Especially during the cooler winter months in Taiwan, hot pot restaurants are very popular in Taiwanese culture. Hotpot, also known as Huo guo in Chinese, means “firepot’ and is considered a social meal, where friends gather around the table, cooking food and enjoying each others’ company.
What is the Chinese Hot Pot?
Chinese hot pot is similar to fondue but cooked in stock versus dipping into hot cheese. Placed in the center of the table on a burner or hot plate, the pot is kept simmering within reach of all guests at the table.
Guests then place various meats, vegetables, or other food items in the simmering broth for cooking. Continued placement of bits of food in the pot adds additional flavor to the broth, which is usually consumed as a drink after the meal ends.
Foods can either be cooked individually and enjoyed at a leisurely pace, or all foods can be placed in the simmering broth at the same time for a quick meal.
Types of Food Cooked in Hot Pots
Some common meats in hot pots include thinly sliced beef or pork, but restaurants may serve chicken or lamb as well. Leafy vegetables like bok choy and cabbage, as well as mushrooms, bean curd, and tofu, are also typical hot pot ingredients. Basically, any type of raw food can be added to a hot pot for cooking.
After foods are cooked, they are typically dipped in a special sauce before consumption. The most common sauce is called shacha jiang, and is a seasoning sauce with soybean, garlic, onions, peanuts, fish, shrimp paste, and other ingredients. The sauce tends to be slightly spicy and is usually mixed with soy sauce, green onions, and perhaps even a raw egg.
Varieties of Hot Pot
The basic broth, or stock, is truly the heart of the hot pot. Traditionally, the stock was made with water, salt, and either vegetable, meat, or a fish base. Today, restaurants offer different styles, offering patrons a more personal dining experience.
According to Amy Liu, author of Taiwan A to Z: The Essential Cultural Guide, several varieties of hot pots found in Taiwan are:
- Sichuan style – mala huoguo, which is translated to “numb and spicy hot pot”. For those who cannot handle the heat, request a yuanyang guo, or a divider that separates the pot in half to include the non-spicy broth. The translation for yuanyang guo? The words literally mean “female and male mandarin duck hot pot.”
- Manchurian style – dongbei suancai guo, wherein suancai, or Chinese pickled cabbage or sauerkraut, is used as a flavoring for the soup. Another element that may be added is fatty pork, providing a nice flavor to complement the soup base.
- Chinese herb mutton hot pot – yangrou lu, is popular during the winter months as it is said to provide extra energy to keep warm during the cold season. The broth contains Chinese herbs and chunks of mutton cooked with rice wine and root ginger, which helps rid the mutton of its rank flavor.
- Japanese shabu shabu – usually served with Kobe beef, the Japanese influence is evident throughout Taiwan as the number of shabu shabu style restaurants continues to increase.
- Korean kimchi – known for the smelly pickled delight, the kimchi makes for a nice soup base
- Thai curry-base hot pot – Thai curries can either have a thick consistency or be thin, more like a soup, which provides a delicious option for a hot pot base.
- Chouchou guo – translates to “stinky stinky hot pot”, but the food does not stink, it’s merely the name.
The hot pot is an integral part of Taiwanese culture, with some restaurants doing so much business during the winter months, they do not open the rest of the year. Hotpot dining can be as inexpensive as $5, all the way up to $50 per person.
To enjoy the hot pot culture of Taiwan, restaurants ca
n be found throughout the whole island – from casual night markets to gourmet restaurants inside the luxury hotels.