Mala Hotpot; that hot steamy spicy pot of soup that everyone is so crazy about is just about the best thing to eat during a cold winter night. While Taiwan did not invent the Mala hotpot, it has somehow managed to adopt it into one of its local cuisine. Somewhat different from the ones in Sichuan where the origin of Mala hotpot is, the Taiwan versions are spicy but do not have the numbing effect. I am sure everyone who loves Mala pot agrees that the one thing to hate about Mala dishes is that numbing sensation on your tongue and mouth caused by the peppercorns. By keeping the best taste of Mala hotpot and eliminating the worst numbing effect, Mala hotpot is almost like a national dish in all parts of Taiwan.
With an entire nation loving Mala hotpot, there is naturally stiff competition to be the best Mala hotpot restaurant. After much research and advice from friends who visit Taiwan often as well as from locals, it seems like Elixir Health, more lovingly known as Wu Lao Hot pot is the one on top as the most popular Mala hotpot restaurant. With long queues at any part of the day, Wu Lao Hot Pot naturally opened many outlets to cater to the non stop flow of guests. But even with the 4-5 outlets, a pre-booking is still necessary, if not be prepared to wait in line for 1 hour or more.
We went to the outlet at Zhongshan and the restaurant was decorated in a modern eastern Chinese flavor which greatly reminds me of the Xinjiang area of China. Most of the tables were within a small booth for privacy and the restaurant is pretty dim overall.
The restaurant was pretty big with 3 storey full of seating for customers. Each floor had a centralized sauce station for you to get the dipping sauce for your hot pot.
The sauces here are quite limited unlike the ones back home. There is only soy sauce, chilli oil, cut chilli, green onions and sesame oil.
The selection of ingredients was quite varied with a large selection of meats and a smaller selection for other items like meat balls and vegetables.
Refillable tea is served in a traditional iron cast pot which looks just out of a period drama. 4 bottle of soup stock was also provided for us to add into our pot at any time.
The server recommended for us to take the twin pot which has their most famous mala soup base which is not too spicy yet has a nice peppery taste as well as the tofu collagen soup base. The twin pot is served in a traditional iron pot on an exotic stove.
One of the most popular flagship item is this tofu ice cream which is a mix between tofu and fish meat. It tastes very similar to the fish tofu at Beauty in a Pot. Basically, it has the consistency of a fish cake but lighter and smoother like a silky bean curd.
The rest of the ingredients were generally fresh and tasted good in both soup bases.
This black squid ink paste was recommended by the server but once cooked, it was quite tough and did not taste spectacular.
In Taiwan, almost all Mala hotpot comes with a non stop free refill of braised bean curd as well as duck’s blood cubes. For us, this is the star of the show anytime since our home stopped selling it and we always crave for this so much. For those who wants to know how it taste, it has a clean taste of pig liver but a texture and consistency of Chinese jelly. It looks smooth like tofu but has more crunch and bite than tofu. There is no bloody taste even though it is made of filtered coagulated blood. When cooked in the mala soup, it soaks up the flavors of the soup very well.
Overall, I was not impressed by Wu Lao Huo Guo as we have so many selections back home and the soup bases were not exactly very unique or special except for the fact that the Mala soup was not numbing and quite tasty. My only reason to visit them again would maybe be for the duck blood cubes cooked in the mala soup but that is probably available elsewhere and you do not have to stand in queue.
Address: No. 36-1號, Section 2, Zhongshan N Rd, Zhongshan District, Taipei City, Taiwan 104
Operating hours: 11.30 am to 2 am