If you can take heat, this is the dish for you. Dry pots, which originate from the Sichuan province, are akin to hot pots: Various ingredients are cooked tableside in an iron pot, there is a base protein, and the rest of the ingredients are customized by the brave diner. The options usually include various types of tofu, bean curd, mushrooms, vegetables, potatoes, and fish balls. I prefer loading up on tofu, because the cubes really soak up the chili oil and pack a real punch.
The main difference between dry pots and hot pots? Dry pots don't use water. There's no soup, and the condensed results are tongue-numbingly spicy.
In Chinese, dry pots are known as gan guo (干果) or malaxiangguo (麻辣香锅.) The former literally means dry pot, but it's the latter translation that's more accurate: tongue-numbing fragrant pot.
Spices are abundant, and whole, red chili peppers are used generously. There's a lot of flavor and while you can customize the spice level, even the mildest option can be tear-inducing. Also note that these dishes are meant for groups. Don't attempt to eat it by yourself. Enlist a friend to help you out -- preferably one with a strong stomach and an unwavering love for spice.
Here are two great places to get dry pots in the greater Los Angeles area:
Duo-Pot in Arcadia serves both the dry pot and hot pot (hence the name, duo-pot) in one. The hot pot is in the middle, and the dry pot surrounds its perimeter. Ordering is done on a checklist. Frog is a popular protein choice for these types of meals, but if you're not feeling particularly adventurous, I recommend the beef, squid, and shrimp. They also have homemade noodles and prime cuts of meat on the menu. There's a lot of variety at this restaurant but at around $25 per pot, not including the add-on ingredients, it's better to go with more than two people. Three is great, four is ideal. Duo-pot. 1228 S Golden West Ave., Arcadia, CA 91007.
Tasty Dining is a Wuhan dry pot specialist with 12 flavor options. Each pot comes with a choice of protein (bullfrog, catfish, fish head, squid, chicken wings, beef ox-tripe, beef, shrimp, pork ribs, muttom, pig's feet, or crab) and is priced at $9.99 to $29.99, depending on what size you want. From there, you can add your own ingredients, which goes from $0.99 to $3.99. The chef is unapologetic about his spices. The flavors are extremely strong. Chilies in various shapes and forms are used everywhere, and everything seems to come out with at least a slight hue of red. It's an ideal dish for a cold night -- if you can stomach it, of course. Tasty Dining, 301 W Valley Blvd, San Gabriel, CA 91776.