Thursday, October 27, 2016

Ding Wang Ma La Guo

It so happened that our friends D and Y were in Taipei at around the same time as we did, so we decided to meet up over spicy hotpot with some of their friends. After all, as far as hotpot goes, it’s always the case of the more people the merrier.

We got together at Ding Wang Ma La Guo (鼎旺麻辣鍋) in Da’an District, just slightly off the major thoroughfare of Xinyi Road and within walking distance from our hotel. Compared to other hotpot restaurants, Ding Wang was small, with only 10 tables or so (there’s another shop a few blocks down in similar size), and the place was said to be ultra-popular especially on weekend evenings, so God knows how D managed to get a booking for the 10 of us right in the middle of the Saturday peak hours.

The menu consists of a wide variety of hotpot ingredients, with a choice of two different soup bases – either "Ma La" spicy or half-and-half, and we went for the latter. But first we began with the only non hotpot dish we ordered that evening, the braised chicken legs with soy marinate sauce. I understand for some it probably takes some acquired taste to enjoy sucking on those little chicken claws, but for those who like, these are the best chicken legs ever cooked on the face of earth. The skin was completely dark, taking in all the flavors from the dark soy marinate sauce, and it's all soft and tender from the collagen and fat in between the joints and the slow-braising.

The chicken legs made great starter snack just as we were waiting for our hotpot to be heated up and dishes arriving from the back kitchen. And in the meantime, we started to mix our sauces in anticipation, with white vinegar, sesame oil, soy sauce, and chopped scallions and parsley being passed around so we can mix in our bowl.

Usually we start hotpot meal straight away with meat but this time we swapped the order and went for the vegetables first. Cabbage was clearly our favorite of all – it’s extra sweet especially after taking in the flavor from the spicy soup. At first I was worried that the spicy soup might be too hot for my palate – especially we asked for medium hot – but turned out it's more than manageable. It has a much stronger hint of that numbness sensation (from the Sichuan Pepper) than just straight heat (like those from chilies), so it's actually quite salivating, literally. The mushroom platter was nice too, with a few different types. I especially like the wood-ear mushrooms with a crunchy texture, again, working well with the spicy broth.

Then we went for the meat dishes. Beef was the main focus with different cuts of meats as well as the innards. I love the boneless short ribs in a slightly thick cut, with a meaty flavor, some fat and a good bite. I also liked what’s described as “beef crunchy tube” – the term of aorta. It taste almost like intestine, less of the fatty texture but with better taste, I reckon. Inside the spicy soup there’s also duck blood curd and tofu, both of which extremely tasty after spending time swimming in the flavorful soup – and the best of all? They came with unlimited refills with the broth!

Having a big group of people eating together means we almost swept half of their menu, with a few repeated orders – we must have ordered 4 servings of cabbage and beef cuz they were both so good! And it’s always fun eating and drinking, talking and laughing, meeting new friends and catching up with old ones, who just so happened to be in the same place hundreds of miles away from home.

When? October 15 2016
Where? Ding Wang Spicy Hot Pot Store I, 251 Da’an Road Section 1, Da’an District, Taipei, Taiwan
鼎旺麻辣鍋 台灣台北市大安區大安路一段251號
Menu Highlights? Ma La Guo (Spicy Hotpot)

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