Something in the blood when the heat is on
Summer may seem to be the wrong season for hot and spicy food, but one hotpot brand is attracting numerous diners who aren’t afraid of the heat — Tan Ya Xue duck blood hotpot.
Though seemingly primitive, blood has been part of Chinese cuisine since ancient times. The fresh blood gathered during the slaughter of livestock and poultry is coagulated to create a solid, tofu-like substance with a silky texture. Among the different kinds of blood tofu, duck blood tofu is regarded as the cleanest and most nutritious.
Duck blood tofu has no strong taste or smell, but its silky texture allows it to absorb other flavors very well, so it’s ideal to use in spicy hotpot.
Tan Ya Xue specializes in spicy Chongqing-style hotpot with duck blood tofu as the highlight. The classic spicy broth base (78 yuan/US$11.5) comes with slices of duck blood tofu, marinated tofu and quail eggs. The chilis, beef tallow and other spices are served in their original dry or solid form. When the pot is served, a server will ask the diner to lift the lucky seal and then pour a pot of hot laoyingcha, or eagle tea, to cook the spicy broth.
The tea is the key to the recipe, it’s a special drink from Sichuan that’s known for its heat reducing property, so using it as the broth instead of bone stock can balance the heat and greasiness of the hotpot. The eagle tea is also served as a beverage at the restaurant.
Duck blood (12 yuan) is a must-have and most tables would order a plate or two. The Sichuan classics such as tender beef (46 yuan), beef tripe (42 yuan) and duck intestine (36 yuan) are very fresh, and thick-cut luncheon meat (30 yuan), bullfrog (19 yuan each), boneless chicken feet (30 yuan) are also popular.
Gongcai (22 yuan), a dried green vegetable, is a special dish at Tan Ya Xue. It’s an interesting ingredient in hotpot with a crunchy texture that can also become very soft when cooked for a longer time. The dust-pan tofu (20 yuan) sells out very quickly every day, but one should be cautious as it can be super spicy and hot when cooked in hotpot.
The dipping sauce for the hotpot is charged at 6 yuan per person, which includes a small can of sesame oil and choices of scallion, cilantro, minced garlic, chilis, zhacai (Sichuan pickle) and more. The sesame oil is a must when eating spicy hotpot because it can tone down the spiciness and add more flavor.
If you are unsure of the proper cooking time for each dish, ask the server for a menu with notes of how long the ingredients should be cooked in the pot.
The place has a very limited offering of staple and sweet dishes. There are only two desserts, the chilled glutinous rice ball in brown sugar soup (26 yuan) and fried glutinous rice cake with brown sugar glaze (19 yuan).
The service at Tan Ya Xue is very attentive, the ordering is done on WeChat so there are pictures of every dish.
Tan Ya Xue currently runs 14 restaurants across Shanghai. On Friday nights, the waiting line outside a Tan Ya Xue restaurant is easily two hours at a minimum around 6pm. The restaurants are open until 2am every day, and generally no waiting is needed after 9pm.
While waiting, snacks like crispy broad beans and tea are offered. And every table that waits two hours or more gets a plate of duck blood tofu for free.
Opening hours: 11am-2pm, 4pm-2am
Address: 1/F, No.10, Lane 246 Yuyuan Rd
Average price: 140 yuan