Hot pot. The concept is simple: protein, vegetables and noodles floating in simmering broth in the middle of a table. But whether you go with a group or prefer to steamboat solo, hot pot is more than just a culinary experience. It’s a cultural—and social—one, too.
Hot pot is thought to have originated in Mongolia in 800–900 AD. Mongolian horsemen who rode across the steppe and into northern China then introduced it to the Chinese. The stories say the Mongols used their helmets as vessels to simmer broth over open fires and tossed in chunks of meat—usually horse and mutton. Their shields were used to fry up the meat before adding it to the helmet hot pot. “And their swords and arrows?” you ask? Used to stir everything of course!
Over the course of time, through the machinery of China’s diverse culture and culinary methods, hot pot spread throughout the country and transformed from a treat enjoyed at home in winter to a staple eaten all year round. You can buy it everywhere from street-side stalls to grand restaurants and today, while regional differences do apply, you can find any style of hot pot you like almost anywhere in China. In fact, it’s become a trend in recent years for Chinese celebrities to open their own hot pot restaurants and use their fame and influence to pack out their eateries.
Indeed, most Asian cultures have their variations on hotpot—some of which we’ve covered already—and they’re well-loved in their native lands. But it’s only been recently that hot pot has become a cross-cultural phenomenon in Australia.
With Australians becoming more and more food savvy and adventurous, Asian food has never been more popular. Korean fried chicken, pho, sushi and yum cha have been happily adopted into Australian cuisine, and hot pot is no different. As we start to live in apartments for longer, have kids later in life and have more disposable income, Australians are spending more money on food and using it as a way to socialise. And hot pot is a wonderfully sociable meal.
Hot pot of any kind is a collaborative experience. There’s something anciently satisfying about sitting around a cooking vessel, throwing stuff in and talking to your family and friends. It’s something humans have been doing for as long as there have been humans, and it just feels right. We’re social creatures, and when you’re sitting around a big table facing each other, you’re almost forced to communicate. In a world where we spend so much time communicating via screens, facetime is becoming more and more important, and hot pot provides plenty of that.
It’s also an incredibly versatile way to eat. Everyone can select their own ingredients, and if you’ve got the split pot, you can have two types of broth. If you’ve got a fussy eater, great! They can pick and choose as they please. Families can come and entertain their kids while they feed them, couples can stare longingly at each other over the vessel, and big groups can laugh and stage chopstick battles across the table.
And, if we’re really being honest, it kinda feels authentic, like you’re finally in the club. Instead of ordering fried rice and spring rolls, you’re eating what the locals are eating— same ingredients, same broth, same method of cooking. No English menu needed! Just bring out the hot pot!
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