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What Is Hot Pot And How Do I Eat It?

Hot Pot is a national soup-like dish in China, especially in the Sichuan region. But it exists in similar forms in other parts of Asia as well. It might look a bit quirky to you on the first sight, but you can master it easily, just read our manual!

Next time you’re visiting China, Mongolia or Japan, take your friends out for a hot pot. Select a good restaurant and leave out the cheapest ones. The quality of ingredients is essential to the experience.

Hot Pot is typically eaten during a gathering. It’s a soup base that’s constantly boiling on a little stove underneath, and you choose what you want to have cooked in it.

Here are several decisions you need to take:

Spicy or Non Spicy BRoth

First of all, be sure that spicy means really spicy. That’s the specialty of Sichuan. If you and your peers handle very spicy food with no problem, go for it!

There’s also a non-spicy version, which is of whitish color. It contains similar ingredients (basically just mild broth with basic seasoning), minus chilies and hot pepper.

I think the best option is the Yin-Yang version – half spicy, half not! This is the best choice for groups of both Chinese and non-Chinese, who can all enjoy the yummy meal from one pot, yet with varying degree of spiciness.

fish hot pot

Waitress serving fish hot pot

‘Normal’ or ‘Special’ Broth

Normal hot pot is just the soup base with spices. The special hot pot is made with fish, hardcore fish. I wasn’t pleased to grab a catfish head with my chopsticks when trying the fish hot pot for the first time. Yucky for me, but yummy for others (especially Chinese friends :) ). Another type is e.g. mutton or seafood hot pot.

Choose Your Meats

After being clear about the spiciness and the version of the soup base, you can proceed with selecting what you want in your Hot Pot.

Typically, you’ll choose the types of meat that you’d like, either from a menu or from the counter. It helps to see the meat in real – it must look fresh, you don’t want any stomach trouble. Make sure you have some mutton, it’s delicious!

Choose Your Veggies

You’ll get to pick some veggies too. Don’t be afraid to go for a variety of things like delicious lotus roots, countless types of mushrooms, lettuce, cabbage, bean sprouts and more.

Choose Your Dipping Sauce

Your cooked bites might taste a little bland but here’s an easy fix – dip it! There are usually several dipping sauces and you’ll need to try them to find out which are your favorites. They are made of soy sauce, sesame oil, fish sauce and other yummy Asian ingredients.

Putting it all Together

Hot pot

Hot pot feast… yummy!

Make sure your hot pot soup base is nicely boiling. Pick your meats and veggies from the trays that you have chosen, and just dive them into the soup. You’ll be able to easily recognize once something’s cooked. In this case, vegetables will take longer to cook, because the meat is sliced so thin that it needs only a few seconds! Once a bite’s finished cooking, catch it with your chopsticks, dip it into your chosen sauce and eat! Enjoy a moment of culinary bliss and repeat.

The typical Chinese way is to start with the meat. The problem is that often you’d end up getting too full before moving on to the vegetables. You can easily switch the order and you’ll have your hot pot in a much healthier way.

At the end, the soup base has quite a rich taste. I love it. However, if you’ve cooked a lot of meat in it, it’s full of fat. So just try a spoonful so that you know how the taste has changed since the beginning and resist the temptation to take a full bowl of it.


If you’ve got Chinese friends who invite you out for Hot Pot, then you’re all set because they’ll guide you through the whole process. But it doesn’t hurt to show them you already have some knowledge. [highlight]Enjoy and soup on[/highlight] :)

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Ultimate Guide: 100 Resources for Living, Working and Traveling in China

Friday 12th of May 2017

[…] All About Hot Pot […]

Sumit Surai

Saturday 6th of December 2014

I love hot pot with loads of veggies and pork. Loved reading your tips.

Chanel | Cultural Xplorer

Saturday 8th of November 2014

I ate hot pot in China when I took a tour to Beijing in 2010. I also ate it quite often when I lived in South Korea. Loved it every time :D

Mindi @ 2foodtrippers

Thursday 4th of September 2014

We loved the hot pots in Chengdu. The spicier the better!


Thursday 4th of September 2014

You sound like you were born in Sichuan! :D

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