Walking through grocers Green & Safe
to get to the branch of Qimin Organic Hotpot at Jingan's Reel Mall, you're met with bursts of colour and freshness from a multitude of fruits and vegetables in wicker baskets - it can be hard to tell when the fruit and veg shop ends and the restaurant begins.
At Qimin, communal tables make up the majority of the dining room with individual hot plates built into the tables. Despite its mall location, it feels cosy and homely, with cotton shirts dangling from washing lines suspended on the roof giving a lilong feel. Even the menu feels natural, with pictures of produce and livestock from Green & Safe's organic farm scattered throughout.
Starters pave the way for the main event perfectly. The pickles (18RMB) are seasonable, sharp and crisp, making for a great opening snack paired with draft Asahi. The tea-boiled Devil Egg (18RMB) is another highlight and arrives impeccably presented; marbled eggs whites provide a creative, attractive twist on the classic dish.
Naturally, there's a range of different bases for your hotpot, with favourites including the Matsutake mushroom chicken broth (38 RMB) and the Mongolian style broth (28RMB). Options for meat, vegetables and carbs to dip into boiling pots are plentiful, and arrive in all their colourful glory at the table via trays, crates, bowls and baskets.
But one of the highlights of the Qimin experience has to lie in the option to 'harvest' your own fungi. The fresh wood stick mushrooms (48RMB) are probably the most fun, presented at the table attached to a small hunk of wood. Other varieties, including delicious Enoki mushrooms (48RMB), are also available, arriving in small pots accompanied by gloves and a pair of scissors.
While the waiters offer to do the harvesting for you, most diners get stuck in themselves. It's gimmicky, yes, but there's nonetheless a certain sense of pride and satisfaction to be gained from harvesting your own mushrooms and throwing them into the broth. If you don't have space for your own garden in Shanghai but enjoy spending time in nature, you should definitely give the self-harvest mushrooms at Qimin a try.