The facade of CLD Hot and Spicy Foodhouse. Photo by Deiniel Cuvin
Food & Drink Restaurants

The Chinese have arrived and they brought their hotpots

At first I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of a building full of mainland Chinese-oriented restaurants. Imagine our surprise as we drove up to Victoria de Makati. The rumors were true!
JJ Yulo | Feb 21 2019

So. Let’s not beat around the bush here—we all know they’re here, and they’re here to stay, at least a while, living and working amongst us. I’m talking about our friends from mainland China. I’m sure you’ve seen groups of them walking in the CBD and elsewhere. I noticed them right away because, just like in any pond to which you introduce a new species, they will seem to stick out. I also figured there must be a sizeable number of them making it out here because at my local supermarket, you can pay via WeChat.

Nothing wrong with them being here, I guess—it’s work for them after all.

The repercussions of their presence are tangible. Almost overnight, businesses catering to the mainland Chinese have sprouted. That is most obvious in the restaurant scene. It seemed innocuous enough. The odd Sichuan or Hunanese joint popping up in the fringes of Makati (supposedly to feed Chinese embassy peeps). Then a whole row of them opened up along Yakal Street, as soon as you turn left and pass the fire station. And now, just like that, they’re everywhere.

Eastern Spicy Cooking Restaurant

I know many people whose curiosities were piqued by all these restaurants popping up. They seem so mysterious, and alien. Well, they kinda are.

So what is a curious eater to do? Make like Indiana Jones and explore as much as you can, hoping to find treasure. What do the people of the biggest chunk of the human race like to eat?

In Manila, at least, from our uninformed perspective, it seems like hotpot is a thing. We’ve eyed a lot of Chongqing-style hotpot. Apparently, Chongqing is the unofficial hotpot capital of China, with tens of THOUSANDS of hotpot restaurants. Their version is based on a very spicy broth, studded with chilies, in which you cook a lot of meat and, more likely, offal. Isn’t that interesting? This food phenomenon is definitely something that needed to be investigated.

Yuan Yang Hotpot Restaurant

Rumor has it that there is a whole BUILDING of hotpot places in Makati, and so boss editor sent us there to experience it. At first I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of a building full of mainland Chinese-oriented restaurants. Imagine our surprise as we drove up to Victoria de Makati. The rumors were true! My buddy Denny and I hit up a relatively famous establishment called Desgo, mainly because it was a place some people I know have already tried—and I wanted to start cautiously.

Desgo Hotpot in Victoria de Makati.

What we did do is try some interesting soup bases. Since you can order two, we got “tomato style” and “hot and spicy style.” Then it was off to the little bar where they had all their condiments, with the idea being you make your own concoction as a dipping sauce. When I asked how I should go about it, I was given a laminated cheat sheet that said “Boss’ Sauce,” and underneath, “Sauce For Filipino” and “Sauce For Chinese”—the difference being the Pinoy version has a saté barbecue sauce base and the Chinese version has a sesame sauce and fermented bean curd base. I tried both, and put a bit of acid, and a tiny amount of…MSG (because like Mount Everest, it was there). I don’t want to pat my back, but both sauces rocked!

Choose your dipping sauce.
The BBQ-soy “Sauce for Filipino” and the sesame-fermented bean curd “Sauce for Chinese”.

Properly armed and ready for battle, we awaited our orders: some Angus beef, squid, fish tofu, fish balls with filling, fried tofu sheets, something called slippery shrimp, and veggies. While we knew what to expect with the beef and squid, and the frozen balls and fish tofu (which were delicious nonetheless), the revelations came with the slippery shrimp. It was like seasoned minced shrimp which you drop into the broth where it would puff up—it was great! And the fried tofu skin sopped up the flavor-packed broths which intensify as they reduce over the fire. Dip the skins in your sauces and get slapped around silly.

Two broths in one pot—tomato and hot and spicy.

Both soup bases were intense and both contained what looked like dried plum to add elements of both umami and a touch of sweetness. After an hour of happily sweating through our admittedly safe bets (we weren’t quite ready yet for frog, cowhells, kidney, and aorta in our soup), we were given some gum to cleanse our battered taste buds (how thoughtful!), and off we went to explore the rest of the building.

Dipping thin slices of Angus beef in the boiling broth.

Beside Desgo is a place called Firewood Kitchen, where they use a wok with a strange hood-like contraption to make their hotpot, which incidentally was fueled, I believe, by wood. Upstairs there were indeed several more hotpot joints, including the aforementioned Chongqing-style stuff, and more frogs, deer, and eel for the more esoteric eaters. I also spotted a hair salon, a barber, a milk tea and fried chicken joint, and a slightly sketchy looking karaoke bar, all in Chinese.

Firewood Kitchen

Sitting in the car, slightly shell-shocked, we had a discussion as to why we thought hotpot was so popular with the Chinese community. And the answer is exactly that—they are big on community. Here they are in a foreign land, working hard, and not knowing too many people. All they have is each other. So what better place to unwind over a few beers than in a hotpot place—equally a social experience as it is an eating one. You sit and talk while the food is being cooked, serve each other, laugh and sip, and let your cares slowly melt away like the slippery bits of fatty beef you’re about to put into your hungry mouth.

Click on the image below for slideshow

Just a sampling of the Chinese restaurants along Yakal Avenue. 

Just a sampling of the Chinese restaurants along Yakal Avenue. 

Just a sampling of the Chinese restaurants along Yakal Avenue. 

Hotpot is big among these restaurants. 

Hotpot is big among these restaurants. 

If anything, the simple lesson here is that we all deserve a good meal and a break, no matter where we are from. And if we can get to know each other over a cauldron of hot broth and meats and veg, then why not? Kampai!

 

Desgo Hotpot, G/F Victoria de Makati, Washington Street corner de la Rosa Street, Legaspi Village, Makati City, (02) 824-5798

 

Photographs by Deiniel Cuvin

Desgo Hotpot photos by JJ Yulo