Karamay is a city in Xinjiang Uygur, which is a region in the north-west of China. It lies at the heart of one of the world’s most famous trade routes: The Silk Road. As a result of thousands of years as a cultural crossroads, Xinjiang Uygur’s cuisine has become a melting pot of flavours, spices and techniques. It’s exciting then, that the owners of Leicester’s authentic Uyghur restaurant, Karamay, have opened the doors on a new culinary venture; Karamay Hotpot.
The original Karamay restaurant, on London Road, has steadily built a reputation for its traditional Xinjiang Uyghur cuisine. Its menu features rich, hearty flavours and fresh, locally-sourced ingredients, as well as traditional Uyghur hand-pulled noodles, which are prepared onsite daily. The new restaurant, also on London Road, focuses on one aspect of Xinjiang Uyghur cuisine – the hotpot.
“Hotpot is one of my favourite foods,” Feina Farhad, Karamay’s founder, tells me. “I was struggling to find one that was authentic enough to satisfy my craving.”
The concept of Chinese hotpot (huǒ guō), believed to date back more than 1,000 years, is simple. Traditionally, meat, vegetables and noodles are simmered in a spicy or plain broth fondue in the centre of the table. Karamay Hotpot have given this traditional approach an individual twist. Each place setting features a pot for one, allowing diners to create a dish exactly to suit their own personal taste.
The first step in creating your hotpot is to choose your base. You can select from several choices including plain broth, mushroom, spicy, or extra spicy. As the broth is made fresh every day by the restaurant’s chefs, hotpots can also be tailored to suit vegetarian and vegan diets. If you wish, you can even request a mixed broth.
“Freshness and authenticity are so important to us,” says Feina. “We don’t use any artificial ingredients or MSG. The base of the hotpot is made completely fresh every day.”
Once you’ve chosen your perfect broth, you can sit back and watch it bubble away and prepare to simmer your food. Ingredients to be added to your broth pass through the restaurant on a rotation belt, similar to a sushi train. Fresh seafood, sliced vegetables and greens, fast-cooking noodles and tofu – all pre-cut and arranged on skewers or small plates – can be selected. Meat is refrigerated separately and available to order from staff.
Hotpot operates an open buffet, all-you-can-eat style, so you choose your own ingredients, at your own pace, for a fixed price. If you have room, desserts are also available for you to indulge in.
Karamay Hotpot has a contemporary and vibrant atmosphere. The buzz created by the rotation of ingredients makes for a fun and interactive dining experience. The focus however, remains clearly on the quality of the food. Ingredients are fresh and locally-sourced, prepared authentically using traditional techniques. Feina’s genuine love and passion for food shines through.
“I value freshness and authenticity over profit,” she tells me.
Whether it’s a hot summers day or a cold November evening, a hotpot leaves you feeling nourished and satisfied. The slow, almost meditative cooking process, combined with the interactivity of the rotary serving style, result in a unique dining experience.
Tuck into Karamay Hotpot at 63 London Road.