Hot pot or hotpot, also known as soup-food or steamboat, is a cooking method that originated in China. A heat source on the dining table keeps a pot of soup stock simmering, and a variety of Chinese foodstuffs and ingredients are served beside the pot for the diners to put into the hot stock.
The cooking method of Chinese hot pot is one that’s known and loved across China. Simple to put together, this communal meal is a fantastic way to socialize and spend time with family and friends.
We’re big fans of Chinese hotpot at Bokksu, so we’ve put together an informative guide to this popular dining experience and shown you where to buy the best hot pot ingredients. We’ve even included a Chinese hot pot recipe you can follow yourself!
What is Chinese Hot Pot?
Chinese hot pot (or huoguo) is a shared main course. A large pot of seasoned ‘clear soup’ sits on the table, simmering throughout the meal thanks to a portable heater or hot plate.
Chinese clear soup is a type of thin soup or broth that’s light and ‘see through’ in appearance. It may be called ‘clear’, but ingredients like meats, vegetables and spices are cooked together for a long time which results in a rich and deep flavor with every sip.
The table is then loaded with a variety of different raw ingredients – meats, vegetables, noodles and dumplings – which are placed into the broth, and diners take out morsels of food as they’re ready. There are often metal dividers placed inside the hot pot to keep each diners’ ingredients separate too.
Though sometimes compared with Korean Malatang, Chinese hot pot is a different dish as it’s shared by diners at a specific table, meaning a group of people who know each other. The Korean dish of Malatang is a street food that’s cooked in a communal pot and eaten amongst strangers – either on the spot or as a takeaway.
Where Does Chinese Hot Pot Come From?
Hot pot has an extensive history in China. Thought to date back at least two thousand years, it’s documented in the Shang (1600-1046 BC) and Zhou (1050-221 BC) dynasties – though the meal’s roots are often attributed to Mongolian horsemen too. As they rode across the steppe and into China, they took their soup-style hotpot along with them, which caused regional variations of the dish to spring up quickly.
Mongolian hot pot would have contained an excess of mutton and horse meat as the most readily available ingredient to them, but nowadays there are plenty of different ways to make the dish.
What Are The Different Types and Styles of Hot Pot?
Hotpot is much more than just one specific recipe. It’s a style of cooking with regional variations throughout China, not all of which are super spicy. That particular accolade goes to Sichuan Hot Pot, infamous for the medley of chili and Sichuan peppercorns that create the flavor known as mala (and sometimes given a wide berth as a result!).
- In Beijing, Hot Pot features mutton, cooked in a broth with mushroom and ginger.
- Yunnan Hot Pot is all about mushrooms, thanks to the proliferation of wild mushroom harvests in the region.
- Guangdong Hot Pot is renowned for seafood like shrimp and fish balls, plus light seasoning of peanut oil and spring onions.
- Then there’s Jiangsu’s chrysanthemum hotpot, a creamy white soup with cod, the petals/greens of chrysanthemum flowers, and a swirl of ponzu sauce.
How to Make Chinese Hot Pot
There are a few things you need to know before getting started with making Chinese hot pot. It’s worth planning ahead so you know exactly what equipment you’ll use, the utensils to eat it with, and the actual ingredients needed to make the dish.
After setting up your equipment you’ll prepare the hot pot itself, mixing together the soup base and water. While it’s cooking, you’ll prepare all your ingredients and plate them up, along with providing each diner with a small plate and a little bowl for their dipping sauce.
The main equipment you need for Huoguo is a pot and a burner that can be placed on the table. Electrical and induction hot-pot sets are made specifically for this, but you can also use any deep metal pot that’s heatproof, along with a tabletop stove or hotplate. You can also use a shabu-shabu pot too. If you have a divider that fits inside your pot, all the better!
Remember this pot will be super hot throughout the meal, so your table surface also needs to be able to withstand that heat. A granite, marble, or laminate countertop will work, or you can search out a hot pot stand that raises the whole dish off the countertop.
As for utensils, a wire skimmer or strainer scoop is super helpful for removing your ingredients as they’re cooked. Chopsticks will also do the job though. You can eat your hot pot meal with whatever you’d like – chopsticks and spoons are a common choice.
You’ll also need plenty of little bowls and plates for ingredients, so get all these ready beforehand.
Sichuan Hot Pot Broth
Perhaps the most important part of a hot pot is the soup base. This is what creates the depth of flavor that all your ingredients are cooked in. There are two main types – either the spicy hot version or a ‘clear soup’ version.
You can make your own hot pot soup base from scratch, though it might take a little while to get the flavors right. However, if you make the broth using a pre-made soup base then the actual ‘making’ of hot pot is really simple. One of these hot pot base packets is sufficient for a meal: combined with 6 to 8 cups of water and heated until boiling, it’s set up for your hot pot party!
Regardless of how you make your soup base, you can add plenty of other ingredients too for the perfect taste. This is where you can get creative, adding in ingredients such as dried chili pepper and Sichuan pepper, Sichuan chili bean paste, fermented black beans, and Shaoxing rice wine.
Hot Pot Dipping Sauce
Making some individual dipping sauces for chinese hot pot is a lovely addition. A typical combination is sesame oil with a bit of soy sauce or diluted sesame paste, but you can also add chili oil, scallions, cilantro, or whatever suits you. There are no rules when it comes to condiments, so go wild!
Thinly sliced meat works the best in a hot pot because it cooks quickly. This could be beef, pork, and lamb, or chunks of fish and seafood for ocean-inspired hotpots.
The best vegetables for hot pot include plenty of greens (like kale, spinach, bok choy and cabbage), a multitude of mushrooms, and bean sprouts.
Starches are a big part of hot pots too. Mung bean thread noodles work particularly well – and you could try these deliciously chewy sweet potato noodles too, or opt for some frozen dumplings or rice cakes.
The Chinese Hot Pot Method
Hot pot can easily turn into a big, expansive banquet-style affair with dozens of plates and chopsticks held aloft over the table. To create a polite and cohesive experience, you can follow these tips:
- Take it in turns to drop your ingredients into the hot pot
- Eat only what you’ve placed in the hot pot – if you can keep track!
- Be careful not to overcook things. Sometimes it’s easier to keep hold with your chopsticks and quickly dunk and swish, rather than actually dropping the ingredient in
- When you’re getting full, use a ladle to scoop out a small bowl of the hot pot broth. Drinking this is a perfect way to end the meal!