Hot Pot History
Centuries ago the Mongol horsemen rode across Asia, those fearless warriors never bothered carrying cooking utensils. They rigged their shields over campfires to sear meat and nestled upturned helmets in the embers to simmer soup.
The Chinese emperors built the Great Wall of China to keep the invaders, but the allure of the simmering broth had already won them over. Hot Pot became one of China’s signature dishes and Mongolian Hot Pot traveled further than the Mongols themselves ever did.
The earliest Mongolian hot pots simply held water. But as the dish spread to other parts of the country, it picked up local ingredients and embellishments. In the Southern part of China, seafood and vegetables are the main ingredients for hot pot. In the winter seasons, when chilly temperatures and frigid winds prevail over the land, the people liked to eat food that instantly warms their bodies and lifts their spirits. For that, the hot pot is a delicious and hearty choice. Families and groups of friends sit around a steaming pot in the middle, cooking and drinking and chatting.
Today, families and friends throughout Asia still gather around steaming hot pot to celebrate, socialize, and escape from the winter chill. Like a backyard barbecue, hot pot is much a social event as is an excuse to fire up the charcoal. The meal can and should last for hours. A leisurely pace, good company, and lively conversation are as important as the cooking and eating.
Eating hot pot is not a passive activity: diners must select morsels of prepared raw food from plates scattered around the table, place them in the pot, wait for them to cook, fish them out of the soup, dip them in the preferred sauce, and then eat them hot, fresh, and tender. They can also ladle up the broth from the pot and drink it. Eating hot pot is a cheerful activity. It is cozy, yet formal. It is not a banquet, yet it can last as long as one. Hot pots are easy, healthy, versatile, and as much fun to cook as they are tasty to eat.
The soup stock is prepared well beforehand and is made by boiling beef or chicken bones. Meat, seafood, vegetables, tofu, and bean noodles are the most popular ingredients. Freshness commands. Meat should not be cooked too long; otherwise it will lose its tenderness. It’s best for the meat to be cut as thin as paper, and that’s why a sizable piece of meat often shrinks to a small bite after being boiled.