CAN’T S-TTOP, WON’T S-TTOP: A CHICKEN POT ADVENTURE
“Do you want to come to a chicken pot dinner?”
Without the slightest idea that a “chicken pot” might be a real thing, I assumed that my friend was inviting me to eat chicken pot pie. It made sense. It was freezing cold outside and what better comfort food than a piping hot chicken pot pie? Well, not only did I learn that Taiwanese-style chicken hot pot is indeed a real thing, but I also found out that it’s the real deal if you’re looking for soul-warming food that can be shared with lots of friends.
While many of us are familiar with Chinese-style hot pot – there are many popular spots throughout the Lower Mainland – I was a stranger to Taiwanese-style hot pot until we visited the recently-opened Taiwan Taipei Original Pot located on Main Street and King Edward Avenue in Vancouver. “TTOP” (“tee-top” as it’s known to regulars) first opened doors at its Richmond location just over two years ago and owners Albert Lee and Ricky Hsu jumped at the opportunity to fill the space on Main Street vacated by Beefy Beef Noodle House.
If you’re thinking something about TTOP that looks familiar, it’s because the restaurant rights and menu were purchased from the restaurant chain in Taiwan bearing the same name. Placing high priority on authenticity, Albert proudly points out that chefs from the original Taiwan-based locations jumped at the chance to join his venture here. So yes, everything you eat at TTOP tastes like it was made by a guy who really knows how to make the dish. No amateurs here! Perhaps closest to Albert’s heart are their new bento box lunches, served in metal tins similar to the ones he used himself growing up in Taiwan. The lunches are just like the ones he remembers as a child and craved once he moved to Vancouver some years ago. We hear that many Taiwan-born locals flock to TTOP for this same reason, and the experience did not disappoint.
So what makes Taiwanese chicken pot different? Albert describes the restaurant’s specialty as a series of 2 or 3 courses rather than just sitting around tossing pieces of meat into boiling broth. First, you choose your style of chicken pot. We tried the boneless “Emperor Style” Hua Diao chicken pot but declined to add in the optional spicy sauce. The pot arrived at the table containing large chunks of cooked chicken, broth, green onion, celery, and cilantro. Our server placed the pot on a butane burner and it all cooked down within a few minutes. The chicken was tender and flavourful but it was a tad on the salty side, so don’t be afraid to order a bowl of rice to go with it. For the second course, the contents of the pot are removed, leaving only the thick broth from the first course behind. You can then choose (a la carte) to add uncooked noodles, vegetables or meats to the broth. On goes the burner once again and the new mixture is stir-fried. We chose the Kway Teow noodles and bean curd, which were amazing after sopping up the gravy-like broth. If you’re still hungry after Course #2, the final “hot pot” course adds a clear broth and another round of meat or veggies to your now twice-cooked chicken broth. It’s a lot of food, folks, so come on an empty stomach.
Even though the chicken pot courses are plenty filling, some serious consideration should also be made for other items on the menu. The Dual Clam soup was a perfect way to whet our appetite before diving into the chicken pot. Another standout side was the double-fried pig intestines – I love marinated intestine that most Taiwanese places have, but I’d never had it deep-fried then fried again with chillies and onions. Lastly, I have to give a shout to TTOP for their fried tofu. Fried tofu is just one of those things that I always have to order when I eat out, regardless of the type of cuisine. I don’t know what they put in the batter here, but it’s crispy yet a little bit chewy. It’s unlike anything I’ve had elsewhere and is a must-order in my books. To wash it all down, look no further than the milk tea. Based on the same recipe as popular Taiwanese karaoke chain Cash Box, the milk tea is so good it has us thinking about doing another CHOMP vs. CHOMP milk tea battle! If milk tea isn’t your thing, the PAS (pineapple and starfruit) juice is a refreshing sweet-and-salty alternative.
Taiwan Taipei Original Pot is definitely a serious contender for “best of” for many of the dishes that they offer. I find myself constantly recommending them to friends and colleagues and personally can’t wait to go back. We did have some minor concern about the prices, but they’re not at all out of line based on the portion size – I just wouldn’t consider them a bargain joint. The service was prompt, the food was delicious and I personally appreciate the owners’ passion to provide a type of cuisine that is under-represented in this city. 9 CHOMPS out of 10, easily with potential to improve. Check them out!
Taiwan Taipei Original Pot
8580 Alexandra Rd #1160
4063 Main St
Photography: Rich Won