Hong Kong’s cold weather is synonymous with the slurpy and filling, hot and welcoming hotpot, or da bin lou (打边炉), as it’s known in Cantonese. Whether it’s a festive celebration, family gathering or dinner with friends, Hongkongers find any excuse to relish the delicious broths.
Chinese hot pot, like fondue, is a group dining activity where friends and family gather to share stories over a meal. A pot of simmering broth sits atop a burner on the table with plates of raw meats, vegetables, seafood and starches surrounding it. Diners add ingredients of their choice to the broth, then scoop them out using fine-mesh spoons once cooked. If you aren’t a regular, getting the hot pot right can be tricky. To help you out, we give you a low-down on the hot pot etiquette.
The origins of hot pot
Hot pot has long been a big part of Hong Kong’s dining culture. However, the centuries-old comfort can be traced to Mongolian equestrians who travelled to China. Exhausted and hungry, the men supposedly cooked soups over open fires and added various portions of meat to the broth. However, now, it is a way to eat and keep warm around one communal fire.
Ingredients that go into the cosy meal
In this simple dish, diners add fresh vegetables and raw meat in boiling stock, with soy sauce and condiments like fresh spring onions, coriander, scallions, minced garlic, and fried garlic slices. Seafood hot pot options include fresh shrimp, prawns, scallops, squid, fish, balls, cuttlefish, and octopus. They lend broths fantastic flavour depth, so, don’t hesitate to throw in some of them and enjoy. The dipping sauces such as soy, sesame oil, chilli oil, vinegar and garlic sauce add extra oomph to the dish.
How to eat hot pot like a pro
Ready to try hot pot? Remember the hot pot etiquette when huddled around a pot of savoury broth.
Which broth to choose?
You can choose from various hot pot bases if you visit a restaurant. The bases can range from a mild bone broth to the super-hot chilli oil pot. Only go for the chilli oil pot if you have a serious affinity for spice. Chongqing and Sichuan are the two most popular hot pots. The latter incorporates tongue-numbing Sichuan peppers and peppercorns. In addition, most eateries offer a yin-yang pot so that you can savour both soups.
What to add?
Once you’ve settled on the broth, you’ll have to decide what to cook. First, wait until the broth has come to a simmer, then pick your ingredients and get dipping. The specials include thinly sliced beef, yams, bok choy, and meatballs — but that’s just scratching the surface. The menu at every hot pot restaurant varies. Tofu and slices of lotus root are also extremely popular in most restaurants.
How to cook?
Every meat platter comes with its own set of tongs. First, use tongs to add the meat to the broth as they take longer to cook. Then, dip the vegetables into the broth with the chopsticks. Once the meat floats on the top and changes colour, you will know it is cooked. Also, add the ingredients gradually, as adding them at once can slow the cooking process. Pacing yourself is the key to enjoying hot pot. Your server will initially turn up the temperature, but feel free to adjust the burner during your meal.
How to eat?
Avoid using the same pair of chopsticks for cooking as well as eating. Restrict the communal chopsticks for handling raw items. Also, do not overcrowd the broth with ingredients. There should be ample space to pick the ingredients from the broth and put it on the plate.
Which are the best places to try hot pot in Hong Kong?
With that slight chill in the air, it’s finally prime hotpot season in Hong Kong. So, make it a point to cycle through these top hot pot restaurants this season.
1. The Drunken Pot
The Drunken Pot offers five different soup bases in one copper pot to dip marbled beef slices, delicious homemade dumplings and meatballs. They also provide delivery services if you want a more intimate hotpot gathering at home.
Address: 27th floor, 18 Tang Lung St, Causeway Bay
2. Grand Ding House
At Grand Ding House, you can choose from a variety soup bases. We have heard great things about their spicy Sichuan and seafood offerings.
Address: 九龍觀塘區One Pacific Centre 414 Kwun Tong Rd
3. Woo Cow Hotpot
Woo Cow is one of the best places to enjoy hot pots with impressive plating. Don’t miss out on their signature cow offal broth and Hokkaido milk broth with fish maw.
Address: China Insurance Building, 48 Cameron Rd, Tsim Sha Tsui
4. Victorian Era
For healthy hot spots, the Victorian Era is the place. They offer cuttlefish paste stuffed Chinese doughnuts in their signature soups. Sounds heavenly, right?
Address: 2樓, 佐敦佐敦道31-37號百誠大廈, Jordan
5. Dong Lai Shun
Take advantage of Dong Lai Shun if you are craving a delicious hotpot. They are best known for using thinly sliced mutton in hotpots and toothsome condiments.
Address: 69 Mody Rd, Tsim Sha Tsui East
Hot pot isn’t just a meal but an occasion. Step out of your comfort zone and try a cut of meat, a new vegetable or even a dipping sauce that looks unfamiliar. Also, remember to follow the hot pot etiquette.
(Hero and feature image credits: Pexels.com)
This story first appeared on PrestigeOnline Hong Kong