Every Diner is a Chef at a Chinese Hot Pot Meal
It's unusual to eat a Chinese hot pot meal alone. The inherently communal dining experience invites a party atmosphere, where diners cook and eat side-by-side. Read on to find out more about this unique dining experience.
How it works
Hot pot meals encourage groups to gather around the hot pot—a vessel filled with boiling water or, more commonly, seasoned broth. Directly into this bubbling liquid, diners plunk raw ingredients like shrimp, spinach, tofu, mushrooms, bean sprouts, cabbage, noodles, and paper-thin slices of beef.
This full-immersion cooking technique can heat the ingredients all the way through in as little as one minute. Then, when the time is just right, diners use a pair of chopsticks, a strainer, or a skewer to pluck out the morsels of meat and vegetables. From there, they can finish the freshly cooked ingredients with dipping sauces such as hoisin, chili oil, rice-wine vinegar, sriracha, or sesame oil.
Where it's from
Credit for inventing and disseminating this technique has been bestowed on everyone from nomadic Mongolian tribes to Tang Dynasty northern Chinese. No matter its origin, the practice almost certainly dates back more than 1,000 years. Early versions had chefs heating a ceramic or steel bowl over a pile of smoldering charcoal or dinosaur bones. Now, electric woks frequently serve as hot-pot vessels, although the cooking process remains unchanged.
Some of its varieties
Befitting its centuries-old history and expansion across China, hot pot cooking boasts a number of regional variations. Mongolian hot pot is notable for its use of prime mutton as the main ingredient and sesame pancakes as a traditional side dish. Sichuan-style hot pot embraces the region's iconic chiles and peppercorns. In fact, Sichuanese hot pots sometimes feature a divider down the middle of the vessel in order to heat two separate broths at once—one with incendiary levels of spice and one with a more restrained flavor, often portioned to create a yin-yang shape. Cantonese-style hot pot embraces the southern region's bounty of seafood, commonly including shrimp, scallops, crabmeat, eels, and cuttlefish.
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