Whenever I mention “hot pot” to people, I either get a “OMG now I’m craving it” face or a “what the heck are you talking about” face. This article is dedicated to the folks of the latter. Hopefully it’ll quell your confusion and push you to try it.
Hot pot is a metal pot of simmering soup in which you cook your ingredients. Even though it sounds straightforward, there are a lot of ways to vary your hot pot experience.
There are various types of pots that can be used for hot pot. For large groups, you typically get a large pot that’s 12″ in diameter and 4″ deep. If you decide to get two different soups, then the pot has a metal wall in between to keep the soups from spilling into one another. For individuals, you typically get a small pot that’s 6″ in diameter and 4″ deep. For the small pots, you can only have one type of soup.
From bland to burning-your-tongue spicy, there are so many different soups you can make. In China and Taiwan, a popular soup is broth with Mala which is a spicy yet numbing sauce. I’ve personally never tried it, but it’s a very scary red color. Instead, I usually go for a chicken broth or, my absolute favorite, duck in sour mustard soup. Some other popular soups include oxtail and tomato soup, mushroom soup and miso soup.
The best part of hot pot is picking out the ingredients and cooking them yourself. When eating at a restaurant, the waitstaff usually hands you a paper with all of the ingredients and you mark how many servings of each one you want to order. Make sure you ask how much each serving comes with. You don’t want to mark 5 fish balls thinking you’re going to be getting literally 5 fish balls, and then get served a monster plate of 20 fish balls.
Some staples are thinly sliced meat, fish balls, tofu, vegetables, udon and mushrooms. Other ingredients that I love to eat with hot pot are pork blood (it looks like black tofu), shrimp, clams, imitation crab, fish, corn and vermicelli. You can honestly throw in whatever you want into the pot and once it’s cooked, you can fish it out and eat it.
Even if you don’t actually eat the shrimp or clams, they’re still great ingredients to cook in your soup since it adds depth to your soup by bringing in another flavor. If you want a sweeter soup, carrots and corn are great ingredients to add. I love cooking vermicelli at the end of the meal since it soaks up all the delicious soup flavor from the stock and various ingredients I cooked earlier. No matter how full you are after eating plates of beef and fish balls, you should still give the soup a sip.
You can easily make this meal at home as long as you have the right tools. Namely, a heat source like a little gas stove or an electric hot plate. If you don’t have one those, just search “hot pot” on Yelp. There are tons of hot pot restaurants in California and across the country; some are even All You Can Eat! No matter where you eat it, hot pots work for a cold winter’s day or a hot summer’s day—as long as the air conditioning is on full blast.