Back in 1999, I was living in Shanghai, China, a Southern California girl trying to find her way in a very foreign land.
What I enjoyed exploring most there was the food. I quickly forged an affinity for hot pot, basically, a huge vat of boiling broth with your choice of meats and vegetables, which you dipped until cooked and finished off with an exotic sauce. It was like nothing I’d ever had back home.
My Hot Pot in Saugus takes that concept and makes it even more unique, fusing tastes from all over Asia into individual hot pots overflowing with tasty treasures.
The one of-a-kind concept was created by owners Sunn Wee and his fiancé, Nook Budsaeng, of Saugus. They met while working at Mr. Sushi in Valencia, and decided that they wanted to open a restaurant together.
Originally, Wee was set on a ramen spot, until he got sick for an extended period and Budsaeng tended to him with her special hot pots.
“It really helped me get better,” Wee said. “Plus, we wanted to do something different and new.”
My Hot Pot opened in January 2017. Wee and Budsaeng oversaw every detail and even helped with the construction. The result is a warm, intimate, yet modern space with wood elements and industrial touches throughout.
Both act as chefs in the small kitchen, but Budsaeng was the one who created the menu from “family recipes and Youtube,” rather informal training for such thoughtful, well-executed food.
Appetizers include Dragon Ball ($6.95) or lightly fried fish balls with crispy basil leaves and sweet chili sauce. The crispy pork toro ($7.95), or deep fried pork belly, are decadent chunks of deliciousness, served with a Thai chile lime sauce that cuts the richness and adds a welcome bit of heat.
For the main event, there nine different hot pots with Thai, Korean, Japanese and Chinese influences, such as the “Meat” or “Seafood Lover,” “Premium Miso,” “Hot Spicy Taiwanese” and “Kimchi Power” ($12.95 to $15.95 dinner or $10.95 to $12.95 lunch).
“Nook takes the best elements of every culture and fits it into one bowl,” Wee said proudly.
The broth for each is bone-based and simmered for 10 hours (with the exception of the vegetarian option, the “Veggie Lover”), with flavors and spices added for each version. You choose the heat level from mild to spicy, as well as two of seven sauces that are made fresh in-house from Budsaeng’s recipes.
The “Tom Yummy” ($13.95) boasts a beautiful red broth fragrant with notes of lemongrass and chiles, served in a small metal wok over an open flame so it stays hot throughout your meal.
There’s so much good stuff going on here, it’s hard to know where to start. Tender bits of pork loin and belly are especially savory when paired with the rich, smoky Shacha sauce made with sesame oil, shallots, and shrimp paste. Or pluck out the shrimp, clams, fish balls, squid and thick chunks of white fish, for which the piquant spicy bean makes a great pairing.
What’s amazing, besides the amount of food, is that all the elements have the perfect texture, from the tender meats to the springy ramen noodles to the crisp yet pliant cabbage, carrot, corn on the cob and squash.
As if that weren’t enough, you’ll also get a side of rice, plus some garlic and cilantro to add to the mix. Whew.
“This is our community,” Wee said, “we have to feed them well.”
That you do, My Hot Pot. That you do.
My Hot Pot, 26238 Bouquet Canyon Road, Santa Clarita. Open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday 11 am to 3 pm and 5 pm to 10 pm. Saturday noon to 10 pm. Sunday noon to 9 pm. Closed Wednesday. For more information, call (661) 288-1998 or visit www.myhotpot.co.