Celestial Flame Brings China’s 'Dry Pot' Craze To The Inner Richmond

For those who've had their fill of Richmond hot pot restaurants, here’s a treat for sampling the same spiciness in a new way: Celestial Flame’s dry pot.

Dry pot (xiang guo), a riff on the traditional hot pot, is China’s latest trendy meal. It has all of hot pot's ingredients, minus the water—its Chinese name literally translates to "fragrant pot," because of the blend of spices and aromatics that are infused in each dish. Ingredients are stir-fried in the same flavors used in hot pot broths, and come to the table already cooked.

“We sent our chef to train at a dry pot [restaurant] chain in China for two weeks to make the sauce correctly," said Celestial Flame co-owner Sabrina Sun. "One batch of sauce takes three-and-a-half hours" to make, and lasts for about three days. 

Co-owner Sabrina Sun.

After Celestial Flame (which is located at 1115 Clement St., at 12th Avenue) softly opened in March, the kitchen had to make some adjustments to its dry pot recipe. They ultimately found that ingredients here didn’t taste quite the same as ingredients in China, so now they have most of them shipped.

Like other dry and hot pot joints, the Celestial Flame experience is customizable. For a $10 starter fee, diners can pick from five dry pot flavors and four levels of spiciness. Spice seekers should go for “medium” or “very spicy"; “house spicy” is reserved for masochists. (To soothe the pain, there’s soy milk or chilled coconut cream-filled papaya for dessert.)

From there, diners can choose four or more ingredients (noodles, vegetables and meats) from a list of 60 to add to their dry pot. Prices range from $2-$7 per item. The menu also includes some Sichuan specialties, like twice-cooked pork, spicy boiled fish and marinated cucumber.

Marinated cucumber.

Celestial Flame's crowd tends toward young Chinese nationals. “Dry pot is a recent trend [since about 2009 in China]. The people who know about it here are going to be Chinese immigrants,” said Richmond resident and Celestial Flame regular Joseph Lai, who attributes his dry pot knowledge to his girlfriend in Beijing.

Lai suspects that dry pot will gain popularity in San Francisco, the same way Sichuan food took off in the last five years. So far, among the few dry pot restaurants in the city, Lai and his girlfriend Ruthia say Celestial Flame is their favorite.

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