Food for Fun #3: Quan Hotpot (寬巷子)
In Taiwan, hotpot is very popular especially during cold winter. You can find them in also every shopping malls or even some eateries within night markets. However, in a small lane outside Shilin MRT station, there is this new hotpot place which is gaining in popularity — Quan Hotpot (寬巷子).
People who visited Taiwan always tells me that the good food are hidden within the alleys. I don’t deny because I really found very nice food in the small alleys (Read: Piece of Cake for their soft cake rolls, Peng Ji for their crispy smelly tofu). So I was really happy to find another hidden gem.
Have you wonder why those ulu ulu shops sell the best food? I don’t know if this theory is correct but in my opinion, these shops have very cheap rents so they can afford to spend more on their ingredients. But of course, you must cook your food well!
This particularly explains Quan Hotpot (寬巷子), where the owners are very passionate about. Quan is an intimate place, where you can enjoy hotpot in a comfortable setting and avoiding the crowded and stuffy atmosphere common to many hotpot restaurants.
Quan has a spectacularly colourful set of hotpot soup bases. Four soup bases lead the charge: Sichuan-style spicy soup, Light spicy soup, Silkic tonkatsu and Fresh tomato soup.
Not many restaurants can do sichuan well. Many of them just added alot of different chilli and spices into the soup to make it super spicy and calls it “sichuan”. But this isn’t the correct taste at all. If you were to drink a good pot of sichuan soup, you should only feel the numbing coming only after 3 seconds. And it should slowly subside, not giving your mouth a permanent anesthetic jab.
And I think Quan Hotpot has done it well. I was initially afraid that I might taste something very spicy and numbing throughout my whole dinner, but it was surprisingly not. The soup has a range of intense flavours without blasting our taste buds into strong pepper-hot numbness. If you realize, they have actually put the Sichuan peppercorns and chili in the middle of the pot and let the flavours of these spices merge with the soup, so you won’t jump if you were to eat any of the spices.
We also ordered the Silkic fowl Tonkotsu soup which has is thick and fragrant. The soups are not too salty and you can just drink it like that, without having to pair with rice.
The owners of Quan Hotpot takes pride in designing their hotpot. They have visited China, collected close to 4000 pots for research purposes, before drafting their hot pot design and giving it to the carpenters to do it. Hence, you will never find similar designs in any other hotpot places. From the design of the pot, to how it retains heat, the type of fire used, the depth of the pot etc… everything was thought through very carefully.
Quan Hotpot takes pride in making their serving ingredients look pretty and presentable. When they have decided to set up a hotpot restaurant, they wanted to be different and not serve those typical ingredients which you will see in other hotpot restaurants. So the owners begin to brainstorm for the possible ingredients to pair with the hotpot, then think of ways of pairing them together in a creative manner. So in the end, they decided to combine floriculture into their hotpot, they sent their chef to learn flower arrangement from a French teacher, and came up with ingredients with exquisite design.
One such example is this Comprehensive Organic Vegetables (花园锦族，NT$350). They are just vegetables, typical vegetables which you will see in other hotpot restaurants. But when they arranged it into a flower arrangement and we just went “WOW!” when the whole pot appears in our table.
The chef who made this told us, a seasoned chef can only plate less than 10 plates in 2 hours! Each design takes into many consideration, such as the colour, five elements, usage of ingredients etc, the presentation definitely outclasses those of other hotpot restaurants.
Seafood Shabu Shabu (海鲜盛合，NT$580) is well-represented too, with fresh squids, fish, prawns, and salmon. Indeed, the fish plate looked so good on arriving at our table that it was difficult to stop ourselves treating it as sashimi.
The menu’s focus is clearly on quality, and this means that customers looking for an encyclopaedic list of meats and vegetables to drop into their hotpot will be disappointed. One example is this rose design Matsusaka Pork （松板猪，NT$580) where each “rose” petal has been carefully sliced to achieve this effect.
It is suggested to dip the pork into the bowl of egg yolk, before putting it into the hotpot as the egg yolk gives a smooth and nice coating to the meat. Other interesting selections include shoulder of beef, and prime lamb.
By the way, they don’t serve any sauces to pair with the hotpot ingredients because the owners believe that they want to retain the most original flavour of the ingredients.
There are also a number of house specialities that set Quan apart from the crowd, and include menu items such as Sesame Spinach Wrap (菠菠糖，NT$280). Inspired by the sweet delicacy bing bing tang, they created a savoury version which is suitable for hot pot.
Using fresh beancurd skin and white sesame to make the layers, each roll is finally wrapped with spinach and it just tastes unique when the three ingredients are combined together. Also, each table will be given a 4 minutes timer because these ingredients are best cooked and removed within 4 minutes.
Deep fried minced shrimp and eggplant (杏香野菊，NT$320) looks like a lovely flower, isn’t it? At the bottom, you have minced shrimp wrapped with eggplant. On top, you will find the flower stigma made of purple corn and petals made of almond.
To give a sunshine and happy dining experience, Sliced cheese grilled octopus (向阳捧花，NT$320) were made to look like sunflower. They are actually cooked and can be eaten just like this without putting it into soup. But of course, it tastes better when it is placed in soups, and it won’t go out of shape!
No no, this is not the nougat you buy from Australia lah… These Nougat of octopus (墨条牛轧糖，NT$260) are made of octopus (花枝) and chicken cartilage, coloured by squid ink. I am very sure you can’t find such creative ingredient in any other hotpot.
The owners feel very strongly about wanton and he feels that by having too many fold on a wanton or xiao long bao is just a marketing gimmick because if you have too many crisps, the heat transmitted throughout won’t be balanced and the folded areas may be thicker and harder than the rest. So he made his Wanton of shrimp (鲜虾抄手，NT$180）in a very simple way, that is just to roll it. Their skin and ingredients are all handmade and I like this!
Taiwanese love to cook intestines in hotpot and this is rather unique because we never do that in Singapore. In fact, I don’t think there are alot of hotpot restaurants in Singapore that serve braised intestines to go with hotpot.
Anyway, putting the Braised Large Intestine (大肠头，NT$298) into the hotpot is a interesting experience. It is said that the way you cut the intestines will affect the texture of it. In this case, this braised intestine is very chewy!
Quan Hotpot also caters to traditionalists, who have the option of ordering items like Liver (招牌猪肝，NT$230). They will first cook their liver in the kitchen, hence we only have to put it in the soup for about 10 secs and it will be ready!
Old Fritters（老油条，NT$60）are also added into hotpot. Old fritters simply means these dough fritters have been fried 4-5 times, and it is harder and more crispy. After frying, the chef will put into the oven to grill a while. If you eat hotpot, it is recommended that you get the old fritters so that when you put them into the soup, it won’t turn soggy immediately and you can still soak the fritters in a lovely pot of soup!
In my opinion, these hotpot dishes are very unique and cannot be tasted anywhere else. I believe Quan Hotpot is going to be a rising star in Taipei’s restaurant scene because of its ability to come up with creative variations to traditional hotpot foods. They take an effort to plate their dishes, and everything looks so fresh and beautifully present. Having hotpot especially in a cold weather is very comforting, and I think it is one of Taipei’s well-kept secret.
Pricing: NT$110 per pax for 1 soup, NT$150 for double soups. Each table needs a minimum spending of NT$1000.
Here’s a video interview with the owner on how his hotpot is made.
Quan Hotpot (寬巷子)
Address: 台北市中山北路五段505巷22號（No.22, Lane 505, Section 5, Zhongshan North Road, Shilin District, Taipei）
Tel: +886 2 2883 1599
Opening hours: 11am – 10pm
Directions: Alight at Shilin Station Exit 2, turn left and walk for 1 minute.
* Food for Fun (食在有趣) gourmet tour is proudly organized by iSee Taiwan Foundation. Only airfare, hotel accommodation and selected meals are sponsored.