuyu is most famous for its Hainan style coconut water and chicken soup broth. Additionally, the chickens sourced for the hotpot are raised on sole diet of coconut which is the origin of its unique flavor. Supposedly the recipe of this hotpot has been passed down from ten generations and also contains traditional Chinese medicine.
Average price per person: ~ 165RMB (24USD)
Nan Men Shuan Rou is famous for their Beijing style copper hotpot that has heated coal in the middle and a base to dip the ingredients in on the sides. The base is very minimal with only water and touch of seasoning. Normally the dipping base is an oil or soy sauce dipping but here they use a sesame sauce for the base. The most famous dish to try is their hand cut and sliced Beijing lamb, which is fantastic.
Average price per person: ~125RMB (18USD)
Dalongyi is known for their Szechuan Style Hotpot which is by far the spiciest among the Chains mentioned. The bases range from Mild to Hot and it is recommended that the you start with the former if you are going for the first time. Dalongyi's dish to try would be the beef cuts covered in red pepper powder and flakes. If you are a fanatic of all things spicy, Dalongyi is the place to go.
Average price per person: ~140RMB (20USD)
All these places bring valuable insight into how one type of food is eaten across different regions in China. If I've learned anything from my experience with these chains, it's that I've only scratched the surface of the complex food that is hotpot.