Growing up here in the city, my family would venture to a hotpot restaurant in the winter months. I can vividly remember driving up to the restaurants with the steamed up windows. We’d gather around a bubbling pot of savoury broth (or two) and drop in the fresh raw ingredients we had selected from what seemed like a never ending menu. Quail eggs, thinly sliced rolled up pieces or pork or beef, dumplings, watercress, and even some delicacies were carefully slipped into the piping hot cauldron. In mere seconds, we’d take our basket spoons and fish out the cooked items onto our plates. Dad made our dipping sauces with soy sauce, chilis, cilantro, roasted garlic and whatever else he thought was good. It was always good.
In recent years, more and more hotpot restaurants have opened in our city and with them came more specialized experiences. Shu Kingdom General Hotpot is the latest entry into the food scene and there is something quite special here. Not only do they feature Sichuan flavours but they also highlight the Bashu Culture.
Bashu culture refers to the cultural exchange of Sichuan province and Chongqing city, China and the surrounding areas with over 3000 years of history. It is considered one of the most important foundations of Chinese culture. Cuisine has always been in the forefront. On the official opening night of Shu Kingdom General invited in artisans including a sugar artist. His “paintings” were mesmerizing to see in person as he swirled hot liquid sugar into shapes that cooled and hardened into intricate shapes of dragons and horses.
Founded in Chengdu, China in 2016, Shu Kingdom General restaurant connects food and culture in a meaningful dining experience. With over 150 locations in 60+ cities in China, it is a popular and culinary award-winning chain. Their speciality is beef, and lots of it! Make sense. Sichuan province is situated inland where the cuisine is mostly comprised of either beef, lamb, and goat.
Shu Kingdom General prides itself on the fresh and tastiness of their meat. Be sure to order their special beef platters that impressively sits sideways when they come to your table. It’s common to find all different parts of the animals in the dishes in Sichuan cuisine — as nothing went to waste. Also more spices like peppers and chilis so if you’re a spicy food lover, this is for you as their signature broth is what hotpot dreams are made of. No worries, if you can’t handle the heat — their pork bone broth and mushroom based broth are both excellent. I would suggest getting a duo pot. (Pro tip: if it gets too spicy to handle, spoon out some of the spices and ask the server to add additional water to the pot).
But let’s back up a bit and learn more about this theme. Shu General may sound familiar if you’re in the gaming community but the name is actually one that is based on a famous historical Chinese story of the Three Kingdoms near the end of the Han Dynasty. I asked my dad and he was familiar with the story and found the menu theme interesting. He told me the famous book of tales is one he returns to read often. “Romance of Three Nations” dates back over 1000 years and he tells me the order of the skewers on the boat was based on one of the most strategic events that centred in Sichuan that was told in the book.
Not only is the food themed but the decor of the restaurant as well. Red lanterns are hung everywhere and deep wood columns bring the magical feel in this space. A large screen is set on one wall that played Rap China in the background bringing generations together.
The kitchen is also visible as the restaurant chain prides itself with transparency. Clean, bright and airy. That’s what we like to see. The menu is a la carte from $1.99 to $32.99. It also explains the recommended minimum amount of cooking time in the hotpot. Staff is helpful if you need some explaining. Remember to use a separate pair of chopsticks to add the raw ingredients into the broths and NOT the ones you would use to eat with.
If you’re a traditional hotpot lover be sure to end your meal with a Plum Juice or Hawthorn Berry Juice. Both are great to help digestion particularly after a spicy meal. Here the latter comes bottled and sparkling. Hawthorn is known to be a great digestive and it’s something I grew up with. As a child my parents would give me Haw Flakes – a candy like treat that you can still find in any Chinese supermarket. I still have to this day. I’d even toss a few in boiled water as a “tea”.
There are a few desserts on the menu – I’d recommend the Ice Jelly as it’s refreshing and cooling and not too heavy. But you will find a few glutinous desserts on the menu as well.
While Chinese style hotpots are what I crave, the only setback in general, is leaving. Not only because I shed tears of joy enjoying a great meal with friends and family but often the scent from the spices tend to follow you out. Having said that, the air circulation is pretty good in this new spot, as it should be. I would recommend, like any hotpot or bbq at your table dining restaurants, that you plan on going to enjoy the experience …and then going home to put all your clothes in the wash and taking a shower. By the way, this restaurant does offer a covered wicker basket at your table to place your jackets in case you need.
Shu Kingdom General Hotpot is located at 390 Silver Star Blvd., Scarborough in a newly built strip mall. Open everyday from 12 noon to 11 pm. Best to reserve (ask for a window booth seating). Ideal for 2 to 4 people but there are tables that can accommodate 6. Private dining room space also available.