Hot Pot: The Joy of Asian-Style Eating
By Madalina Hubert
A nation’s food has much to say about its culture. From the ingredients used, to preparation methods, and the dining set-up, the culinary experience is infused with local traditions and history. These often date back thousands of years.
The same is the case for hot pot, a Chinese dining format in which a group of people gathers around a table. In the middle, there is a pot simmering on top of a portable burner. Beside them, we find plates with different raw ingredients – thinly sliced pieces of meat, seafood, vegetables, noodles, and various sauces. One pot usually serves 2-4 people and is often divided into two different sections. One could be for the spicy broth and another for the mild broth.
People place the ingredients one at a time and watch them cook quickly before their eyes. They eat and add some more food into the broth. Everyone serves themselves from the same pot, mixing and matching ingredients. This is a creative meal, but people are mindful of each other because after all, it is a shared experience.
A good opportunity to bring people together, hot pot is part of the Chinese tradition of communal eating. Friends, family and colleagues contribute to the meal, inviting conversation, mutual respect, and shared flavours and experiences.
Hot Pot Broth Bases
Hot pot can include a variety of soup/broth bases that vary from region to region. Most are divided into the categories of mild or spicy.
The mild broths are usually prepared from water, chicken or vegetable stock, ginger, scallions, mushrooms and/or other vegetables. They are most popular in northern China.
Spicy broths are made from water, Sichuan peppercorns, red chillies, ginger, scallions, and/or other ingredients. Varieties include the Sichuan broth and Chongqing broth (thicker variety) and Mongolian broth (lighter and less spicy).
There are also broth varieties with other kinds of savoury flavours. These often depend on the local ingredients found in different Chinese regions or other Asian cuisines, i.e. add coconut milk or red curry for a Thai variety.
Hot Pot Ingredients
The hot pot ingredients may include thinly sliced pieces of meat, seafood, noodles and vegetables. Meat ranges from beef, mutton, chicken, shrimp, and sliced fish.
Vegetables play an important part of hot pot as they allow the body to cool from the heat and also to balance the heaviness of the meat. Popular choices include mushrooms, tofu, leafy greens (i.e. spinach), hardy greens (i.e. bok choy). There are also different noodle varieties to choose from.
Hot Pot Dipping Sauces
There are a variety of dipping sauces to enjoy at a hot pot. These include soy sauce, sesame oil, oyster sauce, sesame oil, black vinegar, chilli oil/paste, minced cilantro and garlic and others. Mix these ingredients for new and different combinations of your preferences. Each person uses the sauce on their own plate, so this is where the shared experience becomes individualized.
For a Healthy Hot Pot Experience
Hot pot can be a healthy option as long as we eat a balanced meal. It is especially good to warm us up in the cold winter months, although it has benefits year-round. However, be careful to choose good restaurants that use quality broths, ingredients and dipping sauces.
In the article “8 tips for a healthy Chinese New Year hot pot,” the author, in consultation with a medical expert, advises us to watch out for high sodium content in hot pots. This may apply to broths and to popular processed ingredients, such as fish balls, cuttlefish balls and meatballs. Other tips include choosing light dipping sauces and lean ingredients; limiting starchy carbohydrates, such as noodles; and eating high-fibre vegetables. Hot pots can also inspire overeating, so try to eat slowly to give the brain time to process that it is full.
So if you haven’t tried hot-pot, take a friend or two and go enjoy it. And if you’ve experienced it already, leave us a comment on our Facebook page and let us know how you liked it.
Some Places to Try in Toronto
Liuyishou Hotpot Downtown Toronto
254 Spadina Ave, Toronto, ON M5T 2C2
Happy Lamb Hot Pot
2543 Warden Ave, Scarborough, ON M1W 2H5
Chine Legendary Hot Pot & Noodles
327 Spadina Ave, Toronto, ON M5T 2E9
Madalina Hubert is a Toronto-based writer specializing in art, culture, travel, and culinary explorations.