What is a Chinese Hot Pot, and how do you eat it? Learn more about this favourite cold-weather dish!
One can’t have a Chinese hot pot without some thinly sliced meat. (Photo Credit: Pixabay)

Though I’m not a fan of cold weather, I do look forward to the hot pot (or steamboat) season during the colder months. The concept of hot pot is simple – you set a pot of simmering broth in the middle of the table, then set plates of yummy ingredients around the pot. Add what you like to the pot, wait for it to cook, dip it into some sauce, and enjoy!

Chinese hot pot, like fondue, is a group dining activity that can last for hours. Not only are you gathered around one table sharing a meal, but you’re actually cooking your food in a shared pot.

Hot pot used to be favoured during cold months, but it is getting more popular and now appears on tables all year round. It is common to see people gathered around a hot pot in Hong Kong during summer, while having their air conditioning on full blast.

There are many versions of hot pot throughout China. They may have different broth or use different food. Cantonese hot pot, for example, is heavy on fresh seafood, like live shrimp and squid.

What is a Chinese Hot Pot, and how do you eat it? Learn more about this favourite cold-weather dish!
Two flavors of broth, and many foods to choose from. Hot pot at a restaurant. Photo Credit: wong sze yuen/Shutterstock

Preparation for Chinese Hot Pot

  • Few tools are required for eating hot pot.
    • You need a hot pot, of course. It can be a large pot on a hot plate, or an electric hot pot.
    • A split hot pot, also called yin yang hot pot, is quite popular as it allows two soups. It’s generally a good idea to pair a spicy broth with a milder one to suit everyone’s taste.
    • Chopsticks and hot pot strainers are used to transfer food.
    • It’s handy to have a small bowl for your favourite dipping sauce and a bigger bowl/plate to hold your cooked food.
  • Broth is the base of the hot pot so you want to choose something that suits everyone’s taste.
    • If you are a real foodie, you can give this homemade hot pot broth a try, or use it as the base of a spicy broth.
    • Different herbs can also be added to give the broth more health benefits.
    • I prefer a bland broth, as the continuous simmering of meats and vegetables will give the broth a lot of flavours, anyway. So I usually use bouillon cubes to make a hot pot broth at home.
  • A wide variety food can be used for Chinese hot pot. Here are some popular ingredients:
    • Meat: Thinly sliced beef is the star of Chinese hot pot, as it is tasty and cooks very quickly. After beef, thinly sliced lamb and chicken are also popular choices.
    • Balls: A hot pot is just not the same without some meatballs floating in it. There is a wide selection of meatballs that include (but are not limited to) beef, pork, fish, shrimp, and crab.
    • Seafood: Unpeeled shrimp are very popular hot pot foods in Hong Kong. Their fat and roe make a very flavourful broth. Thinly-sliced geoduck, sliced fish, and shucked oysters are also some popular seafood options.
    • Vegetables: Chunks of turnip are normally added to the broth at the beginning to make a sweeter broth. You can add almost any vegetables into a hot pot. I prefer leafy greens, like spinach, as they cook in only a minute or two. Mushrooms are great for hot pot too, especially shiitake mushrooms and enoki mushrooms.
    • Noodles: Any kind of noodles are yummy in the hot pot. Udon noodles and ramen are popular preferences. Flat rice noodles and glass noodles are great too, but make sure you cook them in a hot pot strainer as they get quite slippery when cooked.
    • Others: I love to add all kinds of tofu in the hot pot – soft, fried or firm. And tofu skin is my all-time favourite. For the more adventurous eaters, try sliced liver. It goes really well with a spicy dipping sauce!
  • Though the hot pot broth is normally flavourful, a dipping sauce is encouraged. It further enhances your hot pot experience.
    • You can try a simple dipping sauce like soya sauce or chilli sauce.
    • Fermented tofu, mixed with sesame oil, has a very distinct, strong flavour. It goes really well with thinly sliced lamb.
    • There are also some fancier sauces. Try an XO sauce, a Mongolian peanut butter dipping sauce, and a spicy Asian dipping sauce.
    • For those adventurous eaters out there, you can beat a raw egg into your sauce. I must add that many local HK people stopped doing this since the bird flu scare. So dip at your own risk!
What is a Chinese Hot Pot, and how do you eat it? Learn more about this favourite cold-weather dish!
It’s hot pot season – gather around the pot, chat, eat, drink, and have fun! (Photo Credit: 80+1 / Hot Pot cooking event by Flickr user arselectronica, original image has been adapted)

Hot Pot Etiquette

  • If you want to look like a hot pot pro, you may want to stick with a certain order to cooking your food.
    • Before bringing the hot pot to a boil, you’ll want to add the vegetables that take longer to cook, and the ones that add flavour to the broth. Firm tofu can also be added at this point to absorb the flavour of the broth.
    • When the broth is starting to boil, you can add ingredients that take some time to cook, such as meatballs and hardy greens. Always throw more meatballs in so everyone can grab them as they go.
    • Finally, you can start putting in food that cooks in a flash, such as thinly sliced meat and leafy greens. Put in one (or a small batch) at a time and eat as you go.
    • About halfway through, or near the end of the hot pot session, you can add noodles to soak up the more concentrated, flavourful broth.
  • As everyone is cooking in a shared pot, it is a general courtesy to check if others have any strong aversions to food. Then try to avoid using the food or only cook it after the person has finished.
  • It is quite rude to rummage through a hot pot so make sure you always have a secure grip of your food in the hot pot!It is quite rude to rummage through a hot pot so make sure you always have a secure grip of your food in the hot pot.
What is a Chinese Hot Pot, and how do you eat it? Learn more about this favourite cold-weather dish!
Double pot for two flavors of broth. Photo credit: 54613/Shutterstock

Safety Tips for Eating Chinese Hot Pot

  •  Always check if your hot pot companions have any food allergies, and don’t use those foods in the hot pot.
    • Unless you have a stomach of steel, make sure your food is cooked through.
    • Thinly sliced meat and seafood normally change colour when they are fully cooked.
    • Meatballs and fishballs need to float before you can eat them.
    • The rule of thumb is: if in doubt, cook the food a little longer to be on the safe side.
  • Always let your hot pot come to a boil before you dunk any food into it, or take any food out of it. If it’s not boiling, the water temperature may not be high enough to kill germs from raw meat.
  • If you are using only one pair of chopsticks, always dunk them in the simmering hot pot after handling raw food. Again, the boiling broth miraculously kill germs.
  • Your best bet is to use two pairs of chopsticks, one for raw and one for cooked. You can also use different colors so you don’t mix them up!
  • Do not throw food into the hot pot that may splash piping hot broth onto your hot pot companions. No matter how bouncy those meatballs look, do not throw them into the pot!
  • Amateur chopsticks users are strongly advised to practice their chopsticks skills beforehand! You don’t want your food to slip out of your grasp and cause a splash.
  • If you’re still not very confident with your chopsticks skills, stick with your hot pot strainer. Use chopsticks to put food in the strainer and then lower the strainer into the hot pot to cook.
  • Root vegetables and tofu retain heat very well, so let them cool down a little before eating them. If you use fried tofu balls, squeeze out the broth with your chopsticks so it doesn’t burn you.


Did You Know?

  • Traditional Chinese medicine believes that hot pot is a ‘hot’ food because of the continuous boiling. So you’ll want to grab a drink that has a cooling effect, like a cold beer or some sour plum tea.
  • You can also pair wines with hot pot. CNN shared some expert tips on what makes the perfect hot pot wine.

Check out this short video to learn how to make two kinds of Chinese hot pot broth and get inspiration on what to add to a hot pot.

What are your favourite Chinese hot pot foods?  Which would you like to try?

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About Anna de Waard-Leung

Anna loves her heels, wine, and food - in that exact order. Her latest food addictions include Shiraz Mourvèdre, chicken tikka masala, sushi, and ossenworst (a raw beef sausage originating in Amsterdam).


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