It is winter and it is time for hot pot!
I remembered when Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot opened in Bellevue, it was an exciting day!
Little Sheep is a successful hot pot chain from Asia, and they are best known for their herb broth.
There used to be another hot pot place in Bellevue called Little Hot Pot before Little Sheep, selling similar spicy hot pot but not part of the real chain.
Eventually as the real deal opened up, Little Hot Pot promptly shut its door.
For our family, it is a tradition to have hot pot during winter; there is something comforting about piping hot food off the pot when it is cold out.
A fantastic way for family or friends gathering, we usually purchased a wide variety of seafood (shrimps, squid, fish, oysters or clams), meats (my favorite were lamb and fatty beef, all thinly sliced), tofu products, vegetables (turnips, green veg) and noodles; all the food will be raw on the table next to a portable cook top with a pot of soup for cooking.
Usually, more people, more fun, and with larger variety of food.
The atmosphere of a hot pot meal is often lively with people chatting while cooking or waiting for food; just a fantastic way for social interaction.
It is something so easily prepared (soup base as simple as chicken broth from a can), anyone can enjoy a great hot pot meal at home.
What gets me to Little Sheep is their broth.
They are exceptionally delicious: made with many different herbs and spices, it is a soup that is being cooked for a very long time with all the essence of the ingredients fully extracted.
I love Little Sheep’s broth so much that I go to eat soup rather than eating the food.
Generally, they offer original, a spicy version of the original, a vegetarian, and a pork bone broth.
The original and pork bone are most exquisite; on my recent visit, I was sad to find out that they no longer make the pork bone soup.
We had the original broth, spicy and non-spicy half-and-half, which were dubbed “yin yang pot”
It was very difficult to describe the soup aside from very savory, creamy and addictive.
The flavors were so complex that it was challenging to pin point – most certainly garlicky and with “dong gui”, goji berries, green onions and some sort of date.
There were herbs floating in the soup, but it was hopeless for me to recognize, and I did not have the slightest clue how these herbs tasted individually on its own.
The final concoction though was just superb.
Raw ingredients for cooking were fresh — we usually ordered a set that came with mix meats (beef and lamb), mix vegetables (tong ho, bok choy, lettuce and napa cabbage), mix seafood (shrimps, mussels, scallops, fish and squid), mix tofu (soft, fried tofu puff and frozen tofu), fried rice, pickled vegetable as appetizer, all for $29.99.
Along with the set, we had a few specials that we add-on.
One was the house-made and hand-made balls – beef, lamb, shrimp and fish balls; crunchy, bouncy, they had very different flavors and different texture that were screaming freshness when compared to their frozen cousins from the grocery stores.
By the same token, Little Sheep also made an octopus paste that was delicious and extra crunchy.
Another special was their lamb skewers — garlicky and marinated with cumin, they were grilled dry on the outside but moist inside, with little bits of completely enjoyable fat and tendons, very delicious.
Shy of going to Richmond night market in the summer, these lamb skewers were second best.
My sister enjoyed their beer marinated beef as well.
Some claimed that beer made the beef more tender; it certainly imparted a hint of beer flavor to the meat.
Alas, due to the nature of the food, cultural custom and association, Little Sheep unfortunately is a place we only go once or twice a year during winter.
Food is certainly great!