Denko’s hot pot experience: a playful combination of flavors
Foodies rejoice! Asian restaurant Denko is bringing the hot pot experience to Puerto Rico. If you have never eaten from the hot pot before — other than your mom’s or your grandma’s sancocho — you might be wondering why I’m making it sound like such a big deal.
Allow me to briefly take you back to ancient times when Mongol warriors would get together by the fire for dinner. They would bring water to a boil in a pot (some sources suggest it was actually in their metal helmets) and cook in it whatever ingredients were available to them, creating a hearty, flavorful soup to warm their bones and bellies on cold nights.
From Mongolia, the hot pot spread to China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan (not listed in a historical order), eventually becoming a staple in Asian cuisines, with each region and country putting their own twist on it based on locally available ingredients. Now, people all over the world have become fans — after tasting it, I understand why.
Fast-forward to the present day. At Denko, I sat at a table with built-in convection stoves — six of them, to be precise. The basic idea is each person at the table has a pot on a stove that boils a broth where they can add fresh ingredients that are cooked at the table, all while engaging in conversation.
For my experience, I selected a kimchee vegetable broth with rice vermicelli noodles (gluten-free) and tofu blocks for protein. There are four vegetable-based broths to choose from (Sichuan-style, mushroom, kimchee, and Shabu Shabu-style), four types of noodles (udon, egg noodle, pull noodle, and rice vermicelli) and three protein alternatives (seafood, meat or vegetarian). All hot pot orders come with a platter of assorted vegetables and dipping sauces.
As my broth came to a boil, I added the ingredients, starting with those that I knew would take longer to cook. However, Denko owner Gabriel Karim — who guided us through the experience — explained that there is no right or wrong way to do it.
“Some people add the ingredients little by little while others put them all in at once. In the end, it’s all about creating an experience that is enjoyable and unique to you,” he said.
This was a really fun way to have a yummy lunch while spending time with colleagues and coming closer to Asian culture through its cuisine. I must warn you, though: Go on an empty stomach and light on the appetizers, because this meal will fill you up while the pot is still warm.
For Karim, this is a meaningful way to honor his Taiwanese heritage.
“I remember my mom preparing this delicious broth and the different ingredients that go into it so that we could sit together around the hot pot as a family. It was a time to share, discover new flavors, be creative with the combinations, and talk about our lives. The hot pot is something to share in community; its preparation requires conversation, union and harmony. This is what I would like everyone to experience when tasting this dish while traveling to far away lands through this culinary experience,” he said, adding that the hot pot concept was always meant to be part of the restaurant’s original offer, but the logistics got complicated by the pandemic restrictions of 2021, so they had to hold back on it for a while.
Now, just in time for the celebration of Denko’s second anniversary, the hot pot experience will be available starting August. To secure a lunch or dinner spot, Karim recommends making a reservation through OpenTable. There are 14 tables that offer the experience, seating either two people, or parties of up to six.
Located in the T-Mobile District, Denko has a full-service menu that features favorites such as dumplings, sushi and fried rice, plus an exciting variety of spirits and cocktails to delight every palate. It is open from noon until 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and until 10 p.m. from Sunday to Thursday. Don’t forget to get your parking ticket validated for up to two hours.