Hotpot: A Culinary History of Togetherness

The windows are foggy, my face is flushed and it smells like ginger and chilies. It’s hotpot night at Haven’s and I’ve realized that I’ve never experienced anything quite like this.

Translated roughly from firepot, hotpot is a cooking method that originates from China. Like a sort of fondue, it consists of a simmering pot of soup stock to which all sorts of meats, veggies and noodles are added until the broth runs out.

Placed in the centre of a table, hotpots have long signified the uniting of family and friends as people join around the pot, cooking, talking and eating. Very active and very social, it creates an entire gastronomic and sensory experience. Especially popular in the cold winter months, hotpot has become a recent fad among tourists visiting China, despite its longstanding tradition in Asian culture.

Filling, healthy, beautiful and fun to partake in, hotpot should definitely be on your list of things to try the next time you’re scratching your head over what to eat for dinner. Just pop into your city’s Chinatown or Koreatown and you’re sure to have an authentic experience that no doubt will make you want to replicate it yourself.

Blessed as I am to have such a diverse group of friends, Shiho, who has lived and worked in China for the last number of years was lucky enough to acquire the hotpot vessel and more than happy to host a traditional meal. With some German classmates, we all gather around the fragrant boiling broth, keen to listen to Shiho’s instruction of what side sauces to concoct and how to hotpot like a local.

A constant bubbling broth that would quiet to a simmer as we dropped in pieces of marbled beef and strips of pork, the hotspot was alive and evolving. Like yin and yang, the two broths—one loaded with aromatic herbs and traces of lemongrass, and the other a fiery crimson with chilis dancing wildly inside—overflow and pour into one another. With each enoki mushroom, each leaf of bok choy and each floating dired date that accidentally becomes tangled between strands of vermicelli noodles, the flavours grow. Rich, bold spices mellow and invite the mild-plated newbie like myself to join in. Add more chili and now it’s a firebomb all over again, rendering itself able to be dunked into a side dish seasoning of ponzu, soy and sesame.

Unlike ramen, which I’ve been a huge fan of in recent years, I enjoyed the camaraderie of sharing one gigantic bowl of piping hot soup. Naturally, the ever-evolving broth became more full of flavour with each ingredient dropped inside. But apart from the incredible spicy, salty and umami flavours, it was the overall act of hotpot, the performance of it all, that left an impression in my mind. Though I’m not sure when or where I’ll have a hotpot again, I’ll be sure to save for when I’m with someone special or with someone who I’m learning to understand is special.

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