Our family always has Chinese hot pot for our Reunion Dinner on the eve of the Lunar New Year.
Hot pot can refer to a type of cooking method where ingredients like thinly sliced meat and fresh vegetables are cooked in a variety of soup stocks and eaten on the spot. It can also refer to the pot that this kind of cuisine is served in.
It is communal eating at its best. The hot pot is usually placed at the centre of the dining table with plates of raw food surrounding it. People sit round the table, pick up pieces of food from the plate, dip them into the hot soup to cook before eating it right away, with or without a dipping sauce. It is noisy, messy and a lot of fun.
In Mandarin, It is called 火锅 (huo guo), literally “fire pot". In Hong Kong, they have a nickname for this, 打边炉, which seems to mean “hitting the side of the pot". In Singapore and Malaysia, it is commonly called steamboat. Yes, I know, steamboat is a locomotive that runs on steam. So why did we use it to refer to a dish?
Here’s why, I think.
The traditional vessel used in hot pot dishes is a round pot with a funnel or chimney in the middle. Does it resemble a steamboat? I think it does. A little anyway.
The soup stock is poured into the “moat" surrounding the funnel or chimney and charcoal is placed inside the chimney to provide the heat.
Pots used for cooking has changed a lot. Most people do not use charcoal as fuel to cook food. It is slow and difficult to clean. Many hot pots now are electrical. It is a big wide and shallow pot with heat control panel and a glass cover. The electrical cords are also fairly long so that the pot can be placed on the dining table. But even if the cords are short, people will find a way to extend it to the table.
Another type of modern Chinese hot pot comes with a portable stove that uses gas canisters to operate. Personally, I don’t like portable stoves. They use gas canisters as fuel and I don’t feel safe eating next to a can that might explode.
Pots can also have separators or dividers to accommodate different types of soups.
Like any popular Chinese dishes, there are quite a lot of regional variations. You will also find hot pots in Japanese, Korea, and Southeast Asia. Famous hot pot dishes include the Spicy Hot Pot from Sichuan and Chongqing 麻辣火锅 (Ma La Huo Guo) and the Mongolian hot pot. In Singapore, we have the Teochew fish head hot pot.
Here's a recipe you can try at home.
Beef hot pot
This is a recipe for beef hot pot containing thinly sliced beef, napa cabbage, enoki mushrooms, bean threads, carrot, leek and tofu.
This particular hot pot is cooked and presented in a claypot. This is a pot made from unglazed clay. Claypots are probably common place in olden day kitchens. Now, many claypots are beautifully made and are used as tableware.
This dish features thinly sliced beef commonly found in sukiyaki. Sukiyaki refers to a Japanese dish which resembles a hot pot but instead of soup food items are cooked in a dark sweet and salty sauce known as a sukiyaki sauce. This dish almost always has thinly sliced beef which is now sold in markets as sukiyaki beef.
200g sukiyaki beef
1 quarter of a napa cabbage
1 pack enoki mushrooms
1 pack bean threads / cellophane noodles
1 stalk leek
4 pieces of carrot
1 packet tofu
1 litre beef soup stock
Wash the napa cabbage and cut into big pieces
Remove the roots of the enoki mushrooms and wash
Wash the leek and cut diagonally into several pieces
Cut the tofu into long strips
Lay the napa cabbage, leek, enoki mushrooms, bean threads, carrot, tofu into the claypot
Add the soup stock
Bring to a boil and cook for about 15 to 20 minutes or until the ingredients are cooked
Place the beef slices on top and slightly covered by the soup
Cover and simmer on lower for another 5 to 10 minutes