Self-Serving Soup

There’s a whole lotta cooking going on at Hotto Potto—and you’re doing it.

In what was once a China Buffet location at Aloma Avenue and Semoran Boulevard, Hotto Potto places induction cookers at each table and a laundry list of ingredients at diners’ fingertips while trying to put a hip face on an ancient cooking style. Japanese shabu-shabu and sukiyaki, Chinese chongqing, Vietnamese lâu canh chua and Mongolian hotpot all share the idea of cooking a wide variety of foods in a boiling pot of soup. As in you, cooking at the table. Like fondue, but without the fancy-handled skewers or cheese. Hotto takes cues from many Asian sources with a wide range of ingredients, and here, chopsticks and ladles are your tools. Be brave.

You have two choices when building the soup. The stocks, both vegetable and a hearty indeterminate meat broth that tasted of pork and beef, are simple but rich tasting on their own. The soup base ranges from mild to “numb spicy,” which I can only imagine lives up to its name, since even the medium spicy setting is pretty damn hot.

If you’re not automatically turned off by the idea of paying a restaurant that expects diners to cook their own food, I’d suggest two visits—it takes a while to get over the fear of under- or over-cooking the items. And since this is soup, your food is, basically, boiled. No grilling or seared flavors, just boiled pork, boiled chicken and boiled vegetables, which makes the nearby tray of condiments even more essential. Bean paste, peanut sauce, garlic, hot chili oil and paste, sesame oil, spicy and tangy vinegar, thick plum sauce and more —don’t ignore them. And there is a certain level of pressure: If you end up not liking the final product, it is your fault.

It’s easiest to just list the ingredients. Meats: pork, beef (chuck and Wagyu), chicken slices and lamb—good; chicken chunks, mostly bone—bad; liver, intestines, tripe, duck feet—you’re on your own; offal lovers and pho fanatics will celebrate. Unless you’re a protein-starved vegetarian, the faux (not pho) shrimp and meatball items are rubbery and unappealing. All of the seafood, particularly the homemade shrimp balls, benefit from their soupy swim, but watch the built-in timer carefully and follow the chart taped to the table for guidance. The diverse vegetable menu is worth exploring for its variety; try the meaty beech mushrooms and flavor-sopping turnip. Market price blue crab, crawfish, abalone and clams appear when available.

Pricing, and ordering, can be confusing. The easiest way is to ask a lot of questions, and check the boxes on the menu. Start light —you can always order more, but like a sushi bar, the tendency is to get too much to start. The basic soup is $3.50 per person, including spice adjustment, with most add-ons priced at $2.90 or less, with premium items rising from $4 to $10.
Hotto Potto may sound kind of boring or daunting, and it’s not. The big open space fills with an interesting variety of customers, some new to the idea and others well seasoned (pun intended). Resist the urge to order too much or cook too long, watch the built-in timers, and bring friends. You’ll end up enjoying the experience. 

Hotto Potto
3090 Aloma Ave., Winter Park
Priced from $3.50 (soup base);
add-ons $1-$9.99

Categories: Reviews