Depending on whether or not you’re a fan of stinky tofu, the prospects eating a hot pot whose broth features its ‘stinky’ juices will either excite or horrify you. I like stinky tofu quite a lot, but I’m not sure if I like every other component of a hot pot infected and ‘dirtied’ by the rancid tofu (it’s similar to how the moldiest and stinkiest varieties of cheese are best enjoyed on their own). As a result, I have – thus far in my life – avoided trying the pan-stinky aromas of stinky hot pot.
Boiling Point, being a restaurant that features the stinky hot pot moniker next to its name (in Chinese), has not been on my radar because of my lack of interest for stinky hot pots. However, I couldn’t help but become curious about the restaurant after driving by its Burnaby location and witnessing groups of people waiting outside its doors for their turn to have their senses of smell overwhelmed by the stank of stinky tofu. I fully expected stinky hot pot to appeal to a segment of the local Chinese population, but I did not expect the segment to be big enough to create a queue. Surely the restaurant must serve other types of hot pots that drew in friends of stinky hot pot lovers, I thought. I checked the website of the restaurant; my assumptions were confirmed. Besides stinky hot pot, there were 11 other types of non-stinky-tofu-based hot pots served at the restaurant.
Assured that we did not HAVE to order stinky hot pots, my wife and I decided to pay the restaurant a visit. We chose to visit the restaurant during lunch on a weekday to minimize our chances of waiting for a table.
When my wife, son, and I arrived at Boiling Point, there were tables readily available; the restaurant was more than half empty. We were seated in one of the four tops that felt like a private stall. The benches of the booths were designed with high backs and the tables were equipped with equally high dividers to create the feeling of a semi-private dining space. The high-backed leather benches were stiff and uncomfortable. Throughout my meal, I felt an urge to quickly finish my food so I could end my discomfort of sitting at the super-stiff benches.
The quick service of the restaurant meant that I was able to receive and finish my meal in the shortest time possible. We ordered three personal-sized hot pots; they arrived less than 10 minutes after we placed our order. My wife ordered the Taiwanese spicy ‘mala’ hot pot.
After her first bite of her food, my wife immediately commented that the spiciness of the broth was adequate. This was a good sign. Usually, when my wife detects a good level of spiciness in a dish, she goes on to enjoy the dish. But this turned out to not be the case with the Taiwanese spicy hot pot. What was initially an enjoyable spiciness turned into an overbearing sweetness that made the contents of the hot pot less and less enjoyable to my wife with each subsequent bite. There was a huge variety of items included in the hot pot. There were (cutting and pasting from the restaurant’s website): Taiwanese Cabbage, Instant Noodle, Sliced Beef, Encomia Mushroom, Tempera, Clam, Foochow Fishball, Cuttlefish Ring, Pork Blood, Pork Intestine, Fried Tofu Skin, Maitake Mushroom, and Iced Tofu. In reality, the hot pot consisted mainly of Taiwanese cabbage. There was maybe a piece of pork blood, two tiny rings of pork intestine, and a minimal amount of everything else. My wife commented that the pre-cooked beef slices were tough because they were left in the pot for too long.
The tough and unenjoyable texture of the meat slices was actually one of the themes of our meal at Boiling Point. Since everything came to our table already cooked in the hot pots, we were not able to control the texture of the items by controlling the time they spend in the hot pots.
The beef that came in my son’s beef hot pot was so tough that it was literally impossible to un-roll the cooked beef back into slices.
The beef hot pot came with these ingredients: Nappa, Vermicelli, Sliced Beef, Enoki Mushroom, Tomato, Firm Tofu, Tempura, Corn, Meatball, Kamaboko, Fired Tofu Skin, and Imitation Crabstick. I finished all the non-beef items in the hot pot for my son. Like my wife’s spicy hot pot, my son’s beef hot pot was dominated by napa and garnished by the rest of the ingredients. I thought that the broth had a dull and completely indistinguishable flavour that closely resembled the unenjoyably oily broth bases that usually come with generic Taiwanese beef-flavoured instant noodles. The entire flavour and texture experience of eating the hot pot felt like a huge, foggy blur. I honestly couldn’t recall any flavours or textures other than napa soaked in instant noodle soup mix.
Defying my own preferences, inhibitions, and desires, I ordered the house special stinky hot pot. Since I knew that I would be sharing my son’s non-stinky beef hot pot, I thought that I should order the house special for myself because…it was the specialty of the house.
The dish was not well-executed. The flavours of the stinky tofu were weak; they were contained mostly to the pieces of stinky tofu themselves. And within the pieces of stinky tofu, the normally rancid and pugent stuffy-nose-curing aromas became so weak that only the most well trained stinky-tofu-detecting-beagle would be able to find the stinky in the tofu. This lack of stinkiness was actually a blessing in disguise which turned out to be a disappointment. It was a blessing in disguise because it meant that the stink of the tofu was not a factor in altering the flavours of the other ingredients of the dish. It was a disappointment because the other elements of the dish – the Nappa, Pork Slices, Enoki Mushroom, Kamaboko, Meatball, Clam, Quail Egg, Pork Blood, Pork Intestine, Green Nira, Salty Veggies, and Tomatoes had weak and bland flavours. The broth was equally weak, bland, and dull. The textures of the ingredients also amounted to almost nothing at all. I was only able to detect three textures among all of the ingredients: the juicy and crunchy napa, the tough pre-cooked pork, and the snappy quail egg.
Each meal also came with a choice of iced green or black tea.
Both the green and black teas were recognizable but generic-tasting. I thought that the restaurant should’ve offered refills (like a lot of restaurants serving individual-sized hot pots in Taiwan) instead of sealing each cup.
My wife and I both agreed to rate our dining experience at Boiling Point with a thumbs-down. The seating was stiff and uncomfortable. The spicy broth was too sweet. The beef and house special broth was too bland. The stinky tofu was not stinky. The flavours and textures of the remaining ingredients were completely indistinguishable from each other. I felt that the major failures of the three different hot pots we had at Boiling Point was that the ingredients came to our table pre-cooked. All of the ingredients would’ve had much more enjoyable textures if we were allowed to cook each of them on our own terms a-la-minute. I don’t think you can even call a pre-cooked hot pot a true ‘hot pot’. It is a stew; my wife, son, and I were served bland-tasting stews.