If you are making a trip to China anytime soon, you will undoubtedly hear about the abundance of hot pot restaurants that can be found in each and every city in the Middle Kingdom. Known as huoguo in Mandarin, the literal translation of the word is fire pot. A hot pot, or steamboat, is a metal cooking apparatus placed at the center of a dining table, in which restaurant patrons cook their own food. Using chopsticks, patrons dip meat, vegetables, noodles, bean curd, seafood and tofu into the simmering water briefly, smother the food in a dipping sauce and then eat it.
Legend has it that Mongolian warriors invented hot pots as they fought in wars in Northern China. Using their helmets as pots, they filled them with water, lit a campfire and cooked their mutton while recuperating from their hard fought battles. Since then, charcoal was used to fire the hot pot, but in modern times electric stoves and gas have been used to fuel the cooking experience.
Enjoying a hot pot is as much a social function as it is in eating one. Chinese people catch up with friends, exchange gossip and enjoy the noisy atmosphere of the restaurant for hours. Rainy days and winter months are said to be the best time to enjoy a hot pot because it will keep you warm. Some Chinese people have been known to turn on their air conditioning in warmer climates to enjoy the warmth that a hot pot affords. The hot pot meal is so ingrained in Chinese culture that one restaurant in Changsha has created a museum dedicated to this form of cooking, featuring 60 artistic hot pots from different regions in China.
Different regions of China are also known to have distinct ingredients for their hot pots. In Beijing, the hot pot bowl is separated into two halves, one spicy and one bland. In Chongqing, hot pots are known as mala huoguo, or numb and spicy hot pots, because of the addition of Sichuan pepper, crystal sugar and wine into the broth. In Canton, or southern China, hot pot broths tend to be sweet and use more seafood than meat, including crab, shrimp and eel.
Per Wikipedia, common meats used in hot pots include beef, pork, chicken, lamb, fish, prawns, squid and crab. Typical vegetables include spinach, cauliflower, mellon, bean sprouts, green beans and mung beans.
Dipping sauces are an integral part of the eating experience. Sesame dipping sauce is made from sesame seeds, water, soy sauce, rice vinegar, peanut butter, ginger, sugar and red hot pepper flakes. Garlic dipping sauce is made from soy sauce, water, garlic, lemon juice and sugar.