Hot pot has always been at the centre of my Taiwanese family’s winter solstice, Lunar New Year and birthday celebrations. It’s a special meal filled with loud chatter and laughter, and its communal nature is a metaphor for family wholeness, as people gather at the table. While hot pot restaurants across the country have put things on pause due to the pandemic, hot pot can be a cinch—and just as fun—to have at home.
Hot pot involves a communal pot of broth kept bubbling on a portable burner at the centre of the table while ingredients, such as sliced raw meat, leafy vegetables, fish balls, tofu and noodles, are cooked in it. The ingredient possibilities are based entirely on your preferences—keep it an omnivorous meal or make it a vegetarian feast. (Some pots are split in half so you can have two separate broths.) Hot pot isn’t bound by strict rules, which is why the experience is so easygoing and enjoyable.
For Eva Chin, chef de cuisine at Kōjin in Toronto, hot pot was an essential in her household. “It brightened my palate when I was able to taste meat, seafood and the earthiness of mushrooms in the broth,” Chin recalled of her first Cantonese hot pot experience as a child. Its laissez-faire spirit actually helped Chin introduce Chinese food to her wife and mother-in-law; they now have a hot pot set-up at home.
Styles of hot pot are differentiated by the ingredients, dipping sauces and types of broth used. Chrysanthemum greens are popular in Taiwanese- and Cantonese-style, while lamb is common for northern Chinese versions. Traditionally, southern Chinese hot pot broth is a clear, seafood-oriented affair that brings out the flavours of the Pearl River Delta. “In North America, they’ve taken all these different styles and hot pot history to encompass the cuisine culture of China,” says Chin.
Queena Lin, a manager at Mabu Generation, a Taiwanese fusion chain in Toronto, says its most popular broth is the Sichuan mala pot, a house special prepared with napa cabbage, enoki mushrooms and less common ingredients, such as pig’s blood cake and pork intestines.
When it comes to dipping sauce—used as a condiment for cooked meats and other blanched ingredients—there’s no right or wrong answer, whether it’s store-bought or homemade. My favourite is the Taiwan-made Bull Head sacha sauce made of dried shrimp and fish. Chin likes to prepare two: one with sesame paste, peppercorn oil and chopped cilantro, and another with soy sauce, chopped chilies, cilantro, garlic and green onion.
Get The Right Tools
While everyone gets their own plate, bowl, sauce dish and chopsticks, some gear is communal. Here’s a few quick picks to get you started.
Burner: From induction to gas, there are plenty of hot plate options, each with their own benefits. Induction offers an easy-to-use experience for beginners, while butane-powered burners allow for more control over heat.
Pot: Technically any wide, shallow pot will do, so long as it’s induction-safe (if that’s the kind of hot plate you’re using) and not too heavy or big for the burner. You can find pots made just for this purpose, some of which have a divider in the middle for two types of broth.
Strainers and Tongs: You can use large chopsticks, small strainers, or tongs to drop in and remove ingredients as they cook.
Cover Your Base
Your base broth can be a simple affair, and plenty of store-bought broth options abound. We used these veggie-friendly mushroom and tomato soup bases from Little Sheep; find your favourite at a local Asian grocer or at online retailers such as T&T. Want to try making your own? Eva Chin shared her family recipe for a seafood-based both.
These are some of our hot pot favourites, but think of this list as a general guide: The world’s your oyster when it comes to ingredients. Specialty noodles, produce and seafood items can be found at Asian grocery stores, such as T&T, or online.
Leafy greens: napa cabbage, watercress, bok choy, morning glory, chrysanthemum greens (tong ho).
Thinly sliced vegetables: tomato, lotus root, sweet potato.
Mushrooms: king oyster, shiitake, maitake, wood ear, enoki
Noodles: mung bean noodles, udon noodles, yam noodle bundles
One or two bowls of rice, as a side dish
Tofu: cubed firm or semi-firm, bean curd skin or cubes, fried puffed tofu
Seafood: crabmeat sticks, fish balls, assorted fish cake, shrimp
Frozen dumplings: plain shrimp, pork and cabbage
Meat: frozen pork; beef balls; thinly sliced beef, pork or lamb
Pour Your Sauces And Prep Your Garnishes
The secret to hot pot’s personalized style is in the dipping sauces. Make or buy one for the table, or mix and match a few for each diner.
Here are our favourite store-bought picks, from left to right: chinese vinegar, oyster sauce, chili-garlic sauce, spicy chili crisp, chili oil, sesame paste, barbecue sauce, XO sauce, fermented tofu, soy sauce, sesame oil.
Add a few of these for a little fresh texture and extra flavour: sesame seeds, whisked raw egg, chopped peanuts, minced garlic, chopped chili, sliced ginger, chopped cilantro, chopped scallions.
Mind Your Manners
1. Keep cooking and eating utensils separate! It’s taboo to mix raw-ingredient chopsticks or tongs with eating ones.
2. Ensure everyone has their own plate or bowl set, chopsticks for eating and sauce dish.
3. Unless you’re cooking for another person, take and eat only what you’ve dropped in: It’s not a game of finders keepers.
4. Consider cooking times before crowding the pot: Leafy greens and meat slices cook quickly, while denser noodles and veggies will need a couple of minutes.
5. Some like to drink the hot pot broth and some don’t—but if you do, wait until the end of the meal.