Every few years, a food trend gets so popular that they start popping up practically on every street corner. There’s been a ramen craze, a banh mi craze, a poke bowl craze, and now the latest fad to hit is the Sichuan hot pot craze.
Despite the summer heat, Sichuan hot pot restaurants have been popping up all over Los Angeles, from West LA, throughout the San Gabriel Valley, of course. In the last few years alone, higher-end namesake chains from China have made their foray into the U.S. by first entering the market through San Gabriel Valley. Companies such as Haidilao, Little Sheep and Shancheng Lameizi have pioneered the trend and have proven to be quite successful.
One of the newest Sichuan hot pot names to come to town is Da Long Yi, which hails from the city of Chengdu in Sichuan Province. The brand is extremely well-known in China and has amassed over 210 franchised restaurants around the globe, with outlets in China, U.K., New Zealand, Australia, Canada and now the U.S. Da Long Yi opened their very first American location in San Gabriel on June 6, followed by their second location in the heart of New York’s Chinatown two weeks later.
“Most of the other hot pot restaurants that have come from China may serve Sichuan-style hot pots, but they do not come from Sichuan. We really make it exactly as our first original mom-and-pop shop did,” says Joe Chen, one of the co-owners of Da Long Yi’s San Gabriel location.
Despite being relatively new to the game, Da Long Yi has gone from a small mom-and-pop shop in 2013 to an international restaurant chain. Many consider the brand the most famous hot pot restaurant chain from Chengdu, Sichuan. They specialize in a spicy broth. What also makes them unique is the fact that many of their ingredients are fried in beef tallow; not only does that make the ingredients tastier, but some believe it has skin health and immune health benefits, among a number of other overall health benefits.
Their name, which translates literally to “big dragon and fire,” is an appropriate teaser of the food to come. Although Sichuan food is most known for being spicy, not all their dishes are indeed spicy. Traditionally, hot pots are either made for one broth or shaped to serve two soups: one spicy, one not. Da Long Yi specializes in a three-flavor hot pot. The hot pot has three soup compartments, including a lighter, non-spicy mushroom broth and a non-spicy tomato broth. The third compartment in the pot is the restaurant’s signature red, hot broth. It comprises dozens of herbs, chili peppers, and peppercorns that have been sourced from different Chinese provinces and fried in beef tallow. Taste-wise, their hot broth is spicier and less numbing than other Sichuan hot pots in the area.
Diners start off at the sauce bar, where they can try and make their own concoctions. There are rows of different condiments, herbs, chilies, minced garlic, and other toppings for the taking. Once the sauce is done, diners take it back to the table where there is a can of Da Long Yi’s signature sesame oil.
“In Sichuan hot pot, we use sesame oil in our dipping sauce. We have this sesame oil canned and sent to us. What you do is break open the can and add it to your sauce as the final touch, and mix it together,” said Chen.
Although there are hot pot restaurants that have set ingredients, Da Long Yi’s are a la carte. There’s a large variety, too. Ingredients include enoki mushrooms, pork kidneys, lotus root slices, taro, fish balls, meat balls, Angus beef, American Wagyu, lamb, marbled beef, fish fillet, noodles, and vegetables, among a large list of others. Order the pork kidney, and the chef will use their meticulous knife skills to cut the kidney and plate them in the shape of a flower. Da Long Yi also slices their pig arteries into curled slices that maximize the crunch. They also have spicy, ma la numbing beef and pork chops, which are Da Long Yi’s signature must-try meats. According to Chen, they are marinated in the company’s special house sauce that is specially imported from China.
Da Long Yi also has plum juice, passion fruit juice, soy milk and herbal tea to drink. After diners are finished with their meal, they can make their way back over to the sauce bar where fresh fruits and a variety of Chinese desserts are laid out to help relieve the spiciness of the hot pot.
Whereas Chinese chains used to make their debut in the American market by slightly altering or adding a few dishes that would appeal to the local demographic, Da Long Yi is part of a growing trend of restaurants that bring the restaurant to America, as is.
“We didn’t change anything, taste-wise, from any of our other locations. Of course, being in the U.S., there’s some meats and veggies that are more readily available, but basically, you are having an authentic Sichuan hot pot experience with us,” says Chen.
Da Long Yi is located at 250 W Valley Blvd #L, San Gabriel, Calif., 91776.