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Food Guide: How to eat Chinese hot pot

Few meals are as satisfying and enjoyable as a Chinese hot pot. 

Both a culinary and social experience, Chinese hot pot or 火锅 (huǒguō) involves a simmering pot of fragrant broth, into which a hodgepodge of ingredients are thrown. This huge pot is usually sat at the center of a table, where it is shared by friends and family. 

With over a thousand years of history behind it, hot pot can never be simply defined by just one flavor or style. From the popular dual broth style of Chongqing to the thicker congee-based method of Guangdong, as well as the extensive selection of ingredients that restaurants provide hot pot diners with, there is a limitless amount of possibilities for one to try! 

First-timers may understandably find this overwhelming in the beginning. However, there is no need to feel daunted by it. To those unsure about the hot pot process, here is a guide to making the most out of your delicious meal:


Step 1: Be aware of hot pot etiquette.

Don’t worry! This isn’t as complicated as it sounds. Since eating hot pot is a communal experience that can go on for hours, it is ideal for everyone to be as comfortable as they can. Our advice is simply to be considerate: Come on time, don’t hog all the food, don’t mix up the utensils, and learn to be patient. 

The best way to eat hot pot is to make sure that everyone enough time and food to enjoy it. 


Step 2: Choose the broth. 

Each hot pot restaurant has its own set of soup bases, so menus may differ. Those who aren’t so familiar with Chinese cuisine may want to start with milder broths such as chicken stock and mushroom-based soups. However, those opting for a more authentic experience may choose a dual combination of a light herbal soup and a spicy Sichuan soup. 

Yin Yang hot pot with spicy Sichuan soup and a mild herbal pork bone soup. (Source: Asian Inspirations)


Step 3: Choose your ingredients.

Hot pot menus show a wide variety of ingredients ranging from meats, edible balls, vegetables, seafood, and noodles, among others. Be adventurous and try different dishes to find out what you like!

For those starting out their hot pot journey, we’ve included a list of classic ingredients here:

  • Meats: No hot pot is complete without thinly sliced beef! Lamb, chicken, and pork are also popular choices to add to your broth. 
  • Edible Balls: There is nothing more that screams hot pot than floating lobster balls. Be sure to also try out other meat and seafood variants—if you don’t know what other additional ingredients to add, know that these edible balls will never fail you!
  • Seafood: Those looking for a more flavorful soup may add in some shrimp, oysters, and other shellfish for some fun. For the adventurous souls willing to spend a little more, abalone and geoduck are also great recommendations!
  • Vegetables: Big leafy greens are the way to go, so don’t be afraid to toss in some Chinese spinach and Napa cabbage! To mix up the textures of your meal, you may also include a serving or two of some lotus roots, mushrooms, and tofu. 
  • Noodles: Those familiar with China’s most popular hot pot chain Hai Di Lao may have seen servers whipping hand-stretched noodles out in a complicated and tricky dance before placing them into the pot. While such performances are not available in most restaurants, even without the theatrics, noodles such as ho fun (rice noodles) and vermicelli can never go wrong. 


Step 4: Choose your sauce.

Several restaurants offer a DIY station for you to mix your own sauce. Common ingredients are usually sesame oil, soy sauce, fish sauce, black vinegar, cilantro, garlic, onions, and chili powder, among many others. Every person has their own personal preference for whatever mix they would like, so be sure to try out as many combinations as you can!


Step 5: Sit back, let the ingredients cook, and enjoy!

Dump your hot pot ingredients according to their cooking time, and chat with your friends and family! Truly, the best part of eating hot pot is sharing stories while sharing food. 

While this hot pot guide is here to start you off, never be afraid to try something new. Bring friends or bring family, and explore the wonders of Chinese cuisine together. At the end of the day, hot pot is not merely a meal—it is also a culinary adventure that one takes!

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