Hotpots, as I have been told are a very popular form of cooking at restaurants. We attended two over our trip and loved each one. The first one was more community based. Our team was split into two tables as we could not all fit into one, so one table had spicy foods, and another without pork. I went to the spicy table. Our Chinese friends asked us for some suggestions for things we haven’t tried yet. We suggested fish balls, lamb, and pork meatballs. Soon after ordering, a big bowl with a divider was brought out to the center of the table where a broiler was sitting. The bowl had two soups in either side. We were told that one was a mild soup and the other was very spicy. As we allowed the soup to come to a boil, various plates were brought out and placed around the bowl. Oddly enough, all the plates consisted of raw or live foods. We started with thinly cut slabs of lamb, beef, and pork that were rolled up. How a hotpot works is you pick the food you want and drop it into the boiling soup. The food then is cooked while picking up the flavor of your soup. As our first round of food was cooking, we were also presented with small bowls with sauces in them. Our Chinese graduates said that you also get to mix these bowls to create a sauce to your liking. For my sauce, I mixed about 1/3 of a pepper salsa, ¼ of some oil which I think was cayenne oil, and the rest with cayenne extract. I really enjoy spicy foods, but this sauce may have been a bit too much for me in the long run. As your food finishes cooking you are supposed to dip it in your sauce and then eat it. The food was extremely tasty. The fresh food with the mixture of spicy soup was great and when the spiciness was getting too overpowering, one could switch over to the mild soup for a while until cooled down. The first dinner proved to be quite the banquet. My friends at home call me “the human garbage disposal” because after I’m done eating, I usually finish whatever else is on everyone else’s plates. I regret to say that I lost my title that night as I was the first one done. The spicy food proved too much for me in combination with my usual grueling eating pace. Food items we had this night included soy skins, live baby shrimp, wheat protein balls, rice sticks, nichu (a herring like fish), some unidentified white fish, tofu (this one was rather spongy and soaked up the soup very well), potatoes, little dumplings, bok choy, and mushrooms. I tried to dissect the soup as best I could and came to the conclusion of the following ingredients: garlic cloves, dried red chilies, leeks, cardamom pods, and one whole nutmeg just floating on top. I plan to experiment and replicate this soup sometime soon. Although we all loved it, the community pot is also slightly dangerous to use if you don’t have practice. One could easily undercook their food and have food illnesses. There were also issues of foods being put in at different times. I could have had a dumpling boiling for 15 minutes and accidently pick one up that someone else put in about 5 minutes ago. Everyone had to keep a very careful eye on what and when everything was being put in.
The second night we had hotpots was slightly different. This one was more to accommodate the individual. We all received our own bowl over a flame and were given the choice of what soup we wanted. The majority asked for fish, but I wanted to try duck. Other options were beef, pork, and chicken. This time the soup consisted of: sliced ginger, garlic, parsley, and of course duck. I thoroughly enjoyed my dinner except when we got to the surimi. Fish analogs with duck soup are not a great combination. The food items we received were very similar to that of the first night with the exceptional addition of rice noodles, tripe (cow stomach), and we also opted for duck blood, but the restaurant was out.
In conclusion, you can see that a hotpot is more like a fondue type of set up but not just for cheese and chocolate sauces. Even though the community pot was more fun, at a food safety stand point, I have to say the individual pots would make things safer.