A hot pot, in the old town, tonight

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Hot pots abound in the southern metro providing a full feast to vegetarians and meat-eaters alike


Some diners add beef to their mushroom hot pots, but it can also serve as one of the few vegetarian indulgences here in Vietnam.

There are few things in this world that you cannot put into a hot pot or so goes conventional Vietnamese wisdom.

There are goat hot pots and snake hot pots and fermented fish hot pots. There are seafood hot pots and wholly terrestrial hot pots. A popular restaurant chain has made a fortune in the business of hot-potting alone.

Here's a secret: they're all good.

Who, in his right mind, doesn't like the idea of sitting around dipping things in and out of a bubbling cauldron?

The only known drawback to the hot pot is that the taste only gets better as the meal wears on. The broth only gets thicker, the flavors richer and you may find yourself painfully full and still eating, by meal's end.

In Ho Chi Minh City the multiplicity of hot pots reflects a good deal about the city's proximity to the Mekong Delta and its new identity as a cosmopolitan hub.

Thai hot pot is known for its sour-spiciness.

The flavors become nearly intoxicating as the lemongrass, ginger, lime leaf and tiger prawns boil into a rich and irresistible stew.

Mushrooms are beloved in Vietnam. They lack cholesterol and are known for high-fiber content.

They're also believed to stave off everything from cancer to wrinkles. And there is an endless galaxy of fungi here to choose from.

That said, it's no surprise that the mushroom hot pot is something of an institution.

WHERE TO GO

Good hot pots can be found at the following restaurants around Ho Chi Minh City:

Lau 1000 do C
16 Le Quy Don Street, District 3

Mon La Que Huong
177-179 Le Thanh Ton Street, District 1

Yeeboo Hot pot
1 Le Thanh Ton Street, District 1

Zenta Café & Hot Pot
41 Mac Dinh Chi Street, District 1

L'Orient
148 Tran Hung Dao Street, District 1

Families, co-workers and students get together on weekends to sup on the fungal stew.

While American diners are usually familiar only with the flavorless white button mushroom, the Vietnamese are very much in the mushroom know.

Most HCMC hot pot joints offer nam linh chi nau (buna shimeji), nam kim cham (enoki), nam huong (shiitake), and nam dui ga (king oyster mushroom) as their baseline selections.

More exotic varieties can be found at high-end spots everything from chanterelles to boletes.

Some diners add chicken or beef to their mushroom hot pots, but it can also serve as one of the few vegetarian indulgences here in Vietnam.

While most broths are made using pork bone, some places offer vegetarian broth on request.

Perhaps the best vegetarian option, however, is the soy milk hot pot typically mixed with Japanese miso. The broth may include Dashi, a stock base derived from dried kelp and dried fish, so ask.

Fish is often included in this hot pot, as well. That said, it's another potentially wonderful vegetarian choice. The more vegetables that are added to this semi-cloudy broth, the more fragrant it becomes.

For strict meat eaters, the sky is the limit. Consider fish head hot pot, tender goat udder hot pot or the pungent salted fish hot pot.

Beef shanks seem to melt away as they simmer atop the chemical briquettes. The meat itself is positively delectable when dunked into ginger-spiced fish sauce.

Ostrich hot pots (which often contain ceylon spinach) have become a popular item since the rich, gamey, bird began arriving in Vietnam in the late nineties.

A decent hot pot should cost between VND500,000-1,000,000 for a group of four at a high-end restaurant.

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