Hotpot is a popular Chinese stew dish that is prepared at the table by patrons. Various raw ingredients are served alongside a boiling pot of soup stock, and diners add items to cook in the pot. Hotpot has gained worldwide popularity in recent years for its interactive and social nature. But what is this famous meal actually called?
The Name “Hot Pot”
The English name for this dish is simply “hot pot.” This refers to the heated pot of broth placed at the center of the table. The Mandarin Chinese name for hotpot is also very literal – “huǒguō,” which combines the characters for “fire” (huǒ) and “pot” (guō).
So in both English and Mandarin, the name directly describes the cooking method. A hot pot is at the heart of the dish. This name has now been adopted into many other languages as the standard name for Chinese hotpot.
Regional Variations and Names
While “hot pot” may be the ubiquitous name in English, there are various regional Chinese variants that have their own distinct names:
Chongqing hotpot (重庆火锅 chóngqìng huǒguō) originates from the city of Chongqing in southwestern China. It features a signature red broth made from chili oil and Sichuan peppercorns. The spicy Chongqing style has spread throughout China and beyond as one of the most popular regional varieties.
Sichuan hotpot (四川火锅 sìchuān huǒguō) also uses the signature mala numbing-spicy broth, originating from Sichuan province. It is often used interchangeably with Chongqing hotpot.
Haidilao (海底捞) is one of the largest and most successful hotpot chains in China. It started in Sichuan and is named after a Sichuan dish, so it serves a typical Sichuan-style hotpot. The chain has popularized the dish internationally with hundreds of global locations.
Mongolian hotpot (蒙古火锅 ménggǔ huǒguō) originated from, as the name suggests, the Northern Chinese region of Inner Mongolia. The broth tends to be more mild, cooking faster due to higher fat content. Common ingredients include mushrooms, tofu, glass noodles, and mutton.
Taiwanese hotpot (台灣火锅 táiwān huǒguō) often features soups flavored with medicinal Chinese herbs. Popular bases include a spicy tomato and pickled cabbage broth. It also includes local ingredients like taro and millet noodles.
Cantonese hotpot (广东火锅 guǎngdōng huǒguō) is unique in its mild, fresh, herbal broth. Common herbs and spices include wolfberry, danggui, tangerine peel, Sichuan peppercorn, anise, and cinnamon. The meats also tend to be cut thinner than other regional styles.
Japanese Shabu Shabu
The Japanese version of hotpot is called shabu-shabu (しゃぶしゃぶ). The name comes from the swishing sound the paper-thin slices of meat make when swirled in the broth. The broth is light and closer to a dipping sauce. Ponzu and sesame sauce are popular dipping accents.
While preparation styles vary regionally, some ingredients are staples across all types of Chinese hotpot:
|Beef||thinly sliced ribeye, tenderloin, brisket, tripe|
|Pork||thinly sliced shoulder, belly, ribs|
|Poultry||sliced chicken breast, duck, goose|
|Seafood||shrimp, squid, fish balls, crab sticks|
|Lamb||sliced lamb shoulder, leg|
|Mushrooms||enoki, shiitake, oyster, button|
|Greens||bok choy, napa cabbage, watercress, choy sum|
|Other||tofu, wood ear fungus, lotus root, corn, potato|
|Noodles & Carbs||Common Choices|
|Rice noodles||flat or thin|
|Egg noodles||fresh or dried|
|Cellophane noodles||mung bean starch noodles|
|Dumplings||potstickers, wontons, meatballs|
Cooking and Serving
Diners start with a pot of boiling broth in the center of the table. The broth is kept simmering throughout the meal. Raw ingredients are served on platters surrounding the pot.
Each person picks their own ingredients and adds them to the broth to cook. Meat and vegetables only take a few minutes to cook through in the simmering broth. Noodles and dumplings may take a little longer.
Using chopsticks or a slotted spoon, cooked items are fished out of the pot and placed in a bowl with dipping sauces. The broth absorbs all the flavors of the cooked ingredients, developing layers of taste over the course of the meal.
The soup pot is refilled with more broth, noodles, and dumplings as necessary. Diners can customize the next rounds of soup ingredients based on their preferences.
Condiments and Sauces
An array of sauces and condiments let diners adjust the flavor at the table. Here are some popular accents:
Made from toasted sesame seeds ground into a paste with soybean oil, this adds nutty flavor and richness.
Infused with dried chilies and Sichuan peppercorn, this adds spicy heat and mouth-numbing mala flavor.
The classic salty soy sauce balances out any greasiness and integrates flavors.
Minced garlic, oil, and vinegar make a pungent zesty dipping sauce.
Black or red rice vinegar helps cut through rich meats.
The thick, sweet, savory Chinese barbecue sauce pairs well with meats.
Made from fermented beans and chilies, it brings a spicy kick and fermented savoriness.
Cilantro and Green Onions
Fresh herbs bring color and clean, aromatic flavors.
After finishing the savory ingredients, the pot can be used to make a sweet finale. Common hotpot desserts include:
Fruit in Sweet Soup
The broth is replaced with a simple syrup flavored with goji berries, dried dates, and spices like star anise and cinnamon. Sliced bananas, strawberries, and oranges are poached in the sweet broth.
Small dumplings filled with sweet red bean paste or nut pastes are boiled in plain water or syrup for a few minutes to finish off the meal.
Dense, slightly sweet yeasted bread rolls are served alongside sweetened condensed milk for dipping. They absorb the milk as they are eaten hot.
While known universally as “hotpot” in English, this popular stew dish has many regional variations and Chinese names according to local styles and ingredients. The interactive cooking process, wealth of ingredients, and soul-warming broth make hotpot a beloved staple across China and a global sensation. Whatever you call it, hotpot is a fantastic meal for gathering friends and family together around a bubbling pot of mouthwatering possibilities.