What Is A Chinese Hot Pot? (Huo Guo)

Chinese Hot Pot can be defined as regional Chinese food. Often, this food is made in X’ian-style noodles, and it might also include Shanghainese-style soup dumplings. But what exactly is the Chinese Hot Pot?

Well, for most people who’re trying out different things and elements of Chinese culture and cuisine, the Chinese Hot Pot is more than a dish; it is considered an experience that encapsulates the essence of communal dining and its ethos. Though it has its roots in China, many Western restaurants have recently taken into this dish, and if you want to get and experience the best of the Chinese culture, then understanding what Chinese Hot Pot is would be a great start.

Chinese hot pot, the fire pot, or the Chinese fondue is considsuan caiered one of the most popular meals in China. It features a simmering metallic pot that has some broth. It is served at the center of the table with all the raw ingredients put in the pot, allowing anyone interested to add and cook up whatever they’d like to eat in the broth.

The hot pot could be prepared and enjoyed either at home or in the restaurant. Because it is the main dish, you don’t have to worry about getting sides like noodles or rice. The cooked food could be eaten with any time of dipping sauce for extra flavor.

The common ingredients for hot pot include thinly-sliced leafy vegetables, meat, mushrooms, vermicelli, bean products, sliced potatoes, tofu, egg dumplings, and some seafood. These raw foods are all thinly sliced into very thin sections, which means that the food cooks fast, and the simmering broth increases the speed of the food cooking while also maintaining a steady but gentle boiling temperature.

Since most of the raw foods can be cooked in the hot pot, and because of the varying cooking times, the raw ingredients should be immersed in the soup, and then it’s removed accordingly.

Thanks to the different ingredients, the broth often has many different flavors that make the hot pot a greater dining experience.

What is the meaning of hot pot?

The hot pot, as the name suggests, is literally a meal cooked and served from a hot pot, and the best part is that people interested in enjoying the cuisine get to put in the raw ingredients of the hot metallic pot with both, and as the food cooks, they also serve from the pot directly.

Hot pot is also called the steamboat or the soup-food, and it’s all about the cooking method that the food is made through. Essentially, this food from China is made in a simmering pot of hot soup stock served on the dining table. And though the hot pot is made full of flavored broth, the pot remains simmering, with the raw ingredients incorporated into the pot cooked to the desired level of hardness, right from the dining table.

Where Is Hot Pot From?

mongolian hot pot

Hot pot is a unique meal and cooking method from China. It is a cooking technique that is not just found in restaurants and the booming street kitchens but also in Chinese households. Even so, it is essentially a distinct regional style originating from East Asia. It has been around for thousands of years, and it’s believed to have been one of the staples by the Mongolian Empire. Originally, the simple hot broth was served with mutton and horse meat, and in the apocryphal story, the food was described as an elaborate dish that was enjoyed on-the-go, and in the helmets of the Mongolian soldiers. With the spread of the Mongolian and Chinese influence across and out of China, the hot pot idea also spread, and over the years and in different regions, there were different forms of the hot pot. So, the Hot Pot in Northern China is different from the hot pot in Korea, Japan, or Vietnam.

Hot Pot History

history of chinese hot pot

The earliest prototypes for the hot pot are believed to have been made during the reign of the Zhou Dynasty. During the era, diners who were primarily made of nobility all had their own personal pots that were made of bronze and known as ran lu.

Ran lu’s primary component was the small stove made with a small pot that was set up above a charcoal burner. The hot pot was, later on, made of copper that was designed during the Three Kingdoms Period that ran from 200 to 280AD. This period is also recognized as the period during which the hot pot came to life.

Then during Qing Dynasty’s reign, the hot pot’s popularity increased as more and more emperors took up the dining option. One of the popular emperors was the Qianlong Emperor, who was very fond of the hot pot idea and would make use of the hot pot for his meals, with just about all his meals. Then, later on, when Emperor Jiaqing hosted a banquet, he ordered the use of at least 1550 hot pots that were used during his coronation. The other high-ranking member of the Chinese society that loved the hot pot was Empress Cixi Dowager, who often used the hot pot in the colder months.

Why Hot Pot Is Popular?

The top reason for the popularity of hot pot has to do with the meal’s consistent warmth, particularly the fact the pot keeps simmering throughout the duration of your meal.

Then there is the fact that eating the hot pot is not only an ideal meal for dinner, but also for lunch.

It’s also a memorable meal that is served at social events, thanks to the fact that the hot pot is served in the middle of the table as people congregate around it. So, if you are looking for a unique way of hosting and entertaining your friends and family, the hot pot might be an excellent idea for you.

It’s versatile, and at the end of the day, it is a cooking technique that helps to cater to the needs of everyone and also meets everyone’s culinary preferences. In most cases, restaurants with hot pots allow their customers to choose the preferred broth, which they will serve as the meal’s soup base. There’s also the option of serving the broth in different flavors.

The versatility also extends to the fact that customers and their families will have the freedom to put in their preferred ingredients in the hot pot, whether you want to eat vegetables, proteins, or any other type of food.

And in some cases, restaurants will have individual pots for everyone, and you can adjust the meal to your liking.

Different Types Of Chinese Hot Pot

Here are the main common types and varieties of the Chinese hot pot:

Northern Chinese Hot Pot

Also known as the Beijing-Style Hot Pot, the Northern Chinese hot pot or the old Beijing copper hot pot is the kind of hot pot that is primarily used to boil and serve mutton for short periods. It is also referred to as the Mongolian hot pot because it has similar origins and forms as the Mongolian hot pot. And so, if you have tried the Sichuan hot pit before, the Beijing-style hot pot is even better.

Essentially, the base soup needs no seasoning, but some ginger and spring onions will be added to the water for extra flavor. So, the whole pot will look quite light, and it tastes light too, but it tastes great. In addition to mutton as the hot pot’s main ingredient, it may also have the instant-boiled mutton. Keep in mind that though the base soup lacks much taste, the ingredients’ delicacy is what stands out. In some cases, the other ingredients added might be the classic sauce, vinegar, sesame paste, the Chinese chive paste, soy sauce, fermented bean curd, chili oil, minced Chinese leeks, and some minced coriander. Other than the thin slices of mutton, the hot pot also includes scallions, fresh leafy vegetables, and goji berries.

The pot is made of copper, fueled by charcoal. The shape of the pot also stands out, and it is the Beijing-style pot and not the Chongqing pot.

It is one of the oldest types of Chinese hot pot, and it dates back to the Qing Dynasty and is used by the nomadic Manchu in the north when they ruled China; and in doing so, they introduced Mongolian cuisine into Beijing and the rest of China.

  • Shuan Yang Rou (Beijing Hot Pot)
shuan yang rou

This is also called the Mongolian hot pot, and it is from the west of China, especially in Beijing. It contains primarily lamb or mutton for meat, thanks to the fact that the surrounding regions are nomadic. The meat is thinly sliced into a volcano-shaped copper pot, and the broth is seasoned with assorted vegetables like shiitake mushrooms, ginger, Chinese cabbage, sprouts, snow peas, spinach, and bamboo shoots, stock or broth, dipping sauce, garlic, and scallions. It may also have stomach meat, tofu, or thin rice noodles.

  • Pickled Cabbage Hot Pot (Northeast Hot Po)
suan cai huo guo

This hot pot is also called the Chinese sauerkraut hot pot. It is from Northeast China, and it’s primarily made of white meat, alongside the sauerkraut. The white meat used is often the fattest sections of pork that are added with the pickled cabbage or sauerkraut.

The creation of this hot pot recipe was necessitated by the extremely cold winter weather. The hot pot allowed the locals to have access to a healthy dose of fresh vegetables for vitamins. To make this possible, they would buy cabbage in bulk in autumn then store them in cellars for winter. But to prevent boredom from the cabbage taste, the vegetables were pickled into sauerkraut, which is like the German sauerkraut with the sour taste, and the cabbage was referred to as the sour vegetable.

South Chinese Hot Pot

This hot pot from southern china is lighter, and the soup base or the broth is the main focus of the hot pot. This has to do with the need to preserve flavors and the original taste of food and added ingredients.

  • Spicy Hot PotSichuan/Chongqing Hot Pot)
mala huo guo

Chongqing is, without a doubt, China’s capital for hot pots, and in this city, 5 out of 6 restaurants are hot pot spots. And based on information from the Chongqing Hotpot Association, which is an actual thing, there are more than 20,000 hotpot restaurants in Chongqing, and there are 50,000 Chongqing hot pot franchises across China. The history of the Chongqing hot pot is contested, though, but most people note that the boatmen who used the Yangtze River are the ones who introduced it.

The Chongqing hot pot is quite flavorful and also very hot and spicy – the spiciness is described as numbing, and it’s what makes this type of hot pot stand out. The ingredients of this hot pot include cow stomach or fresh máodù. Sesame oil is used for the dipping sauce, and it helps to balance out the spice.  

As the name suggests, this spicy hot pot is made with Sichuan pepper that gives the hotpot its numbing heat and spiciness. And according to research, the numbing effects of the spice come from a specific molecule in the Sichuan pepper that activates the cells of the touch receptors, making your lips feel like they’ve vibrated rapidly.

  • Mushroom Hot PotYunnan Hot Pot)

The Yunnan or mushroom hot pot is largely influenced by the hot pots from Southeast Asia. It’s to be eaten without meat thanks to the richness in flavor of the broth and also the focus on healthy and flavorful vegetables, edible flowers, and mushrooms. This hot pot is, therefore, very fragrant, fresh, and spicy. The reason why this is Yunnan’s staple hot pot is that up to 90% of all mushroom species throughout China are from Yunnan.

It is served with a dipping sauce based on sesame oil and some chili. Mint, which is Yunnan province’s staple, is also incorporated in this hot pot. The flowers and other spices are incorporated to give this hot pot an irresistible smell. You could enjoy it with a side of fresh mint salad or maybe some Yunnan-style fried crickets.

This is a light and fresh hot pot that is made of seafood as the primary ingredient. It is also known for being one of the most fragrant hotpots. It is not spicy because of the hot and humid conditions of Guangdong. Instead of the hot spices, this Cantonese cuisine features seasonings like spring onions, peanut oil, ginger, and some soy sauce. And because seafood is the primary protein ingredient incorporated, some of the meat options in the hot pot include shrimp, fish balls, and fish fillet.

This is the other distinct and healthy hot pot that is derived from Jiangsu and Zhejiang cuisines, which is why it is the most common hot pot in Suzhou and Hangzhou.

This pot is made of chicken stock, with chrysanthemum petals added in for soft and tender flavors.

  • Coconut Chicken Hotpot (Hainan Hot Pot)

Over the years, hotpot restaurants have turned their focus into coconut hotpot. It is the simplest hotpot idea in that it only needs some thin strips of Hainan chicken and fresh coconut milk. No fatty oils or butter are incorporated, and this hotpot is considered the healthiest hot pot. The base works as a great soup.

For that extra kick of flavor, the hotpot comes with a dipping sauce based on soy sauce and fresh lime juice.

Hot Pot Ingredients

The common ingredients added to the hot pots can be grouped into two – the meat and the vegetarian ingredients.

The meat ingredients include beef, lamb, chicken, mutton, duck, prawns, and fish. Pork is also incorporated unless it’s an Islamic establishment. The meat options can be further broken down into the cow stomach, frozen rolled mutton or beef, pig’s kidney, pig’s tenderloin, pig’s brain, luncheon meat, sausages, duck’s tongue, chicken wings, chicken feet, frozen duck intestines, fish balls, boneless fish slices, squid, quail eggs, shrimp meatballs, or crab sticks.

The vegetarian ingredients include sliced potatoes, mushrooms, tofu, and cabbage. Commonly used options include shitake mushrooms, edible tree fungus, kelp, needle mushrooms, coriander, lotus root slices, the giant oriental radish slices, bamboo shoot, instant noodles, and the bean curd skin.

Then you have the dipping sauces, which are made from mixing different types of sauces and oils like chili oil, sesame sauce, garlic sauce, soy sauce, pepper sauce, green onions, and seafood causes, among others. Generally, you get to choose the sauce type that suits your taste.

Hot Pot Broth

The broth is the most important component of the Chinese hot pot. It is often cloudy and made of things like chicken, ginger, goji berries, and other options for aromatics. The super spicy and numbing hot options like the Chongqing hot pot are made of red chilies, Sichuan peppercorns, and even some preserved mustard greens.

The other kind of broth you could opt for is the very savory mushroom broth, the coconut-seafood broth, or the sweet-and-sour tomatoes.

When choosing the ingredients for the broth, select flavors that balance each other out because this will allow you to enjoy the meal, think of yin and yang, and if the broth is too spicy, the dipping sauce should help lower the heat.

Hot Pot Tools

If you want to incorporate the idea of the hot pot in your meals at home, the first thing you need to settle on before you find the right chopsticks is the hot pot itself.

The pot can be the split pot with the plain and spicy sides or the spicy pot where everything goes.

You also need to settle on a heat source, charcoal burner, heating plate, or gas burner.

The rest of the ingredients (meats, vegetarian ingredients, and dipping sauces) will come in after. Remember that broth is very important, and you need it to boil before you throw in the rest of the ingredients and start eating fully.

Is Hot Pot Broth Healthy?

Yet, the hot pot broth can be very healthy. All that matters is the variety of ingredients that you incorporate in the broth. The base soup and the dipping sauces also play a role in the healthy state of the broth.

To make the healthiest hot pot, you need to avoid overdosing on the hot pot with sodium, add a good amount of carbs, and also reduce the number of saturated fats. So, reduce the amount of chili oil, peanut oil, sesame oils, and sauces, especially the ones that are high in calories.

Incorporate vegetables that are high in fiber because you will feel fuller for longer, and add in more veggies when you have too many fats and fatty foods in the pot.

At the end of the day, it’s all about balance. Healthy proportions and the use of a reasonable amount of flavoring will ensure healthy food, even with the hot pot dishes.

Japanese Hot Pot Vs. Chinese Hot Pot

Japanese Hot Pot

Japanese hot pot, like shabu shabu, is different from the Chinese hot pot in that the Japanese hot pot is a dish that is made of thinly-sliced meat and vegetables that are all boiled in water. The main difference is in the sauces and ingredients used to make these two types of hot pots – Japanese ingredients are added in Japanese hot pots, while the Chinese dish had predominantly Chinese ingredients from specific regions.

Vietnamese Hot Pot Vs. Chinese Hot Pot

Vietnamese Hot Pot

Vietnamese hot pot is the cù lao, and it’s often made of a soup base or, in other cases, salted fish. The ingredients used for the Vietnamese hot pot are native to Vietnam and not China, as is the case with the Chinese hot pot.

Chinese Hot Pot Vs. Korean Hot Pot

Korean Hot Pot

Koreans are also obsessed with the hot pot, and the Korean hot pot, unlike the Chinese hot pot, is primarily a fusion of stews with American-style ingredients and processed foods like canned baked beans, sliced cheese, sausages, and ham added in.

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