During my recent trip to China, I was thrilled to finally be able to try Mutton Hotpot. A dish that’s only served during wintry months in China and Hong Kong, I’d never tried it before as my dining companions were generally not keen on mutton. When Gastronaut said that we’d be having Mutton Hotpot for dinner on the last day of my trip, I was more than happy to give it a try!
When we arrived at the restaurant, some of us were horrified to realise that the place served dog meat in addition to mutton! I couldn’t bear to take a picture of the guy at the entrance chopping up meat for the hotpot because there were some hindquarters that I was told belonged to a dog. Our foodie friends from Guangzhou assured us that there would not be any dog meat in our meal that evening (thankfully, it’s more expensive than mutton so it’s unlikely that the staff would mix the meats for us).
It had been raining the whole day and the temperature had dipped to 9 degrees celsius. I was glad to dive into the restaurant on a chilly and rainy evening. The charcoal stoves at the heart of every table in the restaurant kept the entire restaurant warm without a heater.Da Xiang Li’s Menu
Our Chinese foodie friends took charge of the ordering. The menu is mounted on the wall and is written only in Chinese. I would recommend visiting Da Xiang Li with a local if you’re unable to read the menu. The meat is sold by weight and the price will be provided when you’re ready to order.
The wait staff plopped a tray of dipping sauce at our table for us to distribute amongst ourselves. This being a casual dining establishment, don’t expect personalised service or a regular change of plates.Dip for the Mutton Hotpot at Da Xiang Li
The dip for mutton hotpot was essentially dollops of two different types of sauce. The dark red sauce was sweetened Nam Yu 南乳 (Fermented Beancurd with Red Rice Wine Lees). The orangey sauce was a savoury and creamy sauce made with Fu Yu 腐乳 (Fermented Beancurd with some chili). Topped with shredded Kaffir Lime Leaves, a combination of all 3 elements makes for a zesty, sweet and salty dip that complements the flavours of the ingredients in the pot. I love Fu Yu and am not a huge fan of sweet food so I preferred the Fu Yu dip.Mutton being added to our claypot
We waited for about 10 – 15 minutes before a chef appeared to pour the freshly fried mutton belly, neck and leg chunks into our claypot.Mutton Belly, Neck & Leg Claypot Stew
Here’s a photo of the ingredients that had been poured into our claypot. They’re only partially cooked so we have to bring the claypot stew to a boil before digging in.
You need patience to eat this dish as the charcoal stove takes a slightly longer time to bring the pot to a rolling boil in comparison to an electric stove. However, whether for psychological or nostalgic reasons, anyone who has eaten a claypot or steamboat that had been cooked using charcoal fire will tell you that it tastes better than the ones cooked over a gas stove. We waited and when we saw a steady stream of steam escaping from the vent in the claypot’s cover, we knew our dish was ready.
We started with the meat as they had to be removed from the claypot before they got overcooked. In spite of how vigorously the pot was bubbling whilst we dug in, the mutton leg meat was tender and juicy. Notably, the mutton in China doesn’t have such a strong gamey flavour or odour unlike the ones sold in Singapore. The base of the sauce in the claypot is Nam Yu (Fermented Beancurd with Red Rice Wine Lees), a rather robust sauce that’s often used in mutton dishes as it helps to mask the gamey flavour. The sauce in our pot was too thick and salty. We had to ask the staff to add water often to dilute it. Unlike regular steamboats that use a light broth, Nam Yu burns very easily. We had to keep stirring the pot to avoid having the sauce thicken and stick to the bottom of the pot. Stir often because once the sauce is burnt, the unpleasantly charred flavour permeates the entire pot (very much like how porridge needs to be stirred often to prevent burning).
Digging into a bubbling claypot on cold, rainy day in Guangzhou made for a comforting meal and one that I hope I’ll have a chance to repeat pretty soon. The light-coloured chunks that resemble potato are actually radish chunks. I like my radish chunks a little softer and when they’ve absorbed more flavour from the savoury sauce, so I waited till much later on in the meal to eat them.Fried Tofu Skin being removed from the pot
The other ingredients that I loved in the claypot were Fried Tofu Skin 炸支竹 or 炸腐竹 (CNY22/USD3.60 per portion), Fried Gluten 炸面筋 (CNY22/USD 3.60 per portion), Water Chestnut 马蹄 (CNY25/USD4.09 per portion), Vegetables (CNY18/USD2.95 per portion), Coriander 芫茜 (CNY15/USD2.45), Garlic Root 生上蒜白 (CNY25/USD4.09 per portion) and Handmade Mutton Balls 手打羊肉丸 (CNY48/USD7.85). I usually love fried Yam Chunks 炸芋头 (CNY22/USD 3.60 per portion) but the yam served here was rather starchy which resulted in a “gummy” texture. I prefer floury yam because the chunks would crumble in your mouth as you eat them.
If you’re in Guangzhou during Winter, the Mutton Hotpot is a Must-Try!大乡里食店 Da Xiang Li 蓬莱路70号 70 Penglai Road, Liwan, Guangzhou, Guangdong, China Google Maps: http://goo.gl/maps/tNgc0 Foursquare: http://4sq.com/1iTOVHv Operating Hours (only during wintry months) Daily: 11.30 am to 2.30 pm & 5.30 am to 2.30 am