Suffice it to say that I eat out more than the general population, unless, of course, the general population can catalogue more than 450 restaurant meals in a year -- which is about the number of breakfasts, lunches and dinners that I stomached in 2012. Pathetic, isn't it? But all those food dates are worth the gluttony, because it allows us to tell you where you should eat, a little favor that we started in late 2009, when we embarked on a culinary journey that took us through our favorite dishes in the Mile High City -- 100, to be exact. Now we're back with round three, counting down (in no particular order) 100 more of our favorite dishes in Denver (and Boulder). If there's something in particular that you think we need to try, reveal it in the comments section below, or shoot me an e-mail at email@example.com.
No. 77: Hot pot from China Jade
A thousand years ago -- maybe more -- in northwest China, a starving squadron of Chinese Muslims invented the Chinese hotpot (also called Chinese fondue) presumably on a very, very cold day in winter when the steaming broth, bubbling in an archaic pot on a mud stove, shielded them from the air's frigidity. The dish, which now has marked regional differences, is still popular throughout China, especially during the Chinese Spring Festival, also called Lunar New Year. And it's generated a following in the States, too, including Denver. In Japan, it's known as shabu shabu, and if you're in Malaysia, locals will refer to it as "steamboat." And if you're in Aurora, at China Jade, you'll have to ask your server for the "secret" hot pot menu, which I never knew existed until just a few weeks ago. And that hot pot menu might be the greatest culinary discovery I've made all year.
There are three soup bases, all of which arrive in pots straddling a tabletop burner: original (mellow and non-threatening); spicy (crimson red and bobbing with hundreds of numbing peppercorns and blistering hot dried chiles); or "yin-yang," with the mellow soup base on one side and the crazy-hot base on the other. And then the real fun begins. You're given a tick-off menu that equates to a full page of choices: raw meats, including pork belly, pork intestines, fatty beef and lamb shoulder; seafood, the options of which ballyhoo sea cucumber, head-on shrimp and surf clams; a full spectrum of vegetables (think snow pea tips, seaweed knots, spinach, baby bok choy, enoki mushrooms and radishes); pudgy pork dumplings; and several choices of noodles. Everything arrives at the table on separate plates, and you dip and drop the ingredients into the communal pot, cooking the meats and seafood until they're done.
And that's just the beginning. There's also the ritual of creating your own sauce from a rolling cart of condiments that includes cilantro, soy sauce, garlic, sambal, sesame oil, black vinegar and Chinese barbecue sauce.
Eating hot pot, I found, is a leisurely, long affair -- this isn't the kind of dish you order when you're in a hurry, and while I've always loved the food at China Jade, the restaurant's hot pot is my newest infatuation.
Hungry for more? All the dishes in our 2013 countdown are linked below:
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