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  • Almer He

7 Hotpot Q & A for Advanced Eaters

Updated: Feb 24

Get the Hotpot Hacks that Even Some Chinese Don’t.


The Americans know entertainment; the French know leisure. But the Chinese are experts at combining leisure with food—yes, I’m talking about hotpot.


How do the hotpot inventers eat hotpot? What kind of soup base do the Chinese like and is there a most beloved set of soup base and delicacies—and if it’s not too much to ask, how can I DIY my dipping sauce like the Chinese do?


For those who have mastered some basic hotpot hacks and even hold a Chinese passport, this article may still clear out some of your blind spots about hotpot and elevate you to the next level of hotpot literacy.



 


1. What makes up an authentic hot pot?


  • Soup base & Pot

  • Dipping Sauces

  • Raw food material


 


2. I see some soup base in Chinese restaurant in the U.S. like sour pickles broth and curry broth, etc. Do people in China like these soup bases?


Sour pickle hotpot can be welcomed in China, although it’s nothing comparied to the three hotpots listed below. But in China, people don’t eat curry hot pot, or any hot pot broth that is creamy. Chinese think creamy base damages the natural flavor of food ingredients.



 


3. Do you have a golden recipe of dipping sauce that will match with all hotpots?


Fortunately, there is. And the comparative proportion is as following:


***** garlic, chili


*** chives, cilantro, sesame sauce, soy sauce, vinegar


* salt, white cane sugar, sesame oil, oyster sauce



 


4. Why will this dipping sauce recipe always work?


To enrich the experience, Chinese seek flavors from baked nuts, seafood, herbs, roots, spices, tallow, and botanical oils. Every perfect dish or even just dipping sauce epitomizes nature; from plants to animals, from the sky to the ocean. Different ingredients provide different fragrances.


  • Nutty → Nuts: peanut, sesame…

  • Savory →Oceanic products: fish sauce, oyster sauce, dried small shrimps…

  • Pungent →pepper, chili, ginger, garlic…

  • Refreshing →Herbs: cilantro, chives, green onions, leeks…



 


5. What are the most popular types of hotpot in China?


Hotpots are highly regional. There are over twenty hotpots with distinct flavors in different areas of China. The most representative hotpots are:

  • Chongqing hot pot: in Southwest China

  • Chaoshan beef hot pot: in Southeast China

  • Beijing lamb hotpot: in Northeast China


Chongqing hot pot

Keywords: spicy, numbing



  • Pot and soup base:


Common Myth 1: Each grid has a different soup base.


Actually, the difference is the soup’s temperature, not the broth.


Chongqing hotpots use a wide pot divided by nine grids, and each grid has a different water temperature. The middle one is the hottest. You blanch some fast-cooking food (usually within 10 seconds) in that middle one, and on the side, you simmer food that takes a longer time to cook.




The most authentic Chongqing soup base is made with red chili, beef tallow, Szechuan peppercorn (where the numbing sense comes from), gingers, green onions, and garlic.


  • Dipping Sauces: dry sauce + oil sauce

Chongqing hotpot’s soup base has an explosive flavor, so the dipping sauce focuses more on adding nutty and herbal fragrances. Salty condiments like oyster sauce are not recommended, although oyster sauce is popular with Szechuan hotpots (now you see the nuance).



dry sauce


Dry: dry chili powder and flakes, Sichuan peppercorn powder, baked white sesame, minced peanut.






oil sauce


Oil: sesame oil, minced garlic, chives, cilantro.







  • Soul Food Delights: maodu, huanghou, duck intestines

Just like cheese and wine, different hotpots match with different food. Chongqing hotpot used to be called Maodu hotpot, a name that signifies the soul food in Chongqing hotpot—maodu, one of the cow’s stomachs (a cow has five stomachs).

maodu

Maodu has an amazing texture, crispy yet resilient, and is perfect for those impatient eaters. You could grip a piece of maodu with chopsticks and submerge it into the middle grid for ten seconds, and then you’re good to go. Overcooked maodu will lose the crispiness and become harder to chew, like rubber.



Dipping maodu into the sauce

duck intestines

Huanghou



Huanghou is the aorta of a cow or pig. Maodu, Huanghou, or duck intestines, all shares a common texture after blanching: crispy.








Chaoshan Beef Hotpot

Keywords: fresh, fastidious


Originated from Chaoshan, an area in Canton Province, Chaoshan beef hotpot gradually became popular throughout Southeastern China.


Chinese food is extremely geographical. Many westerners would be attracted to Szechuan food at once because of its sensational redness, and might assume that other Chinese food with a lowkey look must be bland.


Oh no, don’t ever judge Chinese food by its color. Cantonese is famous for preserving ingredients’ natural flavor, respecting its delicacy and freshness, and also stimulating your taste buds.


Three keywords for Cantonese food: raw, fresh, seasonal.


There’s a strict time limit from slaughter to the table to guarantee the best flavor and texture of beef. Only 1/3 of a cow can be used as hotpot material, the rest part will be made into the most famous beef meatballs in China—the Chaoshan beef meatballs.


  • Pot & Soup base

Chaoshan beef hotpot uses the most common pot: a large, wide stainless-steel pot that you can buy anywhere.

Chaoshan beef hotpot soup base


The soup base is made with beef bone, corn on the cob, white turnips, and galangal. It’s clear, sweet, savory, and no extra condiments are needed.






  • Dipping Sauces: Shacha


Shacha

Shacha is the unnegotiable dipping sauce for Chaoshan beef hotpot. It’s a sophisticated mix of flavors. An authentic shacha sauce includes four parts:

  • dried seafood (flatfish, scallops, small shrimps, and small shrimp shells),

  • nuts (peanut and sesame),

  • spice (10 different Chinese spices),

  • herbs/roots (chili, garlic, shallot, ginger).

Feel free to add some other condiments as you wish, only that shacha is a must-have.



Blanching beef slices three times

  • Soul Food Delights: Beef. Good Beef. First-rate Beef.


Organs are the soulmate of Chongqing hot pot; but here, with the simplest and purest soup base, Chaoshan beef hotpot requires a fastidiously high beef quality. Factors like freshness, parts of the beef, and fine slicing techniques all affect eaters’ satisfaction.


Unlike maodu, you need to blanch the beef slices three times. Put the beef into a strainer, blanch, and quickly pull it up from the pot. Then repeat this process two more times. This will avoid overcooking and also make sure the beef is well-done.



Beijing Lamb Hotpot

Keywords: classic





Even when it comes to hotpot, Beijing is the place to find the classic type. This might be the most historic hotpot in China. Beijing has been the capital of China since 1420, and hotpot, in the past, was a privilege of the court.





  • Pot & Soup base: copper pot, charcoal fire, clear soup base


copper pot

The most pronounced difference in Beijing lamb hotpot is the pot. Copper provides better heat conduction. All the hotpot needs a stove under the pot, but here, we could simply put the scalding coal into the copper “tube” and pour the hot soup base around it. In this way, the soup’s temperature will remain at the boiling point.




Some sophisticated hotpot restaurants will use a Cloisonné pot. Like an antique, isn’t it?



Beijing lamb hotpot has a light soup base made of simple ingredients: water, cooking wine, mushrooms, Porphyra, dried shrimps, Chinese green onions, ginger slices.








  • Dipping Sauces: sesame sauce+ leek flower sauce + fermented red beancurd

Even a dipping sauce demonstrates how highly regional Chinese food is. While northerners can’t eat a hotpot without the sesame sauce, the southern Chinese (like Sichuan people and Cantonese) hate using sesame sauce as a dipping sauce.



sesame sauce

Sesame sauce perfectly neutralizes the possibly unpleasant taste of mutton. There’s no precise word to describe that gamey taste of mutton in English, but there is in Chinese—膻. In English, “fishy” can roughly describe the smell/taste of fish and other seafood, but 膻 is the exact word for that “weird” meaty taste of mutton. As for how weird the taste could be, it is decided by personal sensitivity and the mutton’s quality. Although your chefs cannot reduce your sensitivity to the 膻 taste, they will make sure you have the best mutton for your hotpot.




Besides the trio of sesame sauce, leek flower sauce, and fermented red beancurd, add some garlic, soy sauce, cilantro, chives, and red chili to enrich the flavors.


  • Soul Food Delights: mutton slices


Sliced mutton dipping in the sesame sauce


Just like Chongqing hotpot has another name as Maodu hotpot, Beijing lamb hotpot also has another name that signifies its soul food: instant-boiled sliced mutton hotpot. So literally, the mutton can be finished in a few seconds.





You might be doubtful: are you sure the mutton is well-done?


Yes, and the secret is the extremely thin slices that allow mutton to be instantly cooked.




 


6. Common myth: I assume that hotpot doesn’t need an experienced chef since the customers do the cooking.


Oh, that’s not quite fair for any authentic Chinese hotpot restaurant. We aren’t talking about how much virtuosity it takes to make the soup base and dipping sauces. We are talking about the cutting skills. Like Chaoshan beef, the best sliced mutton mustn’t be frozen, mustn’t be cut by machine—it must be manually cut by the chef with a knife. Each slice is equally thin like—paper? No, “paper” is not good enough to describe the technique. I'd prefer to say, like “cicada’s wings”—this is a classic Chinese metaphor for things that are exquisitely thin.



 


7. When mentioning Maodu, Huanghou, duck intestines, and cow chest fat, what do you mean by “crispy?” Is it coated with crumbs and deep-fried?


Chinese cuisine is fastidious about texture, crazy for food that is crispy and popping; and almost all the popular food elements for hotpot have this feature. Here, we don't deep-fry or bread Maodu to make it crispy, we preserve it in ice, slice it thin, cook it fast—this series of

actions release the popping texture within the food itself.

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