Hot pot (huoguo) or chafing dish is a traditional Chinese way of enjoying food. In winter, when chilly temperatures and frigid winds prevail over the land, Chinese people like to eat food that instantly warms their bodies and lifts their spirits. For that, the hot pot is a delicious and hearty choice. Families or groups of friends sit around a table and eat from a steaming pot in the middle, cooking and drinking and chatting. Eating hot pot is not a passive activity: eaters must select morsels of prepared raw food from plates scattered around the table, place them in the pot, wait for them to cook, fish them out of the soup, dip them in the preferred sauce, and then eat them hot, fresh, and tender. They can also ladle up the broth from the pot and drink it. While the cooking is in progress there's some waiting, so the diners may sip a little hard liquor. A togetherness ensues which soothes their hearts. So hot pot--has a deep and profound meaning to the Chinese, who are gregarious and strongly emphasize family and clan. It is cozy, yet informal. It is not a banquet, yet it can take as much time as one. It uses a single pot, yet is varied in ingredients, sauces, and cooking styles.
The hot pot has a long history in China. It originated in the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220A.D.) in north China, where people have to fend off the chill early in the year. It was spread to the south during the Sui Dynasty (581-618A.D.). Later, the northern nomads who settled in China enhanced the pot with beef and mutton, and southerners did the same with seafood. In the Qing dynasty, the hot pot became popular throughout the whole area of China.
The pot itself is usually ceramic or metal. In the past, charcoal was the fuel of choice. Nowadays people use mostly gas or electricity for this purpose; only the most nostalgic use charcoal. Alcohol is also used occasionally. Some of the pots are equipped with a chimney in the middle along with a valve for controlling the size of the flame.
The soup stock is prepared well beforehand and is made by boiling beef, pork, pork chops, or chicken bones. Meat, seafood, vegetables, tofu (bean curd), and bean noodles are the most popular ingredients. Freshness commands. Pork, beef, and chicken are often presented side by side; mutton is less frequently used. Meat should not be cooked too long; otherwise it will lose its tenderness. It's best for the meat to be cut as thin as paper, and that's why a sizable piece of meat often shrinks to a small bite after being boiled.
Seafood usually includes shrimp, crab, oysters, clams, squid, cuttlefish, and fish fillet. To make sure the morsels do not drift away or sink to the bottom or hide somewhere, a strainer in which each diner can hold onto his or her delicacies is recommended. Meat, seafood, and egg come in ball or ravioli-like form.
Popularly used vegetables are cabbage, spinach, turnip, green onions, celery, coriander and lettuce. Lettuce is a special favorite among diners for its tender, crispy, and sweet nature. People use a variety that does not have a head and whose leaves are dark green, resembling those of chrysanthemums. Fresh vegetables should be boiled only lightly. Mushrooms of various kinds, dried or fresh are widely used, as are dried lily flowers. Bean curd and bean noodles serve as more than just fillers. They do not have much taste themselves, but they absorb the richness of the other ingredients. Bean noodles are usually cooked later to help finish up the soup. Some people put plain rice into the last of the soup to make porridge. Consistent with Chinese culinary thrift, nothing is wasted.
Eating the Chinese hot pot, the dipping condiments are usually pre-prepared. Some are personal concoctions; while most consist of some of these: soy sauce, sesame oil, Hoisin sauce, peanut butter sauce, shacha sauce (Chinese barbecue sauce), chive flower paste, sesame butter, garlic, scallion, vinegar (white or black), pickled lemon, pickled plum, coriander herb, chili, white pepper, or red pepper, some people like to beat a fresh egg, or just the white of it, into the condiments.
The Cantonese Shacha Hot Pot is popular with the southerners of China. Its sauce consists of dried shrimp, peanuts, garlic, hot pepper, tea leaves, and salt. The sauce is also used in cooking other dishes and is mildly hot. Soy sauce and fresh raw egg are usually added to it to make a dip. This style of hot pot makes use of almost all of the ingredients mentioned above.
Chrysanthemum Hot Pot was once popular with the royal families in the late Qing Dynasty. Chrysanthemum flowers are harbingers of coldness. Back in the old days when chrysanthemums bloom, it was considered the time to start eating hot pot. The principle ingredients are shrimp, thin slices of pork kidney and liver, and fish fillet. These take little time to boil, so alcohol was once used as the fuel for its low heat intensity. When the alcohol burns under the pot, the flames flare out in the shape of a chrysanthemum blossom, and mum leaves are actually scattered into the pot to add a touch of the flavor of the plant.
Mutton Hot Pot is a Peking style. It is actually a legacy of the northern nomads of northern China. It is called Mongolian hot pot among the westerners, whereas the Japanese call it "Genghis Khan's cuisine." Sheep grow large in the north, and their meat tends to be tender and less rank. Shuanyangrou (Instant-boiled mutton) has long been an enduring item in Peking food restaurants.
The traditional Sichuan Hot Pot also called maodu (hairy stomach) hot pot, like many other dishes of this province, Sichuan hot pot is noted for its spiciness. The pepper oil added to the stock keeps it hot in more than one sense, since it acts as an insulator on the surface of the soup. Special ingredients of this pot are beef tripe, pig yellow throat, beef marrow, duck intestines, and pig brain.
Chongqing enjoys the reputation of the "Capital of Chinese Hot Pots." But the flavor and style of the Chongqing Huoguo (hot pot) is nearly the same as the Sichuan Huoguo because Chongqing city was once part of the Sichuan Province.
Today, ingredients of Sichuan hot pot or Chongqing have expended to the poultry meat, fish, seafood, game animals, animal plucks, mushrooms, and vegies etc. Sichuan hot pot has created hundreds of variations. Some like the white stock hot pot, Yuangyang hot pot, beer duck hot pot, dog meat hot pot, and spicy chicken hot pot...but nearly all the Sichuan and Chongqing hot pots are pungent. Hot pot is a recommended food for the tourists who visit Chengdu and Chongqing (only for those who likes spicy food). Bring a handkerchief to wipe away your tears as you eat it.
Yuangyang Hot Pot, literally, Mandarin Duck Hot Pot. It is a typical Sichuan style. The pot has two parts, just like the Taijitu (Diagram of the Supreme Ultimate) of the Taoist. One part holds the hot red pepper stock, and the other part holds the white stock. Eaters can cook their favorite food in the two parts to enjoy the different flavors. The red pepper stock of the Yuangyang Hot Pot is made by beef lard, salt black beans, crystal sugar, cayenne pepper, wild pepper, bruised ginger,salt, Shaoxing rice wine, and fermented glutinous rice soup and so on; the white stock is made by white bean sauce, white sauce, aginomoto, meat of old hen, meat of old fat duck, pig ham, pork chops etc.
In Chengdu or Beijing you can eat the authentic Chinese Huoguo! So,