What is Hotpot Dining (And How to Have the Best Experience)?
Hotpot dining is, at its core, a social way of dining, where people sit around a table and cook their own food in a central pot to share. Historically, it was popular in mainland China, but has spread around Asia, and the West is also beginning to catch up!
Hotpot in Chinese is known as huǒguō (火锅), whose characters translate to 'fire' (火) and 'pot' or 'cauldron' (锅). Its origin is murky, with two different accounts to explain how hotpot came into being. Some people believe that Chinese fishermen invented hotpot over 1000 years ago (in what is now the municipality of Chongqing) - as a cheap, easy way of cooking food. However, others claim that hotpot was actually invented by the Mongols.
According to legend, the invading Mongol warriors used their helmets as pans to cook food in broth over their campfires, and even used their shields as hotplates to sear meat. This makes sense from a horseman's perspective - why bother carrying a bowl if you already have a helmet? Cooking and eating around the fire was also a practical choice - it was a way of keeping warm as night fell across the land, and must have felt rather cosy (even for an invading warrior).
Of course, China went to great efforts to keep the Mongols out (and built a Wonder of the World in the process), but maybe hotpot was a silver lining to all of the invasion - it's just delicious.
So, how do you get the very best dining experience with hotpot? Here are some tips.
1) Invite your friends (not your frenemies)
Dinner parties can be awkward at best if there's someone you don't get along with sitting opposite you. Because hotpot is so much more social, it's important to choose your group carefully - no one wants to sit with the person who steals all of the noodles! The opposite is also true - hotpot is a great way to get to know people because of how relaxed it is.
2) Balance a spicy broth with a mild one
Most hotpot pans have a yin-yang shape, with a divider down the centre of the pan. This means you can choose two different broths - and if someone in your group likes it spicy, make sure to choose a different flavour so everyone can enjoy it (and so you can take a break if the sichaun pepper is just too hot).
3) Try something new!
With all of the exotic ingredients that could go into your hotpot, why settle for what you already know? How about some crunchy lotus root, or delicate enoki mushrooms? There's a world of flavour waiting for you.
4) Don't forget your dipping sauces
Sauces and garnishes absolutely make hotpot. How about some freshly minced garlic, or the iconic shacha sauce? Combine your favourite flavours in a sauce dish and dip your cooked food into it - it's worth it, we promise.
5) Let the conversation flow
Even the quieter ones in the group will feel welcome around a hotpot table - the cuisine provides an excellent way to break the ice (talk about your favourite ingredients, or "Please can you pass me the tongs?").
Because hotpot is so involved and social, conversation comes naturally - you immediately have something in common.
So there you have it - a brief introduction to hotpot dining. If this sounds too good to miss (trust us, you don't want the hotpot FOMO), then why not book a table? We'd love to see you there.