Hot pot dinners involve a cosy gathering of family or friends around a table with a steaming pot of soup in the middle. Plates of noodles, vegetables and meat are arranged around the pot, ready to be cooked in the shared pot. Hot pot is enjoyed across Asia, where communal dining is a common practice.
The Origins of Hot Pot
With its origins in China, hot pot dates back thousands of years where it was thought to have been brought to the country by the Mongolians. It has since spread throughout Asia, giving rise to many variations of Asian hot pot. Let’s go through the more popular varieties of hotpots.
Chinese hot pot
In Chinese hot pot, the more popular broth type is served in the South, featuring chilli and Sichuan peppercorns, which add a numbing effect. Other Southern styles include bases that feature mushrooms, coconut milk and even flowers. In the North, the star of the hot pot is usually the meat, hence the broth is usually just water.
Japanese hot pot (Shabu-shabu)
Japanese hot pot, or shabu-shabu, is derived from the ‘swish-swish’ sound the ingredients make when they are swirled around the piping hot broth. Thin slices of meat and vegetables are cooked in a konbu (kelp) based broth, infusing delicious flavours into soup, which is enjoyed together with rice.
Thai hot pot (Suki)
Thai hot pot, or Suki, evolved from Chinese hot pot to suit the tastes of the Chinese demographic in Thailand. Suki comprises a boiling pot filled with meat, vegetables, noodles and dumplings. What sets Suki apart is that once cooked, these ingredients are dipped into Sukiyaki sauce – a sweet-sour and slightly spicy sauce.
Thai hot pot (Mookata)
Combine Suki with Korean barbecue and you have Mookata, another popular way of enjoying hot pot where you can choose between grilling or boiling your ingredients. Enjoy grilled meats atop a dome-shaped stove, and watch as the fat drip into a trench of broth, infusing it with greasy goodness that you can cook other ingredients in.
Korean hot pot (Jeongol)Another popular Asian hot pot variation is Korean hot pot, or jeongol. Featuring sliced beef, dumplings, mushrooms and vegetables or seafood, jeongol is a delightful mix of all kinds of ingredients left to boil in a jeongolteul (a wide and shallow pot) to allow the aromatic flavours to seep into the broth.
Essential Ingredients for Hot Pot
The hot pot soup base of Asian hot pot is the foundation of the meal and is usually categorised into spicy and non-spicy variations.
Spicy broth bases include the numbing mala base made from Sichuan peppercorns and chilli, which add a fiery kick. The milder varieties have a mushroom or herb base, made with goji berries or wolfberries. You could also opt for a simple broth made from meat stock cubes, bones and aromatics like ginger or garlic.
In recent years, hot pot broth flavours have evolved to suit changing taste preferences with a contemporary twist. You can now find tomato broth bases – a classic favourite is the tomato broth served at global hot pot chain Haidilao, herbal bases and even curry-infused broths.
The next step is loading up with all kinds of ingredients! Use thinly sliced meats like beef, chicken or pork, as these cook faster, or meatballs, which usually come pre-cooked so it doesn’t take too long to heat up.
When it comes to beef, ensuring a good amount of fat and marbling is key. For pork, opt for thin cuts like shoulder or pork belly. Lamb is mostly eaten at Chinese hot pots, especially in spicy broths.
If you’d like more flavour in your meats, a simple marinade of soy sauce, rice wine and ginger do the trick. Korean hot pot, or jeongol, comes in many variations and bulgogi jeongol is the more popular one. Simply marinade beef in soy sauce, sugar, rice wine, sesame oil and pepper, then add this to the stew.
Shellfish is commonly added for more savoury flavours, like prawns or lobster heads. You could also add thin slices of fish, like halibut or salmon. Shellfish balls or fish balls are also a crowd favourite – the best ones have filling in them like pork, which makes for a delicious surprise.
Vegetables and mushrooms
The possibilities are endless here especially with so many Asian vegetables out there, but a mix of mushrooms and leafy greens are a good choice to slightly sweeten the broth. I usually go with a mix of spinach, lettuce, enoki mushrooms and button mushrooms. Carrots, potatoes and lotus root also add to the flavour, but take a while to cook, so these usually go in first.
Tofu and other soy products
Tofu is another great addition. I usually steer away from soft tofu since this will not retain its shape, instead, opt for firmer variations of tofu and even beancurd products like beancurd puffs, beancurd sticks, pressed or fried tofu, and fried beancurd skin.
If you love tofu, read here for more inspiration on what to do with it.
Noodles and dumplings
A meal is not complete without carbs and in hot pot, noodles are the more popular choice. From vermicelli, instant ramen noodles to udon, add these last so they can soak up the flavour of the broth.
If you’d like something that cooks fast, try dumplings – especially when you’re waiting for the rest of the items to cook. Depending on your preferred flavour profile, try pork and chive or seafood dumplings.
There are so many options of dipping sauces out there, and the best part is that you can create one that’s uniquely yours. Try adding soy sauce, sesame oil, chilli and spring onions for a savoury-spicy option, or roasted sesame sauce for something creamier. Consider having a basic set-up of ginger, sesame sauce, spring onions, chilli, soy and oyster sauce, to create a dipping sauce that goes well with your cooked ingredients.
Setting Up a Hot Pot at Home
A good hot pot experience starts with a sturdy, big enough pot for the number of people you’re serving. I like having a pot with a separator to give the option of two broth bases. The fuss-free option would be a hot pot cooker with an electric or induction stove, while others prefer placing the pot atop a portable burner.
Once your hot pot is set in the middle of the table, arrange the meats, vegetables and other ingredients around it. Make sure to place each group of ingredients in their individual plates, and remember to have separate uncooked and cooked food, to avoid contamination. Have separate chopsticks to handle each one as well. Other cutlery for consideration are small strainers to fish out cooked items, and ladles to pour soup into individual bowls.
Hot Pot Cooking Techniques
Once your setup is complete, let’s move on to hot pot cooking techniques! Add your preferred broth and turn up the heat. Once it comes to a boil, the common strategy is to add the items in by order of how long they take to cook. First, add the root vegetables so that they can simmer and draw out their flavour. Next, add the shellfish and precooked ingredients like meatballs and dumplings, before cooking your meat – which would take less than a minute. When you’re at this stage, the broth is probably close to perfect.
If the broth is too bland due to the choice of ingredients, consider adding some meat stock cubes for an instant flavour boost. The best time to enjoy the broth is after multiple rounds of cooking, where each ingredient has infused its flavours into the broth.
For the finishing touches, enjoy your cooked ingredients with your customised dipping sauce.
Hot pot is a great way to spend time with your loved ones over conversations and some drinks and is very much a tradition of various Asian cultures. Try it out for yourself the next time you have a group of friends or family over and enjoy this bonding time over a hearty meal.