My first encounter with Sichuan hotpot blew out my taste buds and
transformed my bowels into liquid fire, and I have been wary of the spicy
Chinese fondue ever since. But even my mother would enjoy the hotpot prepared by Huangcheng Laoma (Imperial City Old Mom).
Huangcheng Laoma is a restaurant chain that started in China's hotpot capital of Chengdu, Sichuan province. Their empire is expanding rapidly,
with restaurants in Kunming, Shenyang and now Beijing. The Chaoyang district branch (the other is in Xuanwu) is built in imitation
of the classical architecture of southwestern China. While elegantly decorated with woodcuts, calligraphy, and two large friezes depicting
Sichuan folktales, the dining area itself somewhat resembles a cafeteria
with its bright lighting and large number of tables. Yet it is nothing like
the steamy, crowded hotpot restaurants where eating requires complicated
chopstick maneuvers to prevent the pot falling off a table the size of a
chessboard. Huangcheng Laoma is clean, lively, extremely friendly, and the
food is excellent.
Specialties include the 'Lao Ma Beef Slice' (laoma niurou pian) which is
prepared with a secret recipe that the kitchen staff adamantly refuse to
divulge. Normal beef slices are quickly overcooked if left in the pot too
long, but Lao Ma's marinated beef only gets tastier the longer you leave it
to cook. Other special dishes are the 'Black Rice Soup' (heimi zhou) used
to quell a burning mouth, and of course the hotpot broth itself.
Huangcheng Laoma provides a choice of six broths ranging from the more exotic 'Broiler Stock of Sea Horses,' and 'Medicinal Herb Broth' to the
'Duck Broth' which was our favorite. This broth makes a delicious soup and
comes complete with its own Summer Grass Winter Worm (xiacao dongchong) which is not a worm at all but a medicinal herb which resembles a worm. The
herb is supposed to be good for lung ailments. Huangcheng Laoma's spicy broths are actually slightly sweet to the taste, and not so hot that your
taste buds lose all sensation after only one bite.
You can have an ordinary pot with only a spicy broth, or you can have a 'yuanyang' pot, which is divided like a yin-yang symbol into a spicy side
and a mild side and is named after mandarin ducks because they mate for life.
Although we opted for the more conventional condiments--asparagus, lotus
root, winter squash, a variety of mushrooms and the aforementioned beef,
the menu comes complete with such dishes as 'pig brain,' 'comb of cocks'
and 'ovary digestive gland crab.' Yet there is no fear of accidentally ordering a plate of 'ox pizzle,' as the menu not only provides pictures but
is also complete with an English translation of the dishes available.
Huangcheng Laoma also offers what is possibly the best, if not the only palatable, Chinese liquor I have ever had. Called 'Lao Ma Hong' (Old Ma
Red), this scarlet-colored drink is loaded with medicinal herbs such as red
date which acts as a blood tonic and gouqi which is allegedly good for the
The prices are extremely reasonable, with the more glamorous fondues starting at rmb140 per pot. The traditional pots such as the 'Two Savoring
Lao Ma Stock' is a mere rmb38. Condiment dishes start at around rmb15. In
short, no matter how much you eat or how much you drink, you are left feeling that you have actually done your body a favor. As our resident
hotpot expert claimed while downing one of many shots of Old Ma Red, "The
more you drink, the better you feel."
To get to the Chaoyang branch of Huangcheng Laoma, drive south from the China World Complex on the auxiliary road under the Third Ring Road. At the
first opportunity, take a U-turn and head north. The restaurant is situated
about 500 meters south of the China World, down an alley on the west side
of the road, marked by a large yellow lightbox.
Huangcheng Laoma Chaoyang Branch
No. 39 Qingfengzhahou Street Dabeiyaonan, Chaoyang District
Tel: 6779-8801 or 6779-8802
Huangcheng Laoma Xuanwu Branch
No. 3 Changchun Street Xuanwu
Tel: 6317-3369 or 6317-3361
Food: **** Ambience: *** Service: *** Cost: **