Making hotpot healthier fare

By Xu Junqian | China Daily | Updated: 2017-05-09 07:19

An organic-minded restaurateur opens a third outlet for her bubbling specialty. Xu Junqian reports from Shanghai.

Don't expect to order or dip common ingredients like corn or mini-carrots in the simmering Matsutake mushroom and chicken broth at this time of the year at Qimin Hotpot Marketplace.

Nor should you hope for the usual spice blast from any of its bubbling soups or dipping sauces; for one thing, the saltiness has been toned down by 60 percent of the typical seasoning.

In an attempt to defy the common, unhealthy stereotypes of Chinese hotpot, Qimin Organic Hotpot was founded in 2014 in Shanghai by Stephanie Ho, whose family owns Yuen Foong Yu Group, the largest paper-manufacturing conglomerate in Taiwan.

"If we manage to convince people that hotpot can be organic and tasty, I think we can make any cuisine organic and tasty," Ho told China Daily that year when she first launched the brand. "Organic food is seen in the Chinese mainland as a luxury for the rich and a comfort for those in poor health. I want to change that to make it more affordable and more widely available."

The avid advocate climbed aboard the organic-food movement after her tycoon father was diagnosed with hepatitis B in the 1990s. In 2005, the interest evolved into a more committed venture with a 33-hectare organic farm in Kunshan, Jiangsu province, which is one hour's drive from Shanghai and close to the conglomerate's mainland office.

The farm has since been supplying the two restaurant brands created by Ho, the Western-style Green & Safe and the hotpot named after China's earliest and most complete agricultural encyclopedia, Qi Min Yao Shu. It dates back to the fifth century.

Now three years later, in a market that is highly saturated and divided among the spicy Sichuan pot, the luxury Hong Kong seafood pot, and the emerging Chaoshan beef pot, Qi Min opens a third location earlier this year and has been more fastidious about the philosophy of eating seasonally.

Offering mainly vegetables, the printed menu changes as frequently as once every two months, which still doesn't quite keep up with "the pace of nature", as the management team says with a bit of regret.

"Very nice organic hot pot, served individually," writes Kenny T in an online review of the original location. "Mushrooms fresh on stem. Every evening at 7:30 pm, play a dice game with the wait staff, win to earn extra dish, lose & drink a glass of beer. Fun!"

For the meat selections, the idea is to label its origin as specifically as possible. The pork belly, for example, is from the black breed in Anhui province, which is believed to be the most original pig breed in China; the white type introduced from the West is now more common. The black breed is richer in fat, but makes all your marathons, your yoga, your gym squats or just working overtime on the corporate treadmill worthwhile. The lardy rice, meanwhile, topped with spring onions and crunchy cracklings, makes you want to give up any and all diet plans.

With complete confidence in its array of ingredients, the kitchen prepares the simmering broth, or soup base, in a most plain way, never wanting to steal the thunder of the carefully selected ingredients. Does it make the kitchen work easier? Yes. But much of the overall workload of the restaurant just comes earlier, as a lot gets done at the farm.

There is also a wide selection of Taiwan snack-food appetizers, like salty and crispy-fried chicken, and bamboo shoot with mustard-mayonnaise. Those are not really conventional starters for a hotpot meal. But if you want an authentic bite of Taiwan delicacy, they are worth a visit all by themselves.

Contact the writer at

If you go

Qimin Organic Hotpot Marketplace

3/F, No 191 Hengshan Road, Xuhui district, Shanghai. 021-5465-9195.

(China Daily 05/09/2017 page19)

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