Everyone knows about hot pot, but what about dry pot? I didn’t even know dry pot was a thing until I heard about Málà Project, a restaurant in the East Village that specializes in it. I was trying to research the origins of dry pot, and I found a few links that referenced the Chongqing area of Sichuan as the birthplace. It uses the same seasonings and ingredients as hot pot, except there is no soup base, hence the name.
The East Village is home to both dry pot and hot pot, and the restaurants are nearly a block away from one another. Málà Project is on 1st Ave and 7th St, and Hou Yi Hot Pot, the extremely popular hot pot restaurant in Chinatown, recently opened a location on 2nd Ave and 6th St. So what do you do when you’re at a hot pot crossroads, do you make a left and go wet, or do you turn the corner to go dry?
It’s not even a question, as I would choose Hou Yi over Málà any day. You simply cannot complete with an all-you-can-eat $30 hot pot buffet with unlimited drinks and ice cream. This is how the dynasty of Todai wields its power in the suburbs of America, and now the children of those value-driven Asian families who’ve moved to cities will gladly keep those traditions going at Hou Yi. I am one of them, and I cannot tell you how excited I was that I got to drink as many lychee and chrysanthemum drinks as I wanted, and we were not shy about asking for multiple orders of beef, to get the most out of our $30 buck.
Obviously quantity over quality has its drawbacks. The quality of the beef, fish balls, tofu and vegetables are good, but the chicken and fish are not. The sheer number of options at the sauce bar can be overwhelming. Do you use peanut sauce, bbq sauce, sesame paste, soy sauce? Do you mix every single thing together? Are you even supposed to do that? I decided to throw together a base of sesame paste, some soy sauce, a little chili oil, some fish sauce and a few scallions, and that actually worked out pretty well.
Another drawback is the smell. Hot pot stinks up your clothes, and in anticipation of that, the staff covers your jackets in plastic. The hot pot cooks directly in front of you, and all the meat-broth steam gets up in your pores like the steam machine at a sauna, so you are literally saturated in hot pot broth. There’s no way around it. Just wash your clothes immediately after. This is one area where Málà has an edge. All the dry pots are cooked in the back, so your clothes are safe.
One thing that both hot pot and dry pot have in common? Spicy means SPICY. At Málà, we ordered one non-spicy pot and another mild spicy pot, and everyone was struggling with the mild one. Meat sweats, hiccups, multiple glasses of water, you name it. They are not messing around with heat at either place. Hou Yi at least has a remedy for bringing down the heat, an unlimited ice cream bar. The whole experience at Hou Yi is just so sweet, from beginning to end, and there’s no question which kind of pot will reign supreme.
Hou Yi Hot Pot
97 2nd Ave (between 5th and 6th St)
New York, NY 10002
122 1st Ave (between 7th and 8th St)
New York, NY 10009