Located in Towson among many other shops and restaurants is a small, Chinese all-you-can-eat hot pot place called New Generation. It is a familiar location to many Hopkins students, but for me, it’s something even more special.
Hot pot, the literal translation of which from Chinese is “fire pot” (火锅), is a traditional cuisine originating from the Sichuan province. With a history of over 2000 years, it has spread across the entire nation and now even the whole world, gaining popularity and love.
However, I never liked hot pot when I was growing up. It was always too loud and warm; the taste became monotonous after everything was dipped in the same sauce and there always was an aftertaste from the soup full of additives that just made me scream “WATER.”
Shortly after coming to Hopkins, one of my Chinese friends suggested going to New Generation in Towson. I was reluctant at first, thinking back on the hot pot memories that I was not so fond of. But as a freshman who had only had three FFC meals per day for a few months straight, I was yearning for anything but. All the traditional cuisine that I wanted while hanging out with friends sounded like the perfect break I needed.
When I stepped into the door, I immediately saw busy waiters cruising through the aisle and passing out plates full of food, the steam coming from the hot pots and people anxiously waiting for their food to be ready.
I heard voices, discussions and laughter that together formed into a white noise and joyfully hummed in my mind. I smelled the most wonderful combination of sesame paste, a variety of pot soups including seafood, spicy, mushroom and bones and all the different sauces people had concocted based on their own special preferences. I felt a wave of heat coming towards me that eventually engulfed me in its welcoming embrace.
To my utmost surprise, it was such an amazing feeling.
I sat down at a table with my friends, still overwhelmed by this weird yet delightful sensation which revealed everything I previously disliked in a new light.
The warmth brought comfort to my soul and the loud noises reminded me of home. The sauce allowed freedom for my culinary artistry and became the most scrumptious taste I have had in a long time. And even the aftertaste was reminiscent of the delicious restaurant food sprinkled with a splash of MSG.
Ever since that time, I have made multiple visits to this little restaurant with many different people. Even when I was the busiest with my school work and extracurricular activities, I still tried to join our monthly hot pot indulgence with my suitemates.
I remember that we would always follow a strict sequence when ordering and eating food. The first few rounds were always meat since it is the highlight of the entire meal. Then came vegetables so that we would get a little bit of healthy in our diet. Finally, we ordered a plate or two of dumplings and ended the meal on a complete and satisfying note.
On our way out, we would each take an ice cream cup or sandwich as dessert. Honestly, the creamy taste of ice cream does bring down the aftertaste of the soup and sauce. All is carefully calibrated — a system designed to bring the most happiness.
I remember eating so much food that my stomach almost exploded. Eating with others, especially those who seem like food is the only thing on their minds, can be so appetizing. It’s a simple repetition of “I look around, I eat, I look around and I eat more.”
I remember my suitemates jokingly mocking my sauce and how weird it tasted.
“Who puts vinegar with sesame paste?” They would laugh.
And I would argue that they knew nothing and that vinegar went with everything. But secretly, I knew my sauce was awful and would copy my suitemates’ ingredients when I made my sauce the next time.
Hot pot is no place for elegance or table etiquette. No wiping your mouth with a napkin after every bite and no sipping wine while waiting for the next course. In order to enjoy it, you have to let yourself free.
“You want some shrimp? I’ll put some in your pot.”
“Can I try the meat in your soup?”
“Let me dip into your sauce. Hmm! What did you put in there?”
I never liked hot pot because I thought it was too unconventional. Why would a group of people gather around a pot and boil things in soups? But I appreciate it now.
Hot pot is an art. It’s an exchange among individuals in regard to their eating habits, interests, culture and backgrounds. No matter who you are or where you come from, you are now a group of people gathering around a pot and boiling things in soups.
Afterwards, I tried hot pot again in China with my family, but something just didn’t feel right. I missed my friends, the unlimited amounts of food and a piece of home on a foreign land.
New Generation is my favorite restaurant to go to in Baltimore and my most special hot pot spot in the whole wide world. I love it there because of the memories I have — the laughing, mockery, quarrels, gossip and the sense of belonging. Even writing about it now puts a smile on my face.
So here’s a suggestion: After things are more open, take your friends to New Generation, try the traditional Chinese cuisine that will make you drool just thinking about it and make those wonderful memories to cherish forever.