The one experience that I wanted to talk about the most from Alaska was from when Veronica and I decided get hot pot. Hot Pot, for those that don’t watch an insane amount of YouTube videos on random food throughout the day, is an Asian dish where broth brought and boiled on a heating device in the table. Various food items are then placed inside of it to be cooked and be enriched by its flavor. The accusation that this is something entirely random to try when we are on a trip to the middle of nowhere is founded, but it was also the only time that either one of us had ever actually seen a location that actively advertised that it was a Hot Pot restaurant.
Credit where credit is due, the staff were possibly the best of any establishment that I have ever been to in my entire life – and that isn’t me being hyperbolic. They were truly amazing from start to finish. When the wife and I walked in, explained what we looking for, that we were super interested in the idea, but had no clue how it really worked; they simply walked us to a table, stood with us and walked through the entire process. They also only verified with me twice that I was totally sure that I meant that I wanted the spicy soup.
The most memorable part, of all, was when Veronica finally got the shrimp she had been longing for delivered to the table – only to see that they were fully intact shrimp. She then sat there staring at them, impressively sad. I was about to say something about cleaning them for her when our waitress came back and asked if anything was wrong. Veronica did her slight and sheepish, “No,” which always means yes. The waitress picked up on this instantly and plainly asked if she wanted the heads cut off. I have not seen my wife smile like that since we have gotten married. In her defense the shrimp were huge, and I kind of wish I had ordered them.
So, normally, when you go for this type of meal one selects what type of food package they are going to get, such things as thinly sliced beef and lamb with veggies, to just a vegetable dish with noodles. Since I had absolutely no idea what I was doing when I arrived I pointed at the one that looked like it had the most meat on it and added an extra side of fresh ramen noodles—because, that is how I roll. Veronica, on the other hand, pretty much decided that she wanted to see if she could piece together an entire platter of food off the al a carte section, and then pick from mine. While not surprising in any form for me, it was just another item that seemed to baffle our very kind and attentive waitress.
Most hot pot establishments have sauce bars as well, a corner where one can go and create a mixture of whatever they would like to dip their freshly cooked food in. Because we had never done this before, and probably because they knew we would end up making way more of a mess than anything, they ended up preparing the sauce mixtures for us and bringing it with our food—but I just thought that I should point out that is normally an option at these locations. Mainly because I am still trying to convince my wife to go back.
So, the one thing I learned about this type of food is that I have no idea how long any of it takes to cook food in general. Also that looking things up online when you have a cauldron of broth that is slowly producing eye watering, peppery steam, is not the thing to do. Some research since I have been there leads me to the conclusion that veggies go in for several minutes at a time, while the meat cooks in literal seconds. The trick with this is that you are slammed with so much of it that there is a danger of overcooking anything if you leave it alone for too long. That isn’t a problem with the meat, as it is amazing, and I had to threaten to put a chopstick through a certain someone’s hand to make them stay away from mine. The problem is when it starts getting down to cabbage and noodles –each requiring several minutes—my lack of patience for food quickly shows and I cook them like the meat, resulting in strangely both soggy and crisp cabbage.
I should mention that the broth boils away, because that is a quick realization when leaning over a steam bath consisting of pure heat and seeds of hot peppers. Because it does, and the cooking solution quickly goes from a full to almost nothing. Sadly, it is kind of anti-climactic that the solution to this is that the waitress comes over with a kettle and simply pours more water into either broth mixture. I was secretly hoping it would be more amazing broth, but I guess we can’t have everything.
My food came with a pre dinner salad, and ice cream after, because I was smart enough to order from the menu. While I am normally not one to say anything about a salad, I will point out it was kind of nice. The ice cream, though, was pretty much the perfect thing to eat after the meal. Between the boiling broth and the spices in the soup it was the perfect end to everything. The bonus of this is that I didn’t even know I was getting it until it showed up, and then had to share with Veronica while she made the “that looks really good” eyes.