Chinese New Year with custom-made creations

January 28, 2011 9:44:45 AM PST
As the Chinese New Year approaches, we thought it only appropriate to head down to Cermak and Wentworth in search of a Chinese tradition everyone can get in on.

The indecisive eater is king when it comes to hot pot protocol. At Tao Ran Ju, in the brand-new Richland Mall on the northern edge of Chinatown, every table has its own set of burners, and customers call the shots. Don't like lamb? Forget it then. More of a shrimp or fish person? Not a problem. How about the broth, spicy or just plain old chicken stock?

"Actually, we have a soup base for you, and you can put some vegetables and meats or what you want to put into the soup base, and it's boiled," said Tiffany He, one of the managers of Tao Ran Ju.

There is no rhyme and there is no reason to the order in which you do that boiling. It all depends on your mood. But before you sit down, head over to the extensive sauce bar, and choose from among more than a dozen spices, chilies, sauces and pastes which will flavor your cooked protein and vegetables. Speaking of which, how about a mound of silky tofu or vibrant peapod leaves with watercress; perhaps some Napa cabbage or mushrooms? You can dunk them, stir them or just let them sit in the broth to flavor it even further - remember, you're going to get to eat it like soup later on.

The kitchen has taken the liberty of slicing the beef and lamb while frozen to ensure ultra-thin sheets; that way, they take less than a minute to cook in the hot broth. One you've fished out your meat or vegetables, just give it a quick dunk in your sauce and enjoy. Even if you're not totally at ease with chopsticks, they give you more serious tools to help you scoop out your tasty creations.

"This is for fish or shrimp or if you are not accustomed with chopsticks, you can use that," He said.

You should also try the delicious xiao long bao also known as "soup dumplings" at the restaurant. But be sure to pace yourself, as you can quickly order too much to cook in your hot pot.

Tao Ran Ju
2002 South Wentworth Avenue

Also mentioned:
10th Annual "D'Vine Affair"
Jan. 30, 2 - 6 p.m.
Union League Club, 65 W. Jackson
All proceeds go to Catholic Charities' self-sufficiency programs
Wine appreciation sessions at 1:30 p.m. and 2 p.m.
Tickets are $100

Raffles prizes include a $1,000 and $500 wine cellar