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In Search of True Chinese Hot Pot (with recipe)

Hot Pot (1280x960)One of the places I check when I am researching a destination is Global Greeter Network, www.globalgreeternetwork.info. Greeters are volunteers who love their city so much they volunteer to give free two-hour tours. They take visitors to parks, shopping, or lesser known neighborhoods. Greeters are not professional guides so Greeters do not take their guests to museums leaving that to professional guides. On our recent trip to China, we signed up for a Greeter tour in Chongqing. We wanted to learn about hot pot.

Chinese tour guide

Nick the tour guide loved organ meats in his hot pot.

Hot Pot is the ultimate communal dish. It’s a pot of simmering broth on a portable burner that placed in the middle of the table. Around it are plates of meat, seafood, and vegetables, all prepped and ready to be cooked in the broth. Hot pot likely originated in Mongolia more than a thousand years ago and it’s a signature dish of Sichuan Province.

Our guides, college students proficient in English, met us in the lobby of our hotel, the InterContinental, located on a pedestrian street lined with high-end shops. They took us to a traditional food court on the lower level of a mall where there was variety of food from grilled corn to dim sum. There was also a hot pot area.

The hot pot table had a recessed s[ace for the hot pot which was divided into spicy and mild broth – the ying and yang of hot pot. The menu of items to cook in the hot pot was in Chinese so Nick, our guide, ordered for us. We preferred vegetables; Nick preferred organ meats.

Chinese hot pot ingredients

Ingredients ready for the hot pot.

With hot pot everyone gets to eat what they like because the items are served on a plate and diners dunk the items in the preferred broth to cook. Wooden chopsticks work best for selecting items and cooking them. Foods can be placed in the broth and retrieved when cooked or held in the broth with chopsticks until ready. One of the things I like about eating hot pot is that sharing the plated food and broths is a very socially interactive way of dining. You can’t help but talk with other diners sharing the pot.

Chinese hot pot class

On board the Century Legend, chefs demonstrate the art of making hot pot.

John and I learned how to eat hot pot, but it was not until we were on board the Century Legend Yangtze cruise ship (www.centuryrivercruises.com, Jiangnan Road, Chongqing, email:sales@centuryrivercruises.com) that we learned how to prepare hot pot. (Chongqing is one of the ports used by Yangtze cruise ships.) The cooking lesson was just one of the activities offered on-board.

Sichuan Hot Pot Recipe

Hot Pot is easy to make and can be created to please the palate of everyone from mild to tongue-numbing hot. Divided electric hot pots are available, but you can also use a fondue pot or crockpot.

Mild Broth

6 cups of chicken or beef stock

¼ (one-fourth) cup diced green onions

¼ (one-fourth) tsp minced garlic

¼ (one-fourth) tsp minced ginger

3 bay leaves

Spicy Broth

To the above ingredients add and adjust amounts to desire hotness

1 tbsp minced dried chili pepper

1 tbsp doubanjiang (spicy bean paste)

3 star anise

Suggested items to be cooked in broth:

* Thinly sliced beef and chicken (frozen meat and chicken is easier to slice)

* Spinach

*  Zucchini cut in long, thin strips

*  Mushrooms of any variety

*  Spam (a favorite in Asia)

Place broth, onions, garlic, ginger and bay leaves in a pot, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes creating the mild broth. For a spicy broth, pour off half of the mild broth, set aside until serving time. To the pot add chili pepper, doubanjiang and anise. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 20 minutes. The broths can be made ahead of time. Heat desired broths in a hot pot or in a crock pot. Place items to be cooked on individual plates.

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Sandra Scott

Sandra Scott is a retired history teacher from Upstate New York. Scott has been traveling worldwide since the 1980s and writing about her travels since 1990. Her husband, John, is her traveling/writing/cooking partner. Their travels have taken them to over 100 countries, some several times. The Scotts have found that cooking experiences are an excellent way to meet people and learn about the local culture. Sandra tries to leave the cooking part to John while she takes notes and images. She believes that if John can make the recipe anyone can.