Being a social creature, and hot pot fan, I love inviting my friends to check out the newest hot pot joint with me. Sadly, I’ve found that some of my friends are intimidated by the prospect. I get it: the idea of having to cook your own food at a restaurant – especially when there are so many ingredients and methods at play – can seem overwhelming. That’s why I’ve assembled a little “hot pot how-to.” These techniques have helped me get the most out of my hot pot experience.
The main ingredient – and your first choice at most hot pot places – is the broth. No matter what style of hot pot place you’re at, you’ll likely have several broths to choose from. Your server can be a big help when it comes to choosing the right broth for you. In fact, a good server will be able to guide you through every step of the process. If, like me, you want to try all the things, you can usually opt for a divided pot containing smaller portions of several different broths. Finally, if you’re vegetarian or vegan, make sure the restaurant offers meatless broths, as this is not always a guarantee.
Selecting Your Proteins and Vegetables
Different restaurants have different methods when it comes to selecting the vegetables and proteins. Some restaurants offer an a la carte menu, where you check off each of the items you want and pay for them individually. Many hot pot places offer an all-you-can-eat option, where you pay a flat fee and order to your heart’s content (premium cuts of meat and more expensive vegetables might have a surcharge). If it’s your first time going out for hot pot, I definitely recommend the all-you-can-eat option, as it gives you more freedom to mix-and-match and discover your favorite hot pot ingredients.
Cooking Your Proteins and Vegetables
Now for the real fun: cooking your vegetables and proteins. Here’s a quick tip from a self-proclaimed hot pot aficionado: don’t cook anything until the broth has come to a boil (which can take several minutes). Recommended cooking times are based on the maximum temperature, so a little patience is key if you don’t want undercooked meats or vegetables.
Aside from that, different ingredients have different cooking times. Thicker cuts of meat will take longer than thinner ones, and vegetables will almost always take longer than the meat. That’s why I recommend throwing your vegetables in first, before adding meats and other proteins. Again, your server should be a great resource when it comes to figuring out the timing. One more pro tip: be sure to use the basket or longer cooking chopsticks that every hot pot place should provide, so that you’re not touching raw ingredients with your eating utensils!
One of my favorite parts of the hot pot experience is dipping the cooked ingredients in the delicious array of sauces that most restaurants provide. The selection varies at each restaurant but might include oyster sauce, miso sauce, or a spicy chili sauce. And feel free to mix and match your sauces—it’s all part of the fun. I like to set my sauces out and do all my mixing while waiting for the broth to boil.
Don’t Forget to Have Fun!
Again, these are the techniques that have worked for me. Your style might be completely different—and better (let me know how you do hot pot in the comments!). The important thing is to have fun with it: don’t worry if each bite doesn’t turn out absolutely perfect. I’m a trained chef whose been cooking professionally for years and I’ve never made a dish that I would consider “perfect” (I’m my own harshest critic). The key to hot pot is experimenting with new flavors, and enjoying yourself along the way.
If you enjoyed this article or have suggestions on how we can improve it, please leave us a comment below. Also, make sure to check out other articles I’ve created or stories I’ve written about food culture – here.