Hot pot, a simmering pot of soup stock paired with all kinds of ingredients, is definitely a must-try if you’re travelling around East and Southeast Asia, especially in the colder months. Hot pot can be eaten with sliced meats, vegetables, processed foods, noodles, and more. It is often cooked and eaten at the same time by cooking ingredients piece by piece or simply dumping them into the pot in batches. A variety of sauces are also available to enhance your food just before eating.
There are many different hot pot styles originating from different regions of Asia, even though each hot pot has a different style of preparation. Having hot pot is a great way to socialise and bond with your family and friends—everyone at the dining table is involved in the cooking process while chatting with one another, making hot pot time fun and delicious. Here are some of the best and most popular ones to start you off on.
One of the more adventurous hot pot styles to try, but perfect if you love spicy food and offal. Originated from the mainland Chinese city of the same name in the 1920s, the spicy hot pot dish is extremely popular in many parts of China.
The hot pot base is made of red chilli oil combined with beef fat and various spices, providing a strong flavour that will give your ingredients a savoury and spicy kick. Star ingredients to pair with the soup base include tripe, duck blood, kidney, and duck intestines. The most authentic way to cook them is to pick them up with chopsticks and dip them in the soup up to eight times. The tripe will blister and the intestines will roll-up—that’s when you’ll know they’re ready to eat. Pair them with sesame sauce for that umami blast of flavour.
If you like sweeter food, then this may just be a perfect choice for your next hot pot meal. Sukiyaki (すき焼き) is a winter wish commonly found at Japanese year-end parties. The broth is made of soy sauce, sugar, and mirin, simmered in a shallow iron pot.
Thinly sliced beef is the best part of this hot pot dish. Having a bowl of raw, beaten eggs as a “sauce” on the side is highly recommended. Try dipping the cooked beef into the egg mixture before eating it—it will make the beef taste more tender. Other common ingredients that complement this Japanese hot pot include shiitake mushrooms, tofu, green onions, and shirataki (しらたき) noodles.
Shabu-shabu (しゃぶしゃぶ) may be similar to sukiyaki in the sense that it also involves thinly sliced meats and assorted vegetables, but its preparation style differs in several ways. Its soup base is more savoury, made of a kelp-based broth called kombu dashi (昆布だし). The name is onomatopoeic, meant to mimic the swish-swish sound of the meat cooking in the broth—raw sliced meats are dipped in the boiling soup for a few seconds before eating. Ideal sauces to pair with shabu-shabu include ponzu, sesame, and soy sauce.
When winter arrives in Hong Kong, eating chicken hot pot (雞煲) is the nicest way to feel warm, radiating from your belly. Start by enjoying a spicy chicken stew, and after all the meat is finished, stock or water is added to become a hot pot. The leftover sauce and chicken bits from the stew creates a uniquely savoury soup flavour, making your usual hotpot ingredients taste much richer. You can add your usual meat, vegetables, or noodles to go with the soup.
“Budae” refers to a military base and “jjigae” means soup or stew. Thus, it is also known as “army stew” in English. Budae jjigae (부대찌개) is a fusion Korean hot pot dish, originating from the Korean War during the 1950s, where many Koreans had to use processed foods supplied from US military bases as their normal food supplies ran low.
This delicious stew does not rely too much on fresh meat or vegetables (but you can still add them). Instead, American-style processed food like baked beans, spam, sausages, and cheese is the key to make an authentic army stew. Don’t forget to add a few packets of Shin ramen noodles as your carbohydrate of choice. This is probably the unhealthiest hot pot option in the list, but it is undoubtedly culturally significant and very delicious.
If processed meat from budae jjigae is too sinful for you, this alternative option may be slightly better for your conscience. What makes this hot pot so special is the extra-large dumplings (만두; mandu) inside that are sure to fill you up. Seafood, pork, and vegetable dumplings are suitable choices to add in the spicy stew. Be sure to add healthier greens like kimchi, bean sprouts, and mushrooms. A bottle or two of soju (소주), a Korean alcoholic beverage, is a perfect match while eating mandu jeongol (만두전골).
Venturing to Southeast Asia, mu kratha (หมูกระทะ) means “pan pork” in Thai. It is believed to be a fusion of Korean barbeque and Chinese hot pot. The best part is getting to boil and grill your ingredients in the same pot, at the same time. You can cook fish balls and assorted vegetables in the soup, while gripping the meat—ranging from pork to mutton—on the dome at the centre of the pot. Dip your ingredients into a type of special Thai chilli sauce called nam chim suki (น้ำจิ้มสุกี้). Mu kratha is also easily found In Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia.