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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    UA student’s restaurant turns up the heat


    Although hot pot is a popular concept in China, there were no hot pot restaurants in Tucson until this summer. When Li Pei, a 22-year-old finance junior, came to the UA as an international exchange student in 2008, he said he was disappointed by the limited menus of local Chinese food restaurants.

    “I wondered, ‘Why can’t we have a hot pot restaurant here?’” Pei said.

    Hot pot is a Chinese style of cooking meat and vegetables in a boiling pot of broth. It is kind of like fondue, since you cook the food yourself directly on the table. The taste, however, is completely different. Spicy Chinese herbs give the broth its flavor, and the meat and vegetable choices include authentic sponge tofu; lamb; enoki and shiitake mushrooms. If you’ve never tried hot pot cooking before, it’s quite the experience.

    The adventure begins by picking a soup base flavor: the broth that the meat and vegetables will cook in. While you wait for the broth to boil, you can mix up your own dipping sauce from a variety of flavors, including sesame and peanut bases and sweet and spicy sauces.

    Once the broth is ready, you use chopsticks and special spoons to drop meat and vegetables into the soup. Most items cook quickly, and should be scooped out and dropped into your bowl of sauce to combine all the savory flavors. After eating your fill of these meats and vegetables, you can add noodles and additional ingredients to the broth itself, which can be removed from the stovetop and enjoyed as an after-dinner soup.

    Since there are many international exchange students and immigrants at the UA, Pei said he thought there would be a market for hot pot cooking in Tucson. Pei said he was also aware that many college students and Tucsonans in general would be interested in trying new food from a different culture. So, in the fall of 2010, he began making plans to open his own restaurant, Impress Hot Pot, at 2610 N. First Ave. He financed his endeavor with his own personal funds and investments, as well as a little help from his parents. And after more than a year of preparation, the restaurant opened this June.

    But Pei said he encountered many obstacles along the way. He had to fill out paperwork for licenses, permits and other business-related documents, which was complicated by a language barrier. He also had to explain the concept of hot pot to health officials in order to receive permission to cook food on the tables of the restaurant.

    Pei said that even his friends were skeptical about the idea. “They (said) that the market is limited by weather or culture, but I (said) don’t worry. If the food is good, people will come here for the food.”

    With this in mind, Pei created his menu and hired an experienced chef to ensure that everything about the food at Impress Hot Pot is true to traditional Chinese flavors. “Many restaurants change their recipes when they come to America,” Pei explained. “But I wanted to keep everything the same.”

    Staying true to tradition also allows Pei’s customers to experience a different culture, which Pei said is one of his goals for the restaurant. “It’s not just a business about the money. We want (to share the) culture,” Pei explained.

    Impress Hot Pot is open Monday and Tuesday, and Thursday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. On Sundays, the restaurant is open from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

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