Bust out the fur-lined parkas and steaming bowls of soup, because fall has finally (finally) hit Dallas. Besides the enduringly popular, hangover-curing pho and so-hot-right-now ramen, there's another, more interactive option you might not be as familiar with: hot pot.
Hot pot is a communal soup used for boiling and cooking a wide variety of foods and eating directly from the pot. Nearly every Asian culture has its own take on hot pot, but originally it was a Mongolian invention; the Japanese variation is known as shabu-shabu, while the Vietnamese take is often referred to as fire pot. In a way, hot pot is the older, more sophisticated brother of fondue, the cheesy sensation that peaked in popularity back in the sixties.
Here's everything you need to know about hot pot — or at least, enough to impress your next date:
Hot pot broths can range from light and fragrant chicken broth bases infused with spices and aromatics to those that are spicy and oily. In many cases, both a light broth and a spicy broth are set together in one split pot so that diners can choose the one they prefer (or alternate between them). The broth changes flavor over the course of the meal depending on what ingredients are dipped into the broth, and at the end of the meal it can be drunk as soup or used to cook noodles.
Meat, fish, and vegetables all have a place in hotpot and it's up to each individual person what to add (and what to avoid). There are lots of different customs concerning which order to cook which ingredients, and it’s also important to note that there are a variety of cooking times.
Shaved lamb, a staple of hot pot, has a very fast cooking time, while dense items like daikon or potato will take considerably longer. In general, whatever is added to the pot changes the taste of the broth. Starting with thin slices of beef and lamb is great because it immediately adds flavor to the broth. Milder items like fish balls, fish cakes, tofu, and many vegetables take on the flavor of the broth, so they’re great to add later once the broth has been seasoned with meat.
Some diners enjoy dumping everything in all at once and pulling things out whenever they’re ready, while others take a more precise approach — adding specifically what they want to eat, waiting for it to come out and be devoured, and then replacing it with whatever they’d like next.
Having a honed chopstick game certainly helps — but small, wire strainers often accompany the hot pot for those with less chopstick dexterity. Whether by chopstick or strainer, once the meat and veggies come out of the broth they go right in to a sauce of your own creation. This can be concocted from any number of ingredients including a kind of Chinese tahini sauce, several spicy mixtures based on hot chili oil, and the old Asian standby, soy sauce.