I was recently afforded the opportunity to try something new. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I went with some friends to the Shining Rainbow in Albany. I was told it was Chinese, and it was good, which was all I needed. However, what I came to find during my lunch was that not only would this meal be very foreign experience, but one of the best I’ve had.
The restaurant is set up like any ordinary Chinese restaurant, with booths for sitting and intense decorations to remind you at every turn that this restaurant is in fact, Chinese. The main difference is that there were three large round tables in the back where large groups, such as mine, could sit. Rather than a traditional menu, each of us was given a small paper booklet with a golf pencil. I was dining with an RPI alumnus who offered to pay our whole meal as well as choose what we would eat by filling out the pamphlet, so I sat anxiously looking through the booklet. To me, everything seemed out of place and wrong. Where’s the General Tso’s Chicken? Where’s the spring rolls? It was as if everything I knew from Chinese-American cuisine was gone. Instead, the waitress took our order from the booklet, and opened up two holes in the table. In those holes were burners, which would soon be the home to two pots of spicy broth.
It seemed to me that this was a large appetizer for the main course, so I asked the person next to me why there was no ladle to spoon the broth and when it was ready. He replied that I should just wait and I’ll see. Soon after he said that, the waitress came out with plates of thinly sliced lamb and beef. I was completely out of my depth when it came to this it appeared, so I watched as others put the raw meats straight into the pots. It was less than a minute that passed until the meats floated to the top, perfectly cooked, and ready to be pulled out. I followed their movements, grabbing some lamb and beef, putting it into the simmering broth, then taking it out onto my plate. I made sure to grab some of the condiments as well, a peanut butter sauce, hoisin sauce, and some other spicy sides. What I tasted can only be described as an intense collection of flavor. The spicy broth was cooked into the meats, while the condiments either complemented with a sweet taste or matched the fiery intensity. It was amazing.
Now that I’ve been initiated, I can explain a bit more about what we were doing. We were eating is known as hot pot, where meats, vegetables, and other foods are put into a simmering stew in the middle of a communal table for a group to use and eat from. It’s common in Eastern Asia, in places like China, Japan, and Taiwan. For something so traditional in these countries, it’s strange that it’s not more common in America, though it might just be that the restaurants here have been Americanized to not include something like this. In any case, it is a rare treat to have something like this so close by.
Very soon after we finished the plates of food before us, more was brought out. Squid, duck, chicken, fish, oysters, shrimp, each was just as delicious as the last. Vegetables were also a big part of the meal, cabbage, spinach, mushrooms, and many others were present, though I will say the best part was certainly the meat options. Each was so varied yet produced great results through cooking in the broth, it was fantastic. At the end, cooked noodles were brought out that we could put in the broth to add more flavor.
The food overall was excellent and the experience was even better. There was something fun about the communal aspect of eating and helping others get food, it felt really great to be able to share that experience with friends. Hot pot is certainly a large group event, so if you have a group of six or more, be sure to try it. Although some might find the name Shining Rainbow and hot pot to be misleading as a Chinese restaurant rather than a leprechaun themed soup establishment, you will not be disappointed by this dining experience quite unlike any you’ve probably had.