Who would have thought that Sapa, a small highland town near the border with China, could boast such a fantastic, cosmopolitan selection of international cuisines. From Italian to Indian to French and back to Italian, Sapa seems to offer all of the classics and anything in between. Interestingly, we didn’t fancy any of the “foreign” foods. Our eyes went straight to a row of restaurants serving Vietnamese hot pot.
Up until now, we have passed up on this wintry dish because of the heat and humidity in the lower regions of Vietnam. Sitting around a HOT POT just didn’t appeal to us. But with cold fog drifting through the streets and a light drizzle, it suddenly seemed like a great idea.
We picked the Sapa Lotus Restaurant which screamed cozy mountain lodge: terracotta tiles, natural stone, beautiful wood paneling, an open fireplace, and antlers. I admit, the sleek propane heaters on the tables seemed a little out of place, but in reality, it was all about the food.
Little by little, thinly cut pieces of pork, beef, chicken, shrimp and squid, as well as mushrooms, tofu and leafy greens disappeared into the metal pot on the table. Things were either boiled or blanched in the simmering vegetable stock and then served with soy sauce and red chili on noodles. It took a well-coordinated effort between Tony and me to stay on track. Adding stuff, eating, removing stuff. Adding stuff, eating, removing stuff. In the end, it took about an hour and a half before it was all gone (we even ate the decorative carrots carved into flowers).
As we found out later, we must have chosen the tourist-safe version of hot pot. Certain local places prefer more challenging ingredients, such as horse meat, innards, and boiled blood. Mmhhhh…sounds intriguing.