Of all the communal traditions of eating — sharing tapas, fondue, pizza, or a big banana split all come to mind — none are as great, as humble, or as messy as the simple and terrific Chinese hot pot.
In Hong Kong, contemporary hot pot offers two types of broth, one spicy and one mild, swirled down the middle like a Yin-Yang symbol. Our hosts ordered all the trimmings, which included hand-pulled noodles, soft pillows of tofu, imitation crab, fish cakes, thinly sliced lamb and beef, Chinese kale, glass noodles, tender pork dumplings, and tiny pieces of fish. The restaurant even had a make-your-own sauce bar, so I dumped just about every topping into my sauce bowl, like fermented cabbage, chili sauce, hot red peppers, ginger, garlic, crushed peanuts, fermented black beans, preserved vegetables, and scallions. Yet another perfect meal in Hong Kong.
(Here’s how we celebrate hot pot at home).
Hot pot is a culinary Chinese tradition that can be interpreted in an infinite number of ways. In our family, we tend to keep things simple and spicy. Every year, instead of anticipating Christmas morning with an overstuffed turkey and the requisite side dishes, we usher in the holidays with a festive Christmas eve meal of hot pot.
Heaping platters of finely sliced raw meats — including lamb, chicken, beef, or pork – are placed alongside plates of raw seafood like shrimp or fish. The tissue-thin slivers of raw meat — the thinner the cut, the faster (and better) it cooks – are poached in a tiny mesh basket that is carefully lowered into a hot pot full of bubbling water. A variety of other aromatics, including snow peas, rice noodles, sprouts, mushrooms, lettuce and spinach, also flavor the broth. Finally, the cooked meats and vegetables are doused in our homemade savory peanut-sesame dipping sauce, and carefully tucked into a pita-like toasted Chinese bread.
At our house, the piping-hot bites are punctuated with ceramic cups filled with dangerously potent Chinese sorghum whisky. At the close of the meal, the reduced hot pot broth is ladled out like soup and slurped down with plenty of hot sauce. I’d choose it over a plate of dried-out turkey any day.