Monday, September 30, 2013

Chinese Hot Pot 火鍋

Happy autumn!

In my neck of the woods, autumn brings beautiful fall colors of the changing leaves, an abundance of delicous harvest vegetables and goodies and cooler crisp weather.  As the weather cools, I like to warm up by enjoying one if my favorite Chinese meals;   (foh wo; literally meaning fire pot) also known as hot pot, dah bin low, Chinese fondue, or steamboat.

Hot Pot is very popular in China, HK and other places where there are Asian people.  In bigger cities in Canada, like Toronto or Vancouver, there are many hot pot restaurants with burners built into the dinner tables.  Customers pick the ingredients they want and the waiters bring them the ingredients, the pot with broth and hot water to top up the pots.
A hot pot meal prepared by my godmother
photo credit: Leo and Mel

This type of Chinese meal has been around for over a thousand years.  My father once told me that hot pot came from an ancient village in Northern China where the peasants were very poor and had little food, but wanted to have a gathering.  The villagers brought what little they had.  Somebody brought a pot, another brought a fish they had caught, cut up to share, another brought a few vegetables from their meager garden, and so on.  When combined, the villagers had plenty of food and from then on hot pot became popular.

There are different stories about the origin of hot pot and there are many different combinations of ingredients that can go into hot pot.  You could even add your own twist on it.  My wife adds tortellini to her hot pot and while it's not traditionally Chinese, it actually tastes pretty good in it.

Here are some common ingredients for hot pot:

shrimp                  thinly sliced beef              udon noodles                    wonton noodles

crab                       thinly sliced lamb             nappa                                   dumplings

fish balls               cubed tofu                          bok choy                              beef balls



If you are using a gas or coal fired stove, make sure to have adequate ventilation, including opening the window as the stove will eat up oxygen.


If you are using ground beef, or thick raw meat ingredients like dumplings, it is best to boil the meatballs/dumplings beforehand to ensure they are properly cooked, and to also reduce cooking time while in the hot pot.  Thinly sliced meats such as beef or lamb are okay to put into the pot raw, as they will cook rapidly.