Guys, time to be honest here. Being part of the World’s Longest Lockdown™ has brought us to the depths of Viber and Facebook, and exposed us to all the random things people have been selling online. Prize for most intriguing goes to everything from China, Taiwan, and other countries who have bestowed their technological prowess on all things instant. While they have been lurking in East Asian grocery aisles for a long time, they are now extremely accessible and sold all over your local online marketplace.
We have done the dirty and delicious work for you, and tried those instant hotpots you’ve been seeing all over your Instagram and Facebook ads. They belong to the most recognizable Chinese hotpot chains: Hai di Lao and Xiao Long Kan. There are a few flavors from each line, but we decided to pit their simplest beef and vegetable flavors against one another. Bear with us as we try our best to be culturally appropriate and highly accurate.
Xiao Long Kan
The Chengdu chain has stores in the Philippines that we rave about so often on Pepper. Overall, the instructions for both hot pots were much less clearer than the ones of its rival. While the Classic Beef Tallow had the best taste from all four, the Spicy Veggies variant was pretty uncooperative.
Xiao Long Kan Classic Beef Tallow
From the four hot pots we tried, the Xiao Long Kan beef had the most fillings, and the most deep and complex taste. As expected, it was spicy and full of that distinct Szechuan numbing heat, but the flavors of all the meat came through, and enough sourness to balance it all out. There was even pieces of chicken and ham, and an abundance of konjac noodles, which was delightful. We had a few issues with the instructions because there was no clear water line on the bowl to indicate how much was needed for the heating packet to work.
Xiao Long Kan Spicy Veggies
Based on mechanism alone, we’d rate this the lowest. This had no marks on the bowl to indicate how much water was needed, so we ended up overfilling the hot pot. It also took way more time to heat up than rest, and even with the extra few minutes, failed to steam. Maybe it was just defective? UX aside, the vegetables stayed crisp, and the lotus root in particular had a great texture. The broth though was just as good as its carnivorous counterpart, slightly thick, and with enough sour-salty complexity to stand up to the spice.
Hai di Lao
Hai di Lao is probably the most recognizable hot pot chain in the world, and hails from Sichuan, China. Their instant versions gave us a great at-home hot pot experience, and were engineered much better than the bowls of the previous contender.
Hai di Lao Spicy Beef Mala
While the types of meat in this hot pot were not as varied as Xiao Long Kan’s beef tallow entry, it had luxurious pieces that retained their meaty texture after heating, so it was closer to the real deal. Imagine dehydrated packets of beef and tendon plumping up after being heated in broth. While we are partial to the chewy nature of konjac noodles, and this bowl had thin vermicelli, the fact that it was full of crunchy-chewy seaweed and wood ear mushrooms made all the difference.
Hai di Lao Spicy Veggies
This veggie bowl was all oil and heat, so the spice was incredibly amplified. It again had thin noodles, which some might prefer over thick and chewy, but didn’t go so well with the broth. We did however, enjoy the sheer amount of vegetables that were in it (there was corn too), but it also had a funky, woody taste that some people might not be used to.
We don’t really want to do this, but it’s a tie. If you want flavor and don’t mind that the hot pots are a hassle to assemble and get through, then go for Xiao Long Kan. The hot pots of Hai di Lao are less complex in flavor, but are really fun to put together, and would have tasted great on their own if you didn’t have anything to compare them to. Gun to our head recommendation? Xiao Long Kan Beef Tallow, and Hai di Lao Spicy Veggies.