Chinese food is infinitely varied, but one of my favorite meals is indubitably hot pot. Helene and I joined two of my colleagues Friday (one Shanghainese and one Quebecois) at a hot pot near my place. It was most likely the last of the season: the humidity and the heat of the pots makes it not entirely pleasant in summer, so typically I only go there when it’s cold. With spring coming around, we bid farewell to hot pot goodness for this year.
If you’re familiar with Chinese fondue, well… Hot pot has absolutely nothing to do with it! The basis of hot pot is the broth: typically it is chicken, though a variety of broths are available, including black chicken and fish head. It can be either spicy or non-spicy, or my favorite: half-and-half, as pictured above, in a “yin-yang” separation. Both sides include whole spice ingredients such as whole peppers, garlic, clove, etc. This is brought to a boil through a table gas range, thus ensuring Canadian safety measures will forever prohibit true hot pot from being enjoyed on Canadian soil.
After you pick your basic broth, you get to choose the ingredients you want in your hot pot. There is an immense variety here, including popular favorites such as many varieties of green vegetables and tofu, sliced meat, noodles, fish balls, etc. On the picture above, you can see, clockwise from the bottom left: fresh greens (‘jimao cai’), white noodles, mushrooms, sliced beef, tofu cubes, fresh fish, sliced chicken, chicken hearts (one of my favorites), sliced lamb, and shrimp balls.
These ingredients are put in the broth until cooked. In the case of meats, courtesy demands that you used your personal colander in which to cook the meat. This also allows you to control precisely the cooking of the meat to your personal taste.
If that wasn’t enjoyable enough, here’s another great reason to go to hot pot: the beer is incredibly cheap! At our local hot pot place, it costs us 1 RMB (12 cents) for a 600 ml bottle! The meal itself usually costs us in the viscinity of 50 RMB per person ($7) booze included, and that’s with ordering way too much food and beer.
Needless to say, this makes hot pot a belt-loosening affair that lasts long into the night under the onslaught of tongue-loosening alcohol. For all these reasons, and the simple tastiness of it all, hot pot is one of my favorite Chinese outings!