Brian Salter's Blogs:
I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat – down in S.W. Beijing

 

I have to say that as a rule I’m not really a cartoon aficionado. The sight of Tom chasing Jerry round and round to exhaustion, or the Simpsons (which frankly bores the pants off me with its American “humour”), or even the “cartoonisation” of real people – such as the animated version of Mr Bean – all leave me cold.

But there are notable exceptions. I used to love Snagglepuss the lion (‘Exit, Stage right!’ was his catch phrase) whilst Bugs Bunny (“Err what’s up Doc?”) was always cute. And the third animation? Sylvester the Cat. Of all the pussycat cartoon characters, he was always the most lovable and was a feline with attitude!

Even his arch nemesis, Tweety Pie, though he got on my nerves something rotten, wasn’t enough to dampen this fan’s enthusiasm, who agreed with Sylvester that Tweety was totally " dethpicable", just as Tweety was always opining “I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat”.

Alas, it is not recorded if Tweety Pie ever came to Beijing. But if he did, there is one restaurant that he would surely have had to flutter past pretty quickly.

I am referring to Meow Hotpot (猫抓火锅 – Mao Zhua Huo Guo, which translates as Cat Scratch Hotpot) at 2 Haihu Xili, Majiabao Dong Lu, just off the south west Third Ring (nearest station JiaoMenXi on Lines 4 and 10).

This restaurant knows a thing or three about marketing. No matter whether you love or hate cats, you cannot fail to be captivated by the overall theme of the place. Cats are everywhere. Most of the cats are the lucky Chinese waving cats (a take off of the original Japanese idea, one has to admit) …

… but there are also cutesy furry felines greeting you near reception…

… (even if some of them do look more like sheep!) …

… and many are doing what cats do best of all … sleeping!

Not that the marketing department have got everything right, mind you. Their branding is liberally covered with their web site address – www.meowhotpot.com. But try to look that up and all you’ll get is a 403. (I actually did a whois-lookup and found that this address was registered on June 29 2012, and is due to expire very shortly.) Instead, head on over to http://weibo.com/meowhotpot for a web site that is boring to look at in the extreme and gives almost no information.

Despite its name, the MeowHotpot doesn’t do just hotpots. In fact the restaurant is split across two floors with hotpots being served downstairs and barbecues upstairs.

My friend Yan, who is a definite dog lover and really isn’t into cats, thinks my culinary knowledge needs raising, and she leads me to the barbecue floor.

Cats are everywhere. Not a single piece of wall space is allowed to escape unblemished…

“Go to the rest room and wash your hands” I am commanded, only to discover the playful pussies never leave you for a moment.

Before we have even begun, it is clear that this is going to be a messy affair. Aprons are handed out to protect shirts, dresses, or whatever, from flying food…

On the table is a charcoal burner which is regularly topped up by a charcoal-wallah doing the rounds.

Naturally you expect the (plastic) plates to be pussy-cat themed, and you are not disappointed…

And soon the raw materials arrive – pork, beef, greenery, various spices, ……

Not to mention something which probably originated at one time from a cow…

All of it goes in stages onto the sizzling barbecue plate…

while extra side dishes of cold beans, something gelatinous soaked in orange juice, nuts and various other odds and sods keep the palate keyed up as the meat is cooking…

Each table has its own air filtration unit to suck away all the smoke being given off by the barbecues..

… while lest you forget where you are for just one moment, an array of furry felines stare down at you from the mirrors and walls.

The marketing department has come up with another wheeze… If you just happen to mention the fact that you are in this restaurant on WeChat or Weibo (and show your posting to one of the waiters) you will get a free badge!

Yan duly obliges, and then cons the fuwuyuan into bringing a couple more badges for her laowai guest. He duly obliges…

Another nice touch is that once the bill has been paid, they mark your table with a bottle of “table art” and you are left to sit there for as long as you wish with no one hassling you to move on.

Oh, and did I tell you that today is a Tuesday? It appears that on Tuesdays you get a 15 per cent reduction on the bill. Perfect timing!

We wander down the stairs, where on yet another wall there are good luck notices stuck up there by happy customers, a bit like you see in temples with prayer notes.

A portly pussy waves us goodnight as we stagger out into the night air.

Even the illuminated sign over the entrance seems to be waiving us goodbye.

It’s not long, however, before the inevitable question arises… if the barbecue was as good as it was, what about the hotpot portion of the restaurant?

Another date is fixed and this time Yan brings along her “leetle seester” to accompany us. I have long ago stopped wondering how many big sisters, little sisters and other sisters Yan has. Some are cousins; some are friends of friends; some are daughters of parents’ friends. NanNan is in the latter category, I believe.

We head for the downstairs restaurant which has an almost identical layout to the one upstairs.

Once again the marketing department has come up with yet another idea. This time if you send in a picture of a pussycat you can get a free badge.

Many people have done just that, and their offerings grace yet another wall in the establishment…

The aprons handed out this time are classier than the ones upstairs.

and they even give out phone condoms (branded of course) as everyone knows you cannot sit through a meal without checking your social apps on a regular basis – and heaven forbid that your smartphone might get spattered with hotpot broth…

Now, most hotpot restaurants I have been to provide two-sided cooking pots – creamy and spicy. But Meow doesn’t do things by halves – and we have the option of mushroom, spicy, tomato and normal pork broth to cook things in.

Of course, there is the normal sesame paste to which you can add a variety of additives to make it taste just the way you like it before dipping in your carefully cooked titbits, while attempting not to burn the inside of your mouth by rushing the process.

Beef and lamb, of course, are obligatory…

and pigs’ intestines make an interesting alternative…

You can also order tinned luncheon meat which goes well in this kind of hotpot

not to mention a plateload of mushrooms which are yummy in the extreme

If you’re into tofu, then try slices of tofu straight from the freezer, which stops the stuff falling apart in the broth and gives you a reasonable chance of being able to pick it up with chopsticks.

The tofu comes in a variety of shapes and sizes… such as these worm-like objects that come in a cold salad…

All the vegetables are locally sourced (except for the chillies which are imported from Sichuan) and look pretty fresh. Sliced courgette and pieces of lettuce go well in the hotpot, as does “Popeye’s vegetable”, as Yan refers to the spinach.

And all the while, flasks of multicoloured broths are standing by to top up our hot pot.

If I’m strictly honest, this hotpot isn’t the best I’ve ever had, and certainly isn’t up to the standard of the upstairs barbecues, but it’s good all the same, and the atmosphere in the restaurant is a joy to behold.

We once again stagger out into the night air, having eaten far too much as usual. A pussycat reclining on a spoon knows just how we feel.

I tawt I taw a putty tat??? More like 100 of them, I think. Tweety Pie would have flipped.