This photo captures a recent Chinese hot-pot dinner at our house, a common meal for many asian families. For westerners, it’s best described as ‘fondue’, but don’t expect to be dipping into a thick cheese sauce. Chinese hot-pot is simplistic, yet healthy and allows the true flavors of the food to shine through.
In all honesty, it’s just a pot filled with boiling broth into which each person dips and cooks their food. Bland? Boring? Nope, not at all. I find myself pleasantly surprised at how this cooking process highlights the true flavors of each ingredient. A thin slice of beef explodes in my mouth with its rich flavor, while a piece of bok choy releases a slight sweetness. You can also create a personalized dipping sauce using any of the following: soy sauce, chili oil, sesame paste, sesame oil, green onion (or anything else you might prefer – there are no rules).
The pot sits on a portable burner in the center of the table within an arm’s distance of each guest. The meal often includes a variety of meats, vegetables, shellfish tofu, dumplings – all of which are slowly making a rich and hearty soup base as they cook. The broth’s flavor continues to grow throughout the meal, and when you feel full it’s time to bring out the noodles, gently lowered into the cooking broth. Within a few minutes each person is served the noodles with plenty of broth, a delightful soup.
Not only is this meal beautiful and enjoyable, it is also fairly healthy. And, for voracious eaters like me, it slows me down. The meal paces me so that I don’t over indulge too quickly. I relax, select a piece of food to cook, and enjoy the company of my guests. We tend to focus more on conversation while eating hot-pot.
Here’s our typical dinner:
- Chicken broth
- Paper thin slices of beef and pork
- Small chunks of chicken
- Frozen chive dumplings
- Tofu balls
- Silken tofu sliced into cubes
- Bok choy
- Shitake and oyster mushrooms
- Bean thread noodles
- Soy sauce, sesame paste, sesame oil, chili oil for dipping sauce
All you really need is a pot and a burner. Portable burners are often found in camping sections of most store, but you’ll find the best (and cheapest) ones in your local asian market. Any pot will do, we use a ceramic one. You can improvise using a fondue pot as long as you can keep a steady temperature hot enough to cook the meat.
Plan to spend an hour or so from beginning to end — take it leisurely, don’t rush it. Although hot-pot can be enjoyed throughout the year, it’s better to do it on a cool night or during the winter. Enjoy!