The Run Down

When the cold weather strikes, this guide has you cooking up some eats to keep warm -- or should I say hot -- hot pot that is. To get started, you'll head to a mega-sized Chinese grocer in Pilsen to pick up essential hot pot ingredients like fish tofu, lobster balls, udon noodles, sesame paste, and fried chili oil. We've included step-by-step instructions for a successful hot pot party. While there, you'll check out some of the other developments going on inside.

1. Getting Started @ 88 Marketplace

2. Snacks @ Chiu Quon Bakery

3. Pick Up Hot Pot Ingredients

4. Quick Dim Sum @ Food Court

1. Getting Started at 88 Marketplace

You’re here in East Pilsen at the newest Chinese grocer in Chicago. While we’ve had places like H-Mart out in the suburbs and Joong Boo in Avondale for a while, there’s been a recent crop of new Asian markets setting up in the city. This one happens to be the largest Chinese market in Chicago, and it’s located in a former warehouse building in a mixed residential/industrial area right off the Chicago river.

A few things to note. The grocery store is located on the second level of this building. On the first level is a hot pot restaurant and some vacant retail space that has the looks of a future indoor mall — something to keep in mind for future visits.

Before we get into the details, here’s a shot of all the ingredients you’ll pick up for your hot pot cook-off. If you haven’t had hot pot before, it’s easy to make. You basically take a pot of boiling broth and similar to fondue, you dip your choice of meat, vegetables, dumplings, and really whatever you want. Once it cooks through, you eat and repeat until it’s all gone.

It makes cooking interactive and it’s staple get-together meal in Asian culture. Now back to 88 Marketplace.

2. Snacks @ Bao Bae Bakery

Before getting to the main part of the grocery store, you’ll first run into Bao Bae Bakery. Grab a tray, grab some tongs, and go to town filling up with whatever you want. You want it; you deserve it. 

If you have to get just one thing, it’s these egg tarts. This is the Macau-style egg tart, and aside from how delicious each of these mini custards are, the story behind these desserts is a testament to why we share culture with each other.

This egg tart, popular all over Asia, was created by an Englishman who moved to Macau and attempted to create a Portuguese egg tart. What he came up with instead was this variation, which is now dubbed the Macau-style egg tart. Here’s a cool 3 minute video if you want to nerd out about egg tart history.

3. Pick Up Hot Pot Ingredients

After getting your snacks, we’re back at it and picking up our hot pot ingredients.  Here’s a list.

– Hot pot soup base packet

– Dipping sauce ingredients (sesame paste, chili oil, soy sauce)

– Sliced beef/lamb

– Udon noodles

– Variety of lobster balls, tofu, and fish balls

– Napa Cabbage

Now walk past the bakery and head straight for this general area where we’ll find most of the things you’ll need. You see the aisles on the left? Go to the one that has a label for hot pot.

Soup base

To give you a sense of the importance of this cooking style, there’s an entire aisle related to just hot pot. In this aisle, you’ll see packets of different soup bases produced by various companies. They come in multiple flavors like mushroom, spicy Sichuan, seafood, etc., and all you do to prepare this is pour the contents into a pot of simmering water, and you’re done.  We opted for this one from Little Sheep, which turned out great.

Dipping Sauce Ingredients

When you eat Hot Pot, you usually dip your cooked meats in some sort of dipping sauce. Everyone has their own way of making it, but we’re keeping it crazy simple. Find Sesame paste (pictured below), chili oil, and soy sauce. When you make it at home, start by adding the sesame paste into a small dipping bowl and keep adding chili oil and soy sauce to taste.  You can also add some of the simmering broth to thin it out.

The sesame paste is in the aisle next to the hot pot soup base aisle.

You can find a bottle of fried chili oil in the same aisle as the sesame paste. Although it looks insanely spicy, it’s really not. It’s a staple condiment in Asian cooking, and it adds a layer of depth and a bit of spice to your dipping sauce. There are a bunch of brands to pick from. This one from Laoganma did us right.

Noodles

Next to the hot pot aisle, you’ll see a refrigerated section with a vast selection of fresh noodles. It can be almost overwhelming to find the right one to get. We paired our hot pot feast with these Korean udon noodles (yellow packet).  This is easy to prepare. Just boil in water for 4 minutes and have these ready at the side as an accompaniment to all the stuff you dip into your hot pot.

Meats

Go to the meat section, and you’ll find super thinly sliced rolls of lamb and beef in an open-air cooler. This is specifically cut for hot pot, and they come packed in 1lb packages.  When you go home to prepare your hot pot, you just dip a few pieces of meat in the simmering broth for 30 seconds or so, and it’s ready to eat.

Also in the meat section are portable stoves and butane if you want to go for the full hot pot experience. Typically when you do hot pot, you just stick this stove right in the middle of the table, surround it with all your ingredients, and start cooking and eating family-style.

Hot Pot Fixins’

In addition to your sliced meat, you’ll want to stop off in this specialty area, which is located in the store’s frozen food section. At the end of an aisle is an open-air cooler with bins full of different hot pot fixins’.  These are things like lobster balls, fish tofu, fried tofu, and fish balls. Grab a plastic bag and start scooping.

You can fill a bag with as much stuff as you want and in any combination. You pay by the pound.  The last thing to pick up are some veggies in the fresh produce area. Nappa cabbage makes for a nice sturdy base of vegetables to mix in with your hot pot. 

When you come home, boil water, mix in your soup base, lay out all the meats and vegetables, make your sauce, take some Instagram photos, and within 15 minutes, you’ll be chowing down on a hot pot extravaganza.

 

4. Food Court

Finally, before you leave, if all this shopping has you too hungry to wait, there’s a food court across from the fresh produce area for a quick bite. You can choose between dim sum, a Chinese BBQ shop, and a noodle stand.

We opted for a light dim sum snack, but like all dim sum experiences, it led to a full-blown meal. Seven dishes total came out to about $35. Great value-to-cost ratio, and it certainly does the trick in satisfying your dim sum cravings.