Hot pot is perfect to take the edge off the lingering chill of winter in Taipei, and there are many options in Taipei to choose from. But if you want to try something a bit different, I highly recommend the lamb stew at Yuenan Dongjia yangroulu (越南東家羊肉爐, which roughly translates as Dong’s Family Vietnamese Lamb Stew). Dong’s lamb stew soup is served dramatically in a large earthenware pot on live hot coals. It is best to order a jin (600g) of meat, but you can order half that if you like.
Like hotpot, lamb stew (yangroulu) consists of a broth in which meat and vegetables are cooked. But unlike hotpot, the soup is cooked for longer with the meat falling away tenderly from the bone. And it is good for you, too: the warming soup base is packed with Chinese medicine such as ginseng, Chinese wolfberries (gou ji), Chinese red dates (hong zhao), ginger and cinnamon.
Dong’s restaurant pioneered lamb stew around twenty years ago. Based on a Vietnamese recipe, it was modified to suit local tastes. It is unusual to find an exclusively lamb-based dish in Taipei as many Taiwanese prefer pork or even beef. Yet Dong’s have obviously nailed the recipe: when it first opened, diners had to queue around the block for hours to get a seat. Its popularity led to a craze for lamb stew, and soon there were lamb stew restaurants everywhere. The intense boom made it difficult for most establishments to survive, but luckily Dong’s restaurant is not only still in business but recently upgraded to a roomier and more prominent location.
If you are not a lamb fan, Dong’s offer non-lamb stews as well as several stir-fried dishes. We have always been too focused on the stew to have appetite for much else. But I like their home-style tofu, reminiscent of mapo dofu but with large tofu triangles. Their smoky ham stir-fried with shallots and vegetables is also good.
Dong’s is at Number 18 on Xinyi Road Section 6 (越南東家羊肉爐, 台北市信義路六段18號, telephone (02) 27272 6130). You can recognize it by the round yellow “stir-fry 100” sign out the front. It is inexpensive: the basic lamb stew costs NTD$700 for up to five people, and the accompanying dishes start from NTD100. It opens from 11.00am until 2.00am. It is suitable for families, but don’t let young children run around while the wait-staff are bringing in the hot coals.