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A Chinese New Year feast – Chinese Hot Pot Supperclub

恭禧發財! Gong xi fa caiHappy New Year! Today I want to introduce a typical tradition- the Chinese hot pot- to my readers. As CNY is very popular in London and my partner is Asian, this year I found myself caught up in the enthusiasm- any excuse for a party after a (mostly) healthy eating, alcohol free “detox” January. And a hell of a party it was! By a chance encounter, I attended a very authentic Chinese hot pot feast at Wenyu’s Teahouse- a new supperclub and event series by Beijing born and raised host Selina. If you’ve never heard of it, you will now- prepare for a journey all the way East…

Chinese New Year hotpot feastAfter my trip to Asia, I have been a touch obsessed with memories of China- especially the tastes and smells- so much I bought all the Fuchsia Dunlop books and started to browse the shelves of my local Asian supermarket Longdan for more than (shame) instant noodles and pak choi. But for the approaching Chinese New Year celebrations, I still felt inadequate to cook up a full feast. And apparently good and bad Chinese restaurants are fully booked, so a meal out was out of question. I was half-thinking (triple shame) of one of those “Oriental meal deals” supermarkets sell for £8, £10 or £20 depending on how posh they are (I mean the supermarkets- the meals themselves are always the same dire and cheap processed stuff, with “fake- Asian dishes” like prawn toasts and Singapore noodles). I resigned myself of doing nothing about it.

The occasion to celebrate the Year of the Snake presented itself to me in the form of Wenyu (or Selina, the Western name she used to introduced herself ), whom I met at the Table for Ten supperclub a few weeks ago. As in the best supperclub tradition, we exchanged introductions over starters after sitting next to each other by chance – two lone guests at a might with mostly couples- and chatted away through the delicious dinner. Before heading to our night buses back home, we promised to meet again- however, I was almost sure hectic London life would get in the way of our keen sympathy.

Wenyu's Teahouse Chinese Hotpot

But never say never- here I am, on the first day of the Year of the Snake, sitting down with a glass of (propitiatory, of course) champagne at a lavishly laid out table, ready to tuck in a hotpot feast at “Wenyu’s Tea House”- a newborn series of events and supperclub started by Selina. Initially thought for a few friends, they’re starting to attract people like me who aren’t just greedy for Chinese fare but also keen on an authentic “cultural experience”.  Even though the house we’re guests in is quintessentially British, I do feel transported back to China thanks to the little touches of paper cranes, silk envelopes and calligraphy. Don’t think of anything stuffy or contrived, as Selina’ exquisite hospitality is also warm- hearted and spontaneous.

Hotpot Chinese New Year

A mixed crowd of Europeans- Italians, Spanish, French and British were represented, Chinese from different bits of the country and even a South American sat down to an absolute feast. Chinese Hot pot is a tradition which include much more than just the dish being consumed – as it’s true for all deeply-rooted food experiences, from Argentinian asado to the humble BBQ, to the endless Italian Christmas banquets I remember from my childhood. Sharing food is central to most Asian cuisine; Chinese hot pot brings the concept one step further, with diners all cooking bits of raw food (different types of meat, fish, vegetables and cheese) in the same pot of broth, usually divided into a milder and a spicier half.  It is a feast to the eye to see the carefully prepared raw ingredients nicely arranged on the table, and throwing them in the hot pot in batches, guessing the cooking time and then fishing from the pot is a source of conversation and endless fun- as no one seems to be able to retrieve whatever he or she put into it, you always end up with something unexpected. Not one for the squeamish, as it’s easy to forget etiquette and skip the “cooking” of chopsticks in the boiling broth, which should sanitize them. The broth changes its flavour as the collective munching goes on, as the ingredients release their fragrance into it, and new spices are added- making our “mild” half of the broth a fiery soup reeking of the characteristic Sichuan peppercorn notes.

Chinese Hotpot New Year

The pictures do our banquet more justice than my words – we sat down eating and socializing for hours , whilst the heaps of food which seemed so big at beginning were replenished promptly. A true, proper feast. As Wenyu/Selina explains before we tuck in, the character “huo” 火 appearing in the Manadarin word for hot pot (火鍋) also means “good fortune”, making the dish auspicious and ideal to bring about a prosperous new Year.  As my Western New Year started off quite badly, I am all for starting it off again on a better foot, and this pantagruelic, noisy and hearty banquet made me feel better after some bleak days. When reemerged in the cold and rainy London streets, I felt a bit warmer inside.

london supperclubs

Regardless of what the Year of the Snake will bring to me, I feel very fortunate to have been involved in this Chinese hot pot feast- unlike many other events and supperclubs, there is no blog behind it (but thereis a Twitter account- follow @wenyusteahouse) and is only bookable through Edible Experiences.  Needless to say, I heartily recommend to book this true hidden gem next time Wenyu’s transforms a London terraced house into a corner of China- and ditch the supermarket £10 Chinese New Year meal deal.

Read more about Chinese Hot Pot for a winter warmup on Edible Experiences


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