Beef offal stew is a Cantonese specialty. It is difficult to get these organs cleaned and cooked without the smell. And to be able to make it as the soup base for hotpot require a totally higher level of technique and attention to details.
A’Po Hotpot 西关老阿婆牛腩牛杂煲 originated from Xiguan 西关 in Guangzhou. Xiguan used to be one of most prosperous districts in Guangzhou, how did a street food like offals became a favourite of that atas (high-class) place?
Origins of A’po Beef Offals 阿婆牛杂
The restaurant used a wallpaper with the scenes of old Guangzhou Yongqing Square 永庆坊, which has been voted the most beautiful old street in Guangzhou. Bruce Lee’s ancestral house is still there at No. 13 Yongqing Lane One. It was this backdrop that produced one of the iconic street food of Guangzhou.
In Xiguan, there was an old lady by the name of Chen Guizhen 陈桂珍 opened a street cart selling stewed beef offals around 30 years ago (1989 to be exact). It was so good that when the Guangzhou government did a survey of the foods that represents Guangzhou, it went on the list. And since then, A’po Beef Offals became a household name that inspired many copycats because the copyright was indefensible.
Offals have a very elegant name in Guangzhou. They are called 下水 “into the water”. Whole pot of offals was simmering away in the preparation area. Offals used were cut in equal bite sizes to extract the maximum tastes from the stewing. A’po Hotpot has nothing to do with Mdm Chen although the hotpot base was similar to the stewed offals she was selling.
This would be one of the smallest table for a hotpot restaurant I have been to. The plate was odd shape and appetisers were placed in a simple three-part saucer. Instead of a large table, a cabinet has been placed next to the small round table with the conduction stove in the middle. This saved a lot space on the table top and also the mess.
Like all the hotpot restaurants, you start with the sauce bar to mix your own condiments. There are three combinations that they recommend. As a first timer here, I tried two of them.
A’po’s version on the left consisted of fermented tofu 腐乳, crushed peanuts and minced garlic and chilli. The Xiguan traditional version on the right was made with shacha sauce 沙茶酱 (which is a variation of the satay sauce), scallions, garlic and sesame oil.
The soup base is freshly cooked for 8 hours every day, which is something not done traditionally. There’s usually a bit of leftover to “start” the next batch in what is known as 老卤 “old braise” to kickstart the flavours. There is absolutely no artificial condiments such as MSG added.
There’s brisket, intestines, tripe, stomach, bean curd in the basic claypot base. You can choose spicy (mala) or non-spicy – I opted for the traditional non-spicy version for that authentic flavour. The spice can come from the dipping sauce.
The radish was stewed to perfect texture and flavour. Every bite was full of the braise and the texture of the radish was not too soft. Everything was so full of the braise flavours that I really dipped them in the condiments.
And when you had enough of the offals, you can add other fresh ingredients into the claypot like a hotpot meal.
Overall it was a good eat, but the basic hotpot was already too much for one person. The stew was so good that you need to have a bowl of steamed white rice to partake the delicious sauce. It was a really late lunch, so the shop was almost empty. Everything was ordered contactless using the WeChat app. But the service was really attentive. They even gave me containers to pack all the leftovers and gave me fresh sets of condiments.
Would come again if I am around the vicinity, but not something I would travel across town for. But luckily they have stores all over Shenzhen, so there’s always one near you. However do try while they are still there. Many of these types of shops popped up and then closed down just as quickly. Fickle minded consumers are.
A’Po Hotpot 西关老阿婆·牛腩牛杂煲(九方店)
Tel : 0755-82795336
Date visited : Jan 2022