Anyone who knows me will tell you that I love communal dining experiences. That’s why Ethiopian food – with its sharable entrees arranged on that spongy Injera – is near and dear to my heart. Ditto for Korean BBQ. Perhaps my favorite communal dining experience is hot pot, which combines my love of cooking with friends and my love for a flavorful broth. Twenty years ago, hot pot was something of a novelty in the United States. Now, I am happy to say, hot pot restaurants can be found in just about every major city in the U.S. (believe me: I’ve looked). But how did this tasty, enjoyable meal get its start? And when did it work its way here? Let’s find out.
A Long And Storied History
While hot pot has gained popularity in the U.S. relatively recently, its history goes back more than a thousand years. This method of cooking fresh ingredients in a boiling pot of broth has somewhat disputed origins. Many scholars believe that the tradition started with Mongol warriors, who also benefited from the warmth of the steaming pot. Others maintain that hot pot began in the Chinese province of Sichuan, where boatmen used the hot pot method to cook food quickly and cheaply. The Chinese poet Zuo Si actually made reference to Sichuan hot pot in his poem, the “Rhapsody of the Three Capitals,” written in the third century C.E. However it came about, hot pot has been with us for a very long time.
Hot Pot Variations
As hot pot became more popular and widespread, variations started to emerge—both in China and throughout the rest of Asia. I’ve encountered many different types of hot pot in my travels across this beautiful continent. The Sichuan style mentioned earlier uses a fiery broth containing Sichuan peppercorns. “Beijing style” hot pot is characterized by its use of copper pots, as well as an emphasis on mutton. “Tibetan style” hot pot uses a lighter broth, often made from yak bones. Japanese hot pot – also known as shabu shabu – has gained widespread popularity here in the States. While most traditional hot pot styles are served with the meat and vegetables already boiling in the broth, with shabu shabu, you quickly heat raw ingredients – one at a time – in boiling broth. This is how the dish got its name. “Shabu shabu” roughly translates to “swish swish,” since ingredients are quickly “swished” across the broth.
Hot Pot In The US
These days, hot pot restaurants (of every style) dot the American landscape. Hot pot has become so popular here in the States that many popular international chains have opened American outposts. HaiDiLao is a popular hot pot chain based in Chengdu, the capital of China’s Sichuan province. This international chain now has locations in New York City, Chicago, and Texas. Likewise, a Beijing-based hot pot chain called Shancheng Lameizi (literally, “spicy girl”) opened three outposts in California over the last few years. Expect these and similar international hot pot chains to keep expanding stateside, especially now that the pandemic-induced fear of communal dining is starting to subside.
Find A Hot Pot Near You and Dip In
With so many hot pot restaurants opening up, there has never been a better time to try this fun – and delicious –way to eat. One of the things I love about hot pot is all the choices it gives you: you can choose your own broth, your own meats and vegetables, your own dipping sauces, and you can cook it all to your liking. So grab a few friends and have at it!
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