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Hot Pot Beginner 101 Guide
Hot pot, pronounced as “Huo Guo” meaning “pot on fire” in Chinese, is a captivating and interactive dining tradition that has been cherished across China and beyond for centuries. This guide takes you through the essentials of hot pot, from its origins and cultural significance to the key ingredients, equipment, and steps to create your own memorable hot pot feast.
Did you know that there are more than 20 types of Chinese hot pot? And each of them has unique features in terms of the flavors, the looks, dipping sauces, and even the pot it’s using. The most popular hot pot is the spicy one from Sichuan province, and Chinese people would assume hot pot as Sichuan Hot Pot without telling specific names. But, it doesn’t mean that the rest of hot pots in the family are not as good as their big brother.
Let’s get to know more about Chinese hot pot!
Types of Chinese Hot Pot
Sichuan Hot Pot
Here comes the big brother in the hot pot family, hailing from the fiery culinary landscape of Sichuan Province in China, is a dining experience that packs a bold punch of flavors, aromatic spices, and a tantalizingly numbing sensation.
Sichuan Hot Pot often comes with a Tachi pot, allows for 2 sections of broth: one intensely spicy and the other milder. The spicy side is known for its bold flavors, often derived from Sichuan peppercorns, dried chili peppers, garlic, and a variety of fragrant spices. The milder side comes with tons of options for your choice including tomato soup, mushroom soup, various types of stock, etc.
Sichuan Hot Pot is a quite versatile hot pot because of the bold and spicy soup base. You can literally have anything you want, like your favorite meat and vegetables, and it won’t mess up the flavors for the hot pot.
For dipping sauce, the authentic formula is lots of sesame oil with moderate amount of other ingredients like minced garlic, soy sauce, chopped scallion, crushed peanuts, etc.
Chaoshan Beef Hot Pot
Chaoshan Beef Hot Pot, also known as “Teochew Beef Hot Pot,” is a regional variation of the traditional Chinese hot pot that originates from the Chaoshan region in the eastern part of Guangdong Province, China. This style of hot pot is characterized by its emphasis on high-quality beef and a lighter, more delicate flavor profile.
Chaoshan Beef Hot Pot typically features a clear and flavorful broth that serves as the foundation for the entire meal. The broth is often made using a combination of ingredients like beef bones, herbs, and spices. It’s simmered gently to extract the essence of the beef and create a comforting and aromatic base.
The star of the show in Chaoshan Beef Hot Pot is, of course, the beef. Various cuts of beef are the focus, including thinly sliced beef, beef balls, beef tripe, and sometimes even organ meats like beef liver. The beef is often of the highest quality, chosen for its tenderness and ability to impart a rich and satisfying flavor to the broth. While beef takes center stage, the Chaoshan hot pot also features an array of fresh vegetables, mushrooms, and other ingredients that complement the beef’s natural flavors. Leafy greens, mushrooms, tofu, and bean sprouts are commonly included to create a balanced and wholesome dining experience.
Just like in other hot pot styles, dipping sauces play a significant role in enhancing the overall taste. However, in Chaoshan Beef Hot Pot, the sauces tend to be on the lighter side to allow the natural flavors of the beef to shine through. (I personally prefer to have this hot pot without dipping sauce)
Mongolian Hot Pot
Mongolian Hot Pot, also known as “Shuan Yang Rou” or “Mongolian Fire Pot,” is a unique and flavorful variation of the traditional Chinese hot pot that has roots in Mongolia and Inner Mongolia. This style of hot pot is characterized by its hearty and rich ingredients, as well as its communal dining experience.
Mongolian Hot Pot often features a single communal pot filled with a robust and savory broth. The broth is typically made with beef or lamb bones, which infuse the liquid with deep and meaty flavors. It’s common to add various herbs, spices, and seasonings to the broth to enhance its aromatic profile.
The focal point of Mongolian Hot Pot is high-quality meats, especially beef and lamb. Thinly sliced cuts of marbled beef and tender lamb are the stars of the meal. The meats are dipped into the simmering broth to cook, resulting in flavorful and succulent bites. Alongside the meats, Mongolian Hot Pot may include an assortment of fresh vegetables, mushrooms, and tofu to balance the richness of the meats. Traditional ingredients like noodles, dumplings, and various side dishes might also be added to the pot to create a diverse and satisfying feast.
For dipping sauce, Mongolian Hot Pot typically offers a range of options to complement the cooked ingredients. These sauces can vary from region to region but often include combinations of soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, cilantro, and chili.
Suancai Fish Hot Pot
Suancai Fish Hot Pot, also called Chinese Pickled Mustard Fish, features a whole fish and Chinese pickled Chinese cabbage. It is a popular variation of the traditional suancai fish dish, adapted into a hot pot format. It combines the rich and tangy flavors of suancai (pickled mustard greens) with the communal and interactive dining experience of a hot pot. This dish is especially popular in Sichuan cuisine and is enjoyed for its spicy, sour, and savory taste.
Suancai Fish Hot Pot is usually enjoyed without any dipping sauce, since its unique and bold flavor doesn’t really work so well with dipping sauces. But, you can still have a plate of chopped garlic, green onion, cilantro, or peanuts for extra layor of flavors.
Chrysanthemum Hot Pot
Chrysanthemum Hot Pot, also known as “Gongju” (贡菊火锅) in Chinese, is a unique and visually striking hot pot dish that features an array of colorful and edible chrysanthemum flowers as a key ingredient. This hot pot variation is not only about the flavors but also about the aesthetic appeal and cultural significance of the ingredients used.
Gongju Hot Pot often features a soup base made up of chicken or vegetable broth, aromatic spices and herbs, soy sauce, and sesame oil. The authentic ingredients for this rare hot pot are edible chrysanthemum flowers, sliced meats (beef, lamb, pork), seafood (shrimp, sliced fish, squid), tofu, leafy vegetables, mushrooms, and noodles.
For dipping sauce, it uses a classic combo of soy sauce, sesame oil, minced garlic, chopped green onion, and chilli oil.
How to make Chinese Hot Pot at Home?
Chinese hot pot, also known as “huǒ guō” (火锅), is a popular and communal dining experience in Chinese cuisine. It involves cooking a variety of raw ingredients in a pot of simmering broth at the center of the dining table. The cooked ingredients are then dipped into a variety of flavorful sauces before being enjoyed. Hot pot is not just a meal; it’s a social and interactive gathering where friends and family come together to share food and conversation.
For most hot pot lover like myself, I love having hot pot at home! Not only it is a private environment to have fun with friends, but also you can really customize the hot pot to how you want it. For example, you can enjoy 2 completely different hot pots at the same time in a Tachi pot (divided hot pot).
Here comes the question: how hard is it to make Chinese hot pot at home
Well, it really depends.
Hot Pot Soup Base
Hardcore hot pot lovers make their own soup base which involve hours of toasting, stir-frying, deep frying, etc. Although, you can make a lot of soup base at once and use it for many times, it is still a big cooking project.
The majority of people would get hot pot soup base packs from supermarkets or online. They are super convenient, trust me. Most soup base packs are ready to use out of the pack. All you have to do is to put it in a hot pot with boiled water. Some Sichuan soup base packs require a little stir-fry to release its full aroma and flavor. For beginners and lazy asses, it’s the way to go.
Haidilao is a well-known Chinese hot pot brand which owns over 1500 hot pot restaurant in China. It also offers a range of hot pot soup base packs that allow you to recreate their signature flavors at home. These soup base packs typically come with a combination of seasonings, spices, and sometimes dehydrated ingredients that capture the essence of Haidilao’s hot pot broths.
Little Sheep Hot Pot, also known as “Xiao Fei Yang” (小肥羊), is another popular Chinese hot pot restaurant chain known for its unique flavors and high-quality ingredients. Their hot pot soup base, often referred to as “Little Sheep Hot Pot Soup Base,” is a key element that contributes to the distinctive taste of their hot pot dishes. Little Sheep Hot Pot is particularly famous for its Mongolian-style hot pot, which features a variety of ingredients cooked in a rich and flavorful broth.
I recommend you to choose the flavors you like from these 2 brands, as the quality is guaranteed.
(Advertising space for rent! Just kidding)
The Pot and Heat Equipment
You can’t have hot pot without the hot and the pot. Getting these tools are relatively cheap. I have done my quick research and it would only cost around 60 USD from Amazon for a hot pot setup for family including a divided pot and a burner.
(35 usd found in Amazon)
(25 usd found in Amazon)
Hot Pot Ingredients
Hot pot is quite versatile in terms of ingredients, and the choice of what to have in your pot is highly based on personal preferences. The ingredients can be grouped into 3 categories. Pick anything you like from the list and you’re good to go!
Sliced beef rolls, sliced lamb rolls, sliced chicken rolls (can be found in any Asian supermarkets)
Pork slices or pork belly
Meatballs (fish, beef, pork, lamb, etc.)
Blood tofu (pork, duck)
Organ meats (only for spicy soup base)
Shrimp, Octopus, Fish slices, Oyster, Scallop.
Leafy greens (spinach, lettuce, napa cabbage, etc.)
Tofu and tofu products (tofu skin, tofu puffs, etc.)
Root vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, etc.)
Lotus root slices
Dipping sauces are quite important for hot pot. You simply can’t have a complete hot pot experience with out dipping sauces, except for Chaoshan Beef Hot Pot that we covered earlier.
As a rule of thumb, dipping sauce comes down to 2 main types which are sesame paste based sauce and sesame oil based sauce. Sesame paste based dipping sauce is good for hot pot with mild soup base, like Mongolian Hot Pot. Meanwhile, sesame oil based dipping sauce is suitable for spicy Sichuan Hot Pot.
Sesame Paste Dipping Sauce (mild, versatile)
Hot pot sesame paste (main content, you can get in Chinese supermarkets or online)
Sesame Oil Dipping Sauce (Sichuan style)
Hot pot sesame oil (main content, can be found in Chinese supermarket, usually packed in cans)
You can add optional ingredients to these hot pot dipping sauces: sesame seeds, oyster oil, curshed peanuts, black vinegar; minced garlic, cilantro, and green onion.
Drinks to Pair with Hot Pot
The go-to option is Wang Laoji (王老吉), a popular Chinese herbal tea known for its potential health benefits and cooling property. It is best paired with Sichuan Hot Pot to mitigate the spicyness and refresh your taste buds.
Soda pop is another great option to pair with hot pot. If you’re tired of coke and wanted to try something new, you could have the classic Chinese soda pop called Jianlibao. It is an orange flavored soda, similar to Fanta but sweet in a different way because of added honey and less added sugar.
Want to explore more options? Check out our list of the best Chinese soft drinks.
No, hot pot is not a soup. But it uses aromatic broth(soup) to boil hot pot ingredients.
The primary ingredients of hot pot are gluten free, including hot pot broth, meat, seafood, tofu, vegetables, and mushrooms.
Avoid noodles, meatballs and other wheat-products if you want gluten free hot pot, since these options likely contain gluten.
Most people tend to have meat dishes first, then follows by vegetables, finally noodles to finish off.
Top consumed hot pot vegetables are：
- Potato slice
- Lotus root slice
- Soybean sprout
In most cases, you don’t drink the broth in Chinese hot pot.
However, some mild hot pots features mushroom, beef bone, or fish broth. You can drink the soup before boiling any food in it.
The term “hot pot” is a direct translation of the Chinese term 火锅, which can be broken down into 火 (“huǒ”), meaning “fire,” and 鍋 (“guō”), meaning “pot” or “pan.” The name originates from how the dish is prepared and served: a simmering pot of broth is heated on a stove or a portable burner (the “fire” component), and ingredients are added to the pot to cook.
Lilith Wong is a blog writer, food lover, and the founder of Exotic Food China.