A local hot pot restaurant heats up the comforts of home.
When Andy Chen and Jack Zhang opened Hawai‘i Pot Shabu Shabu House in Kapolei Village Center in April, they aimed to share a special piece of their culinary culture with families here in the islands.
The business partners both hail from Fujian, China, but have spent the last 10-plus years paving their respective life paths around the U.S. After reconnecting in Hawai‘i a few years ago, Chen and Zhang found commonality in calling the same place home once again, as well as in reminiscing about purely mouthwatering bowls of steaming hot pot from their childhoods. This inspired the duo to introduce authentic Chinese hot pot, sprinkled with hints of international flavors, in an unmatched shabu shabu experience for island diners.
“We’ve been traveling the whole world, so we want to bring our Chinese culture to Hawai‘i,” says Chen, who has been a Kapolei resident for more than two years. “I didn’t see many shabu shabu restaurants around here, so we wanted to bring it to our (neighborhood).”
Hawai‘i Pot’s menu fundamentals— revitalizing broths perfect for gently boiling meat, seafood, vegetables and tofu—stem from the longstanding tradition of Chinese hot pot, which has been simmering with richness for more than 1,700 years. Legend has it that the dining style was initially enjoyed in imperial settings, but as the centuries progressed, its popularity crept into every village and household, giving rise to endless variations from region to region.
This well-seasoned tradition is embodied at Hawai‘i Pot Shabu Shabu House through authentic soup bases and flavor combinations, Chinese-inspired decorative touches and neighborly customer service. At its core, the eatery presents healthy hot pot dining options that by no means skimp on flavor, yet leave out the MSG, excess calories and Americanized recipes most shabu shabu restaurants employ.
Diners may choose from a variety of freshly made, nourishing broths that allow unadulterated ingredients to do the flavoring. The Hawai‘i Pot Original broth, for example, shines with goji berries, red dates and scallions, all enhancing a pork-bone soup base.
Meanwhile, the simplicity of Mixed Mushroom broth, made with a mélange of enoki, black and white mushrooms, purely satisfies. Reflecting a range of traditional Chinese soups, the selection also brings the heat with options like Hot and Spicy broth.
In addition to a full menu of meat, seafood and veggies to cook in the soups, a variety of sides are available in large refrigerators for customers to hand-select with pleasure.
Adding to the restaurant’s unparalleled healthy broths are the unique ways in which they are served. Dining parties may share up to two broths in a large family pot, or, unlike other shabu shabu houses, individuals may enjoy personal pots if they so desire.
“The benefit is you can cook whatever you like—that’s the point. (Customers) can share or they can have their own … it’s really popular in China,” explains Chen, describing the individual portions.
Regardless of how these delicate soups bubble away, they serve as a starting point for guests to build flavors via a host of dipping sauces. The wide array encompasses traditional Chinese flavors and other Asian-inspired sauces, such as Japanese Ponzu or Thai Red Curry Peanut.
As Chen points out, these flavorful adornments allow customers to fully customize their meal. Among the most popular dipping delights is the House Sauce, which is prepared with more than 10 ingredients and boasts homemade sha cha, or Chinese barbecue sauce.
“It tastes so good when you mix it with the meat,” says Chen, who encourages mixing and matching flavors. “Usually I combine this with the spicy sauce. It’s goes with the daikon, it goes with curry, and if you like a little bit of sweet, it goes with the hoisin. Then on top put a little scallion and parsley, and for customers that like stronger flavor, they can add the garlic or even onion.”
To supplement any shabu shabu feast, Hawai‘i Pot’s menu houses well-rounded appetizers and desserts that speak to Chen and Zhang’s diverse backgrounds. Fried Ice Cream and Cheesecake Tempura à la New York, for instance, thrill with luxurious, creamy (and unexpected) tempura-battered flavors. Both passionate about cooking, Chen and Zhang strive for quality through the use of local produce: visible in starters such as the Rock Shrimp Arugula Salad. Organic, Hawai‘i-grown arugula and crispy shrimp are topped with slivers of mango, raisins and house-made mayo dressing for a perfectly balanced salad.
“Hot pot culture is not just about eating healthy food; it’s about family too,” says Chen, who compares the experience to American holidays when friends and families gather for a meal. “It’s about everyone meeting together and having fun. Just like when you eat at home, it feels warm when you walk in [and] you have a nice server. If you don’t know how to make the sauce, I will make one for you. It makes every day a holiday.”
Hawai‘i Pot Shabu Shabu House
4850 Kapolei pkwy. #303