Indulging in spicy hot pot is a popular way to take the edge of Taipei’s early winter chill. I always thought that Sichuan province, and in particular Chongqing, took the honours for its spicy hot pot. But I have discovered that Taipei is also famous for its equally ferocious “mala huoguo” (麻辣火鍋).
There are a multitude of hotpot joints around Taipei, many focused on the “eat as much as you can” model, but for a quality experience head to Taihodien (太和殿, or tai he dian in pinyin). Taihodien is a mecca for visiting film stars and A-listers. I did not see any celebrities, at least none that I recognized, but there were some serious wannabes. Clearly, this is THE place to flock to when the temperature drops in Taipei.
But don’t let Taihodien’s star pulling status put you off visiting. Despite its reputation, there is no need to dress up unless you expect to be hunted down by the paparazzi. While fashionable, it is not exclusive and the interior is more homely than chic. However, book ahead or arrive early to avoid huddling outside in the cold. Taihodien’s hot pot comes in several heat registers, and you can order half chilli half ‘white broth’ if you prefer. We rather naively ordered medium hot (zhong la – 中辣). It packed a powerful hit, and was almost too hot to handle. The hotpot was a bubbling inferno of deep crimson liquid topped with molten chilli oil, filled with bricks of congealed ducks blood, tofu and intestines – tastier than it sounds. Attentive wait staff kept a watchful eye over the hot pot, frequently topping it up with more soup.
Add to the basic hot pot with more dishes. I recommend the prime beef, which is generously thick and seriously marbled (NT600). Also delicious are the fish dumplings (NT100): shape the paste yourself or get the wait staff to help. Crispy fried bread sticks are a must, but beware how long they stay in the hot pot – like a sponge, they soak up the chilli flavours fast. I suggest ordering at least four to five dishes for a table of four. Depending on your choices, expect to pay at least NT$700 per head.
Taihodien’s main shop front is at No. 315 Xinyi Road Section 4 – it has additional premises nearby (太和殿麻辣火鍋 台北總店 台北市信義路四段 315號). For reservations, ring either 02-2705-0909 or 02-2705-0909