An Introduction to the Chinese Hotpot – by Marin Ekstrom. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports
[The hot pot broths]
In China, going out to eat is a beloved activity that occurs on a regular basis. One of the most popular options is heading out to a hot pot place. As the name hot pot suggests, this style of cuisine is essentially a soup-centric style of fondue: you dip an assortment of food mix-ins into boiling pots of broth. It has a long and esteemed position in Chinese culture that spans about 1,000 years. While the details of its origin story are not entirely clear, many credit the Mongols for the creation of hot pot. In fact, one colorful anecdote claims:
[During an episode of the Mongolian Invasion of China, a few Mongol horsemen]…were so bent on conquest that they couldn’t be bothered to carry cooking utensils. Many didn’t even bother to carry food, since the villages they were conquering usually provided everything they needed. Story has it that eventually the Mongolians found themselves facing the Great Wall of China with no idea of how they might cross it. They settled down for a siege, but soon became hungry. None of the riders had cooking utensils, so they eventually decided to boil some water in a helmet. Bits of food were tossed in until they were cooked, and the hot pot was born. (akm20myonmi, 2016).
[Hot pot meat and seafood mix-ins]
[Hot pot vegetable]
Whether that story is legitimate or just a legend, hotpot quickly caught on in China and developed into an extremely popular form of cuisine that is still widely enjoyed today. However, it is not a simple meal to prepare; rather, hotpot features a series of steps that need to be completed before indulging in it. When a group of people goes out for hotpot, they must first order a few big pots of broth (in my own experiences, my friends and I usually picked a tomato-based broth and a spicy broth heaving over with peppers). The dining table come equipped with burners, so once the broths arrive, the group of diners lets them sit on the burners until they start to boil. While they wait for that to happen (because as the old mantra says, “a watched pot never boils”), they select their food mix-ins and dipping sauces. They can choose a huge assortment of foods to have with their hot pot; their options range from greens and vegetables, thin slices of meat, seafood, tofu, noodles, dumplings, breads…really, the sky is the limit. Similarly, they can customize the dipping sauces by brewing together creative concoctions at a sauce bar. Ingredients for dipping sauces include tahini, peanut butter, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, chives, and even more garnishes that truly allow them to be mix-and-match maestros. Once the food mix-ins and sauces are gathered, the group plops the foodstuffs into the boiling broths until they are thoroughly cooked through. Then they pick up the submerged foods with chopsticks or spoons, dip them in their tailor-made sauces, and then gobble them up. They rinse and repeat this process, often with the accompaniment of white rice and plum juice to counteract excessive spiciness, until all the food runs out or the diners become too full to finish everything off (the latter scenario is much more common).
[Hot pot tofu, bread, and noodle mix-ins]
[Hot pot dried noodles]
[White rice and a bowl of dipping sauce]
Hotpot is a very fun meal to eat due to its limitless possibilities, as every visit offers the opportunity to try new broths, new food mix-ins, and create new sauces. But even more than that, it serves as a great social activity. Hot pot works much better with large groups of people in order to vary the types and quantities of the ingredients, and is just simply a great way to bring people together to chat and catch up while they eat delicious food together. I personally had several wonderful opportunities to share hot pot with several of my closest friends, which served as some of the best bonding experiences during my time in China. I hope that many more people, whether in China or elsewhere, can further learn about and engage in this tradition so that they can try new food while making great friends!
[The dipping sauce bar: truly an embarrassment of riches]
[The hot pot is boiled and ready to be eaten!]
[Cheesy hot pot: an intriguing spin on traditional hotpot]
akm20myonmi. “10 Unique Facts To Know About Chinese Hot Pot. Tabelog.us.TABElog. 10 March 08, 2016. Accessed July 28, 2016. http://www.tabelog.us/articles/10-unique-facts-to-know-about-chinese-hot-pot.
Vogel, Mark R. “HOT POT!” FoodReference.com. March 24, 2010. Accessed July 28, 2016. http://www.foodreference.com/html/chinese-hot-pot-a310.html.
Wu, Annie. “Chinese Hotpot — A Popular Chinese Dish You Should Try.” Chinahighlights.com. China Highlights. July 21, 2016. Accessed July 28, 2016. http://www.chinahighlights.com/travelguide/chinese-food/hotpot.htm.
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