All about food. All about Edmonton.
I’ve always been partial to King’s Noodle and Hot Pot on 101 Street; that is, until I tried Asian Express. Located in an unremarkable building in a corner of Edmonton’s Chinatown, Asian Express is a delightfully cozy and delicious restaurant that remains packed even into the later hours of the evening.
We arrived around 9:30pm (post-Artists Emerge Finals) and the restaurant – which has managed to stuff an insane amount of tables into a tiny space – luckily had two small tables open. Because the space is so tight, we were literally sitting right next to another table, with whom we shared a metal cart with which to dispose of empty plates (and any extra food that doesn’t fit on the table). The servers were constantly trying to squeeze their way in and around the tables, which would make it a bit awkward if you’re an elbow-thrusting diner (thankfully, I’m not).
Despite the tight space, however, the service was extremely speedy. Unlike other hot pot restaurants, Asian Express offers diners their own soup bowls, which can be filled with either one kind of soup broth, or split between a spicy and a regular kind. I’m always in the mood for something a bit spicy, so I tried the Szechuan half-and-half (see below).
While this soup was very tasty and had a noticeable kick, I wish now that I’d tried something a bit simpler to start, such as the Ginger and Green Onion soup base. The Szechuan, while tasty, had far too many bits and pieces in it (peppercorns, chilis, spices, and much more), and it was difficult to get some of the food out without accidentally biting down on a handful of peppercorns. Which, as you may have guessed, is terrifyingly peppery.
There are, of course, a reasonable variety of soup bases to choose from, so you can decide for yourself which one you’d prefer. In the future, I’d like to try the Tomato and Wild Mushroom, the Chinese Herbs, and the Butter Satay, all of which sound delightful.
There are also a large number of sauces, herbs, and spices to choose from, with which to flavour your meat or soup. Select any that sound appealing or interesting to you – they’re included in the meal price and can give your food the extra kick it needs.
The menu for meat, fish, vegetables, and noodles is extremely extensive and everything is served ‘per order,’ meaning that diners put a number beside the items they want and are served the regular order amount. We weren’t sure how much we would get and didn’t want to over-order, so we just put 1 or 2 beside a variety of food items, just to get ourselves started (you can always order more later).
As you can see from the image above, the single orders for sweetcorn, mushrooms, and broccoli are fairly small, yet more than enough for one person (remember, you’ve still got meats and noodles to eat). The prawns and the fish balls are ordered ‘per item,’ which we discovered when one order of crab balls gave us…one ball. I didn’t mind (since I was the one who ordered them), because I much prefer the fish balls at King’s. These ones were a little too mushy for my taste.
The meat orders, however, were extremely generous. And delicious. I’m a gigantic meat-eater, so we were barraged with plates full of thinly-sliced, nicely arranged sirloin beef, lamb, chicken, and pork. The meats at a hot pot restaurant have to be extremely thinly-sliced so that they cook in the broth within a matter of seconds (or minutes, if you want to be extra sure).
If you’re a meat lover, definitely order at least two helpings of each meat. They’re thin, they’re tasty, and they disappear very quickly. The sirloin beef is my favourite and tastes amazing dipped in a little sesame and chili sauce. I won’t be ordering the chicken next time, though; I’m not a huge fan of chicken cooked in broth and, regardless of the thinness of the meat, it usually turns out rubbery.
Asian Express’s seafood mashes are quite popular: mashed combinations of seafood and/or meat that hardens slightly when cooked in broth, turning out a large type of seafood ball or patty. We tried the handmade fish and squid mashes, which turned out to have much more of the consistency that I prefer in a hot pot fish ball. Very tasty, and quite adventurous if you’re not a regular hot pot goer.
A word of advice, if you’re not a regular hot pot diner: eat the noodles (or ‘Staple Foods’) last. They fill you up immensely and then you won’t be able to finish the rest of the things you ordered. As my mum passed this Chinese wisdom down to me, so now I pass it down to you. Meats and vegetables first; starch and carbohydrates last.
As with any restaurant, and particularly hot pot restaurants, there are always going to be things on the menu that certain people don’t like. What Asian Express does offer, though, is a wide selection of food, the ability to cook in your own soup pot (who actually likes sharing?), efficient service, and generally just a good, old fashioned time. Sure, the restaurant might get unbearably hot due to the sheer number of boiling pots, but it offers the fun activity of being able to dine with people while cooking your own food.
Just remember that hot pot serves as an all-you-can-eat kind of deal; which, at $23.99 a head, is fairly reasonable. This is the same price as King’s and, if you’re a King’s regular, I’d recommend giving Asian Express a try. The personal pots are a really nice thing to have, even if only once in a while. And it’s open late, for any post-bar hot pot venturers.
Be sure to go hungry.
Asian Express Hot Pot
10586 100 Street
Edmonton, AB T5H