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Where Traditions Blend, Cultures Meet: A World in a Pot

LifestyleFoodWhere Traditions Blend, Cultures Meet: A World in a Pot

The popularity of dregs vinegar hotpot is growing in Beijing as people search for a new type of hotpot to warm up during the colder months. The dregs vinegar hotpot is a traditional street snack originating in Puqian town, Wenchang in Hainan province with a history dating back to the Ming Dynasty. The soup base is made by fermenting dregs from the folk liquor-making process and is infused with spices such as chili, garlic, and sugar. The soup has a milky orange color and a spicy and sour flavor, making it a unique option for hotpot enthusiasts.

Dregs vinegar hotpot increased after being featured on the first season of the documentary Pot of Fire in 2020, and has since become a new favorite among Beijing restaurateurs, retailers, and customers. Many of the dregs vinegar hotpot restaurants in Beijing are newly opened and some are still under construction. Some restaurants that used to serve coconut chicken hotpot have now added a two-flavor hotpot option that includes both the coconut chicken and the dregs vinegar soup.

One of the most popular dregs vinegar hotpot restaurants in Beijing is Lanhaiyi, which has two branches opened this year and two more under construction. The co-founder of the restaurant, Lang Lang, recalls that she and her friend spent a month in Hainan researching and learning about the local delicacy before opening the restaurant in August. The taste of the dregs vinegar soup base is new to Beijing diners and is seen as a healthier option compared to other types of hotpot because it uses less oil.

There is no standard recipe for the soup, and each restaurant has its own version, with some adding fried garlic and others adding raw garlic. Lang Lang has developed her own recipe that includes shredded seafood and has found a local factory in Hainan to make the soup, which takes about a month to produce and is shipped by air to Beijing.

The  dregs vinegar hotpot is becoming a new trend in Beijing as people search for a unique and healthy hotpot option. The spicy and sour flavor of the dregs vinegar soup, combined with its milky orange color, make it a new favorite among hotpot enthusiasts in Beijing. With the growing popularity of the dregs vinegar hotpot, it is likely that we will see more restaurants featuring this Hainan delicacy in the future.

The dregs vinegar hotpot has become a new favorite among Beijing’s restaurants, retailers, and customers as the temperature in the city drops and people seek the warmth of a hotpot. This new hotpot style is based on a traditional Hainan delicacy and has been gaining popularity since it was featured in the first season of the documentary “Pot of Fire” in 2020.

The dregs vinegar soup originates from Puqian town in Wenchang, Hainan and has a history of about 500 years, dating back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The soup is made from fermented dregs of the folk liquor making process, infused with ingredients such as chili, garlic, and sugar for added flavor. It is usually served with vegetables, seafood, and animal offal.

Lanhaiyi dregs vinegar hotpot is one of the most popular choices in Beijing, with two branches already opened this year and two more under construction. The co-founder of the restaurant, Lang Lang, and her team spent a month in Hainan researching the local delicacy and developing their own recipe. They finally settled on a version that adds shredded seafood to the soup, which is made by a local factory in Hainan and shipped to Beijing.

The dipping sauce recipe has also been developed by Lang and her team. They boil their own soybean sauce in a central kitchen for better flavor matching with the soup. For the hotpot ingredients, Lang recommends edible seaweed from Hainan, shrimps, sea eel, grass carp, fresh beef slices, and the mushroom, Sparassis crispa.

Lang and her friend opened their first restaurant in January and it quickly became a hit with food lovers and internet celebrities. Their second branch, which opened in July in a shopping mall, is also a popular choice for family gatherings.

A report on China’s hotpot industry development and consumer behavior monitoring in 2022, issued by iiMedia Research, showed that the market size of China’s hotpot industry reached ¥499.8 billion ($70 billion) last year and is expected to reach ¥668.9 billion in 2025. The report stated that the hotpot market is in a stage of “white-hot competition” where restaurateurs must occupy a niche category or be innovative in their operations.

Lang is confident that dregs vinegar hotpot will secure its market share as more restaurants specializing in the flavor open in Beijing and more people get to know it. With its unique and flavorful soup and carefully selected ingredients, dregs vinegar hotpot is poised to become a new staple in the city’s hotpot scene.

Lanhaiyi, a Beijing-based restaurant specializing in Hainan rice noodle snacks, has caught the attention of shopping mall operators who are eager to bring the brand to their locations. This surge in popularity has given the restaurant’s owner, Lang, confidence in their plans for national expansion. Lang mentions that they have planned to expand their business to other cities and adjust their flavors to cater to local preferences.

Lanhaiyi opened its doors in October in the Shuangjing area of Chaoyang district and quickly gained recognition for its delicious dregs vinegar rice noodle dish. A Hainan native who goes by the name “Miss May is going to be a food rapper” on the restaurant review platform Dianping, states that the restaurant has become a comfort food for her, especially when she feels homesick.

Another new destination for spicy and sour food lovers in Beijing is Fukuuo paper hotpot in the Chaoyang district. This restaurant offers a unique combination of Japanese-style hotpot using special paper as containers, and a Chinese-style soup base made from fermented rice. The sake lees soup base has been a hit among diners, and the restaurant has seen long lines of customers waiting for a table since the dine-in service resumed in June, post the COVID-19 pandemic induced closure.

Lanhaiyi and Fukuuo are new and exciting destinations for food lovers in Beijing. Shopping mall operators have taken notice of their popularity and are eager to bring these brands to their locations. Lanhaiyi’s plans for national expansion and its commitment to cater to local preferences show the restaurant’s understanding of the market and its customers.

Liu Zheng, who heads the restaurant, reveals that his team has devoted several months in perfecting the soup base and a handcrafted chili sauce, which diners can opt to add to their soup based on their personal preference. The recipe they came up with involved a combination of seven to eight different types of rice, after trying various combinations of rice during the fermenting process to achieve the right balance between sourness and sweetness in the soup. The chili sauce also underwent fermentation to tone down its spiciness.

Liu mentions that anglerfish, puffer, and beef pair perfectly with the lees soup base and bring out their flavors after being boiled in the soup. However, the restaurant still provides a special dipping sauce for those who prefer it. Servers will educate diners on the optimal order in which to boil the ingredients and highlight the unique characteristics of each fresh fish, especially for those who are unfamiliar with the hotpot.

The dregs vinegar hotpot has gained a following not only in restaurants but also among retailers. Freshippo, an Alibaba-owned grocery chain, launched the dregs vinegar hotpot in approximately 300 branches across China, including cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Xi’an, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen. The hotpot quickly gained popularity and saw a 305% increase in sales in the second week, making it the second-highest ranking flavor among all hotpot base soups on the platform.

Zhao Jianjian, who manages Freshippo’s hotpot business, explains that the launch of the dregs vinegar hotpot was aimed at providing customers with an accessible option to enjoy the dish without having to travel to Hainan. He notes that compared to other spicy and flavorful soup bases like Tom Yum Kung, the taste of dregs vinegar is simple, allowing the flavors of the ingredients boiled in the soup to shine through. At the same time, the soup absorbs some of the freshness and sweetness of the ingredients, resulting in a rich and flavorful soup with multiple layers. Zhao reveals that his team took two months to research and develop the soup base to ensure that they were able to deliver the best possible taste.

Liu Zheng and his team at the restaurant have been hard at work perfecting the dregs vinegar hotpot. After months of experimenting with different combinations of rice in the fermentation process, they finally found the perfect recipe that uses seven or eight different kinds of rice to create the right balance of sour and sweet flavors. The homemade chili sauce has also been fermented to reduce its spiciness, making it a perfect addition to the soup base. The soup base, made with ingredients such as anglerfish, pufferfish, and beef, is sure to delight customers with its burst of flavors. Servers at the restaurant will also be on hand to provide diners with recommendations on the best order in which to boil the ingredients and explain the unique features of each fresh fish option.

Zhao Jianjian, who is in charge of Freshippo‘s hotpot business, saw the potential for dregs vinegar hotpot and launched the dish in 300 branches across China, including cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Xi’an, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen. The launch was a success, with sales in the second week increasing 305 percent from the first week, making it the second most popular hotpot base soup flavor on the platform. Zhao and his team spent two months researching and developing the soup base to ensure that customers all over China could enjoy the authentic dregs vinegar flavor.

The dregs vinegar hotpot is a traditional dish from Hainan, where the “dregs” refer to fermented rice, not a vinegar drink. The soup base, made with chili sauce, garlic, and red pepper, is pure soup without any solids. Freshippo has also launched an authentic Hainan mixed sauce to complement the hotpot. The mixed sauce, made with sesame, peanut oil, ginger, and garlic, is referred to as “a universal sauce” by Hainan locals, as it is said to stimulate the freshness of beef, chicken, and lamb. When kumquats and chili are added, the sauce becomes particularly flavorful.

Along with the hotpot, Freshippo has also introduced fresh meat and fish products that can be boiled in the spicy and sour soup. According to Zhao, the best order in which to enjoy the hotpot is to drink some of the soup first, then add cephalopods like squid, octopus, and cuttlefish, followed by shrimps, shellfish, and slices of fresh fish, then vegetables, and finally a bowl of rice, which turns the soup into a seafood congee. Beef and chicken are also commonly eaten in the hotpot by Hainan locals. Grass carp slices, which pair perfectly with the dregs vinegar hotpot, are also available and are so well-prepared that they can be boiled for a dozen minutes without falling apart and still maintain their crispiness. Freshippo stores across the country receive 100,000 boxes of grass carp slices from Guangdong every day.

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