Trust us when we say that hot pot is truly one of the best culinary experiences that life has to offer.
For those not in the know, hot pot (火锅, huǒguō) is a Chinese cooking technique that involves a simmering pot of flavorful broth, a couple of ready-to-cook ingredients, and some enjoyable company. Beloved by many around the world, hot pot is popular because it’s both delicious and fun. It’s a social DIY experience — one that’s specially crafted to share with friends, family, and even strangers! Watch as everyone sneakily decks it out to take the best pieces of meat and dumplings from the boiling pot itself!
With a history dating back to over a thousand years, there are, of course, a whole variety of hot pot styles that have popped up around China. For all those adventurous foodies out there, here are five kinds of Chinese hot pots that you just absolutely need to try:
1. Chongqing/Sichuan Hot Pot (重庆火锅 / 四川火锅)
These two types of hot pot are often mixed up due to their many similarities. Especially known for their mala (麻辣) flavor, a type of mouth-numbing spice caused by Sichuanese peppercorns, Chongqing and Sichuan hot pots made the winter lives of the Chinese just a little more bearable — the spicier, the better! Now, they are regarded as the most famous of their kind, well-recognized even in the international culinary scene.
Though now considered separate regions, Chongqing was once historically part of the Sichuan province, so it isn’t a surprise to see that their respective hot pot styles are alike. The key to telling the two apart is their broth and ingredients. For example, a Chongqing hot pot base contains beef tallow, water, garlic, Sichuanese peppercorn, ginger, and capsicum annuum. Meanwhile, the base of a Sichuan hot pot makes use of water, rapeseed oil, Sichuan peppercorn, and other chili peppers.
In regards to ingredients, those who enjoy Chongqing hot pot will most likely find themselves cooking up animal offals like tripe, pig throat, and duck blood. Sichuan hot pot diners, on the other hand, may choose from a larger selection of food, including beef, mutton, pork, and different sorts of vegetables.
2. Beijing Hot Pot (正宗老北京火锅)
There are two defining characteristics of a Beijing-styled hot pot: thin strips of mutton and a volcano-shaped copper boiling pot.
This local variant, also alternatively known as Mongolian hot pot, takes influence from the nomadic tradition of Beijing’s surrounding region and is highly noted for its simplicity — in contrast to its Chongqing and Sichuan counterparts, Beijing hotpot’s broth is actually only lightly seasoned with some goji berries, ginger, and scallions.
However, don’t let this sparse list of ingredients fool you! Beijing hot pot is by no means not delicious. Pair up the gaminess of lamb with a classic sesame-based zhimajiang (芝麻酱) sauce, and you’ll surely find yourself exploring a different plane of flavor for you to love.
3. Cantonese Hot Pot (打边炉)
Seafood lovers, this is definitely a bucket list item for you!
Cantonese hot pot is yet another culinary achievement originating from the province of Guangdong, which is also world-renowned for its mouthwatering dim sum. What distinguishes this hot pot style from all the others is its spotlight on seafood ingredients. Diners can not only savor scrumptious items like fish balls, fish fillet, and shrimp but also an amazing fragrant stock made with fish bones and shrimp heads — yum!
4. Yunnan Hot Pot (云南滇味火锅)
Have you ever wanted to try out hot pot with chrysanthemums, fungi, and a whole ton of mushrooms? If so, then you should definitely give Yunnan hot pot a shot!
Yunnan’s hot pot variant is reflective of the region’s cuisine, which makes great use of an interesting selection of ingredients such as flowers, ferns, mushrooms, and algae. In addition to this, Yunnan hot pot is also often made with a wide variety of meats, including ham, chicken, sliced pork, and fish. All of these are then typically dipped in a sauce of chili powder and sesame oil, resulting in a unique blend of fresh and spicy flavors.
5. Hainan Hot Pot (椰子鸡火锅)
Those who want a healthier and more comforting take on hot pot should try Hainan’s increasingly popular variant!
Hainan is an island located in the southernmost point of China. Owing to the tropical environment of the region, this unique hot pot makes use of chicken and coconut milk as its two main ingredients, offering a lighter and sweeter flavor profile that’s perfect for the summer season.
Given the similarities in climate between Hainan and the Philippines, it, really, would not be surprising if Chinoys consider this to be a tastily familiar find. What’s more is that the Hainanese also use soy sauce with a hint of lime juice as a dipping sauce. We wonder where we heard that from!
As we can all see here, to truly eat hot pot is to go on a culinary adventure! If you’re just starting out your amazing hot pot journey, we recommend being open-minded, daring, and most of all, hungry. Check out our food guide on how to make the best of your hot pot experience right here!