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Healthy hotpot sounds like a contradiction in terms, which is probably why Elixir doesn’t even use “hotpot” in its name. Instead it labels itself “health pot” in English, or无老锅 (wúlǎoguō - “No Aging Pot”) in Chinese. Its fountain-of-youth claims are touted by celebrities across Asia, from Mando-Pop’s reigning dancing queen Jolin Tsai to K-Pop crossover star Choi Siwon. Originally from Taiwan, an island that has been ruled by both the Chinese and Japanese in the past century, the restaurant pulls from both Asian countries’ delicious hotpot cultures and holistic medicine traditions to create its menu.

To taste the best of both worlds, order the half-and-half hotpot (鸳鸯, yuānyāng). The Japanese side is a milky white “collagen” pot, made from pork bones and fatty pork knuckles simmering for hours. Last-minute additions of superfoods and herbs, such as gangly ginseng roots and shriveled jujubes, bob up and down in the roiling soup, imparting their deliciously curative properties. Expect your skin to glow the next day if you do most of your dipping on this side of the pot.

The Chinese half of the pot burns scarlet thanks to chili oil and a dose of red peppers. Despite its flaming appearance, this secret recipe imparts a gentle burn that goes easy on the tummy – you won’t have any of the day-after gastronomical fireworks that often follow lower-quality hotpot meals. In fact, with long-simmering Traditional Chinese Medicine heavyweights like malva nuts, ginger and lotus seeds, the broth is supposed to calm your digestive tract and speed up your metabolism.

Elixir uses Traditional Chinese Medicine ingredients in its hotpots, photo by UnTour ShanghaiBoth broths are so good that the restaurant has placed a sign by the perfunctory hotpot sauce bar warning diners that immersing your ingredients into anything but the soup is not recommended. If you insist, they write, please wait until the broth has boiled off a bit and is less flavorful before disguising the taste with soy sauce and sesame oil. This loss of flavor doesn’t really ever happen though, as instead of following hotpot’s standard practice of topping off the soup with plain water, the servers use flavored broth to ensure consistency throughout your meal.

This thoughtful addition is just one of the many perks you receive from the solicitous waitstaff, including unlimited complimentary “bread” tofu (面包豆腐, miànbāo dòufu). The layered beancurd sponge is brought in fresh from the kitchen in the saucepan it was made in. One serving of the fairytale “ice cream” tofu (冰淇淋豆腐, bīngqílín dòufu) is also provided gratis; the “frozen” swirls start to melt on the tray they are served on, but then magically hold their shape in the boiling pot. Even the house tea is an upmarket ginseng oolong (人参乌龙, rénshēn wūlóng).

It’s hard to go wrong when ordering the meats and vegetables for dipping here; every piece of produce is presented like it’s freshly washed from the farm. The sprawling vegetable platter (蔬菜拼盘, shūcài pīnpán) covers all the bases, or, if you’re a fungus fan, try the mushroom platter (蘑菇拼盘, mógupīnpán). Elixir’s rendition of egg dumplings (蛋饺, dànjiǎo) will ruin the golden pockets for you at other hotpot shops, and we’ve never seen anything like their purple yam balls (地瓜球, dìguā qiú), a sweet foil to the spicy broth. Fatty lamb and marbled beef are also excellent. The meal ends with an addictive honeyed peach shaved ice dessert (水蜜桃冰沙, shuǐmìtáo bīngshā) that tastes like a probiotic Yakult slush.

Late-night revelers can refuel and start their detoxing before hitting the hay – the location in the former French Concession doesn’t close until 4 a.m. We’re not sure if it’s all those hydrating desserts or the restorative tonic they call broth, but we’ve never felt (or looked) better than we did the morning after a feast at Elixir.

Elixir Health Pot, photo by UnTour Shanghai
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Published on March 03, 2014

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