An "aerial view" of Friday's hot pot

Hot Pot Goodness

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!

About Daniel Roy

Daniel is a writer, backpack foodie, slow traveler, and endurance runner. He is the author of the upcoming book, "The Way of Slow Travel: A Hands-On Guide to the Best Travel of Your Life."

9 comments

  1. I think one of the memories that stands out the most from my trip to China is, without a doubt, the hot pot meal in Beijing we had along with Dan and Helene.

    I don’t think you can get how good and how pleasant it is as a social activity.

    I really believe I should stop reading this blog since everytime a new story appears, it makes me want to still be there even more…

    • I hear ya!! Truth is, hot pot is much better in Beijing. I miss it too… Hot pot supposedly originates from Sichuan, so I’ll have to go check it out over there sometimes, too. Like you say, there’s something very, very social about throwing food in a common pot in the middle of the table… I’m really not sure what…

  2. Any chance to find this meal in Montreal or Quebec ?

    Or I will have to make my way to China to try it?

    • Don’t look for this meal in Quebec… Like I said in my post, it involves bringing a gas range to your table, so I’m sure it breaks all kinds of safety laws for Quebec. The closest you’ll ever get is homemade Chinese fondue, and trust me, it’s far, far from the real thing…

      • Maybe theres a way we can have that meal without the gas range to the table ? Or the gas is essential ? Can we simply use something else?

        I guess it will be a good social activity like you guys says, I always enjoy fondue because of the social. 🙂

        • The basis of hot pot is that the broth keeps boiling throughout the meal, and waiters come and add broth periodically as the old one evaporates. It would just not work if it was not cooked on a gas range…

          That being said, there are some Chinese and Korean places, even in Montreal, that serve some hot pot-type dishes on a portable gas range. I’m not sure if this is a violation of restaurant safety codes, but I’m guessing it is. It’s one thing to bring portable gas ranges to the table, quite another to install big gas pipes like you need to heat a real hot pot…

          Moral of the story is: Safety in Quebec is good, but sometimes it means sacrificing some real exciting treats!

          • … and our stupid laws also keep us from eating octopus on a stick while taking a walk.

            But that’s another thing.

        • Adèle Beizhang WANG

          how can one say no to ppl who are so passionate about Chinese fondue?

          To manu dalton: well, here is what we do as chinese students abroad who miss hot pot. The public secret to alternative way is–Rice cooker! In Montreal, I hope it isnot against the law to place the rice cooker on the table and plug it to keep boiling at home? 🙂 In order to make the flavour(well, almost), find those packed spices in the Chinese supermarket. They are available in the China Town in England, and I suppose that it should not be difficult to find them in CA.

          Volia, plus Daniel’s post with photos, and your imagination, it cannot be too wrong.

          Bonne apptit!

          • Hot pot… in a rice cooker?!

            Wow, I never thought about that. 🙂 Thanks Adèle, I now know what I’ll do if someday I’m far from China and yearning for a hot pot!

            (By the way, if anybody is thinking of buying a rice cooker, buy it in Chinatown; the rice cookers in places like Sears won’t cook your rice asian-style!)

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