Consider hot pot, which translates to “fire pot,” as Chinese fondue and you’ll begin to understand its widespread appeal in and out of China.
Whatever you call this meal, it remains one of my favorite ways to share food with friends and family. Whether you go out to a restaurant to enjoy hot pot or prepare it at home, the scene promises to be full of warmth, good food, and vibrant colors. A metal pot of simmering broth sits atop a burner at the center of the table, while plates of raw meats, seafood, vegetables, and starches are arranged all around. Diners add ingredients to the broth to cook, then scoop them out using fine-mesh spoons. I love the way hours-long hot pot meals bring people together over delicious foods built around a uniquely communal dining experience.
History of hot pot
Why do Chinese people like me and all eaters in the know love hot pot so much? To answer that question, let us go back a bit—like, say, 1,000 years. Most food historians agree the history of hot pot dates at least that far back when the Jin Dynasty reigned in China. The origins of hot pot can be traced to Mongolian horsemen who traveled into China. Weary and hungry, the men supposedly cooked soups in their helmets over open fires and added various meats to the broth. While the practice produces ridiculously warming, tasty results, especially in the winter months, it also naturally encourages hours of eating, drinking, and conversing. In short, hot pot can usually be equated to good times. The Mongols knew this.
While hot pot is undoubtedly flavorful to eat and fun partake in, you may not immediately realize that it’s also inherently pretty healthy. Unlike frying or other methods of cooking with added fat, boiling meats and veggies only releases their nutrients back into the cooking broth, maximizing the flavors. Having hot pot in the colder months can help you warm up from the inside out, while enjoying it in the hotter months can help you sweat and cool off. You can’t lose!
Ready to try hot pot? I’m here to help you feel totally at home huddled around a pot of savory broth cooking your own foods.
The hot pot etiquette list is short
Hot pot is quite forgiving and doesn’t come with a whole lot of rules. Wait until the broth begins simmering before adding foods. Meat plates usually come with their own tongs to avoid cross-contamination with cooked foods. Use them to add meats first since these take longer to cook. Meats are cooked when they float to the top of the broth and are fully changed from their raw color. Use your chopsticks to pick up non-meat ingredients and dip them into the broth — cooking should only take a few minutes at most. Add little by little as opposed to everything at once, as that brings down the heat level of the broth, slowing down the cooking process for everyone.