Full disclosure: I’m not that big a fan of hotpot though it appears to be Singaporean foodies’ current food fad, the ‘new salted egg yolk’ so to speak.
This increase in demand for hotpot has resulted in numerous hotpot establishments popping up by the dozens. And really, who can blame them with the recent news that Hai Di Lao’s Founder Zhang Yong bested Far East Organisation’s Ng brothers duo to reach the apex of the 2019 Forbes Singapore Rich List. If anything, it certainly shows how lucrative business can be in the hotpot industry.
The long queues at Hai Di Lao are equally as famous, if not more, than the excellent service it touts. But sometimes, long queues can quickly dampen appetites, no matter the quality of food and service you’re promised.
I present to you an alternative to the long snaking queues, an out of left field choice that just may have the potential to challenge the hegemony of Hai Di Lao.
Enter Tong Xin Ru Yi Traditional Hotpot, who is actually not a new player in the hotpot game, first opening back in 2013. It has since undergone several location changes owing to the government’s renovation of conservation buildings in which it was housed. With recent remodels and relocations, Tong Xin Ru Yi has settled back in their original spot along Lorong Telok near Clarke Quay.
Tong Xin Ru Yi’s storefront hides a spacious 150-seater restaurant decked out in wooden furnishings and earthy brown tones set against whitewashed walls that has us immediately thinking of Japanese giant Muji.
Adorning the walls of Tong Xin Ru Yi are masterful craftwork pieces that relay the rich history and culture of China, such as a historic Manchurian window and ancient ornaments displayed all throughout the restaurant that has been sourced by owner Oscar and his wife. In tasteful counterpoint and as ode to the local heritage of Singapore, you’ll also find Peranakan tiles and specially commissioned Vanda Miss Joaquim orchid paintings hung on the walls.
The décor of Tong Xin Ru Yi is surely welcoming, and, as we would later find out, merely the opening act of one of the better hotpot experiences we’ve had.
Unique Slow-cooked Soup Bases
In the dining culture of hotpot, it is often the plates of beef or kurobuta pork that steal the limelight, relegating the soup to more of a vehicle of cooking rather a core component of the entire dining experience.
That’s where Tong Xin Ru Yi stands out, placing extreme focus in serving up slow-cooked soup bases that form the foundation of your hotpot experience. These soup bases boil and simmer for 3 to 4 hours every day before being served, giving the various soups robust and complex depths of flavour.
What makes these soup bases special, aside from the long hours of simmering, are the set of ingredients that you’ll find inside. In many hotpot establishments, the soup hardly comes with any ingredients. But at Tong Xin Ru Yi, the soup bases come with a slew of accompanying meats and vegetables.
I’d wager that the restaurant has two signature soups that it hangs its hat on. The first would be the Stewed Marinated Beef with Spicy Soup (三牛合一香辣汤) that is tailor-made for all the mala lovers out there. Trust me when I say this soup that is laden with Sichuan peppercorns, Sichuan chilli slices, along herbs and spices, should be experienced more like a dipping sauce rather than a bowl of soup for drinking.
For this soup base, you’ll find tender chunks of braised beef, soft beef tendons, and chewy beef backstrap. Swimming with the trio of beef are their house-made deep-fried golden tofu and slices of radish.
The other signature, and my personal favourite, is the Golden Chicken Soup (金汤鸡肉火锅) / Golden Frog Soup (金汤蛙蛙锅). Both vary only in choice of protein – chicken or frog – but otherwise this is a soup base that is anchored by a blend of nourishing chicken broth and sweet golden pumpkin.
Inside, there’s a medley of black fungus, yam, konjac, pineapple chunks, sliced cucumber, brown shimeji mushrooms, and pumpkin, not forgetting the main protein of chicken or frog. If you’re splitting two soup bases, the Golden Chicken Soup will feature half a chicken while a full pot of this soup base will get you a full chicken.
While the soup bases offer ingredients on their own, the star of hotpot is undeniably the various cuts of fresh meats. And you’ll be glad to know there’s an entire repertoire for you to choose from.
Premium Eight-second Beef
Vast Array of Ingredients
A worthy must-try is the Premium Eight-second Beef that is flown in from New Zealand. As the name suggests, dipping it into the piping hot broth for about eight seconds is the best way to savour this well-marbled cut. There was even a timer on every table as well. No, I’m kidding, but that would be cool, wouldn’t it? The beef slices were extremely tender, and I’d suggest dipping it into the spicy broth for a bit of a kick, if you can take it that is.
Fried Mint Leaf
Another popular option would be the Beef Tongue, which is rolled and folded into an intricate rose, which according to the restaurant, is immensely popular during Valentine’s Day. Beef tongue isn’t amongst the commonly ordered cuts around, but it has a unique texture that is worth trying.
Aside from its raw meats, there are a few noteworthy dishes that you should not overlook, namely the BBQ Garlic Oysters and Fried Mint Leaf. The oysters are roasted over hot coals, with the marinade masking any fishy taste, resulting in an extremely flavourful mouthful of plump oyster topped with a mix of garlic, chilli, and spring onions. Of course, you can choose to have it fresh as well.
Don’t discount the Fried Mint Leaf as an afterthought as you’ll soon realise halfway through the meal that the basket will be near empty. Akin to tempura-fried mint leaf that you can find in tempura rice bowls, Tong Xin Ru Yi’s Fried Mint Leaf is addictive and refreshing, providing a nice filler between mouthfuls of beef and pork.
Tong Xin Ru Yi presents an interesting and rather unique take on hotpot, an experience that should prove to be a nice change from the Hai Di Laos and Beauty in the Pots.
With its slow-cooked soups as the linchpin of the meal, Tong Xin Ru Yi doesn’t have to be the next Hai Di Lao, nor should it. All it needs to do is quietly trudge on and serve up the traditional-style hotpots it does so well.
It’s selfish of me, I know, but I pray that we never see long queues a la Hai Di Lao here at Tong Xin Ru Yi.