Hot Pot

hot pot

Hot pot, less commonly Chinese fondue or steamboat, refers to several East Asian varieties of stew, consisting of a simmering metal pot of stock at the center of the dining table. While the hot pot is kept simmering, ingredients are placed into the pot and are cooked at the table. Typical hot pot dishes include thinly sliced meat, leafy vegetables, mushrooms, wontons, egg dumplings, and seafood. The cooked food is usually eaten with a dipping sauce. In many areas, hot pot meals are often eaten in the winter.

The Chinese hot pot boasts a history of more than 1,000 years. While often called ‘Mongolian hot pot,’ it is unclear if the dish actually originates in Mongolia, though Mongolian warriors had been known to cook with their helmets, which they used to boil food. Hot pot cooking spread to northern China during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 906). Today in many modern homes, particularly in the big cities, the traditional coal-heated steamboat or hot pot has been replaced by electric, gas or induction cooker versions.

Frozen meat is sliced deli-thin to prepare it for hot pot cooking. Slicing frozen meat this way causes it to roll up during cooking, and it is often presented as such. The cooking pot is often sunk into the table and fueled by propane, or alternatively is above the table and fueled by a portable butane gas stove or hot coals. Meat or vegetables are loaded individually into the hot cooking broth by chopsticks, and cooking time can take from 1 to 15 minutes, depending on the type of food. There are often disagreements between different styles of hot pot enthusiasts. Some like to place items into the hot pot at a relaxed, leisurely pace, enjoying the cooking process, while others prefer to put everything in at once and wait for the hotpot to return to a boil. Occasionally due to evaporation the boiled water needs to be refilled. Usually the stew is strong and zesty enough to not require adding more condiments.

In Beijing, hot pot is eaten year-round. Typical Beijing hot pot is eaten indoors during the winter. Different kinds of hot pot can be found in Beijing – typically, more modern eateries offer the sectioned bowl with differently flavored broths in each section. More traditional or older establishments serve a fragrant, but mild, broth in the hot pot, which is a large brass vessel heated by burning coals in a central chimney. Broth is boiled in a deep, donut-shaped bowl surrounding the chimney. One of the most famous variations is the ‘Chongqing má là’ (‘numb and spicy’) hot pot, to which a special spice known as huā jiāo (‘flower pepper’) is added. It creates a sensation on the tongue that is both spicy and burns and numbs slightly, almost like carbonated beverages. In Xishuangbanna, in southwestern China near the border with Myanmar, the broth is often divided into a yin and yang shape – a bubbling, fiery red chili broth on one side, and a cooler white chicken broth on the other.

In Japan, shabu shabu is the adaptation of the Chinese hot pot. In the Taiwanese hot pot, also called shabu-shabu due to Japanese influence, people eat the food with a dipping sauce consisting of shacha sauce and raw egg yolk. In Thailand, hotpot is called Thai suki, although it is quite different from a Japanese shabu-shabu variation called sukiyaki. Originally a Chinese-style hot pot, the number of ingredients to choose from was greatly increased and a Thai-style dipping sauce with chili sauce, chilli, lime and coriander leaves was added. In Vietnam, a hot pot is called lẩu, and the sour soup called canh chua is often cooked in hot pot style (called lẩu canh chua). In Singapore and Malaysia, hot pot is known as steamboat.

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