By Natalie Keng
Chinese Southern Belle
Imagine a simmering pot of broth in the center of the dining table and a heaping variety of healthy, fresh ingredients – sliced meat, whole shrimp, a pile of leafy Asian greens, three-way tofu, a mound of enoki mushrooms, taro root, fish balls, rice or bean thread noodles – plus spicy sauces with fresh cilantro, garlic, Chinese barbeque sauce.
The Chinese hot pot, also known as Mongolian hot pot, Japanese shabu-shabu or Chinese fondue, is a popular thousand year-old tradition across Asia that embodies food, comfort, family and community – all in one pot! Since some homes in semi-tropical Asian countries do not have central heat, hot pots bring family and friends together to warm the appetite, spirit and home during cold months and play a special role in Lunar New Year (late January to March).
To fully appreciate the Chinese hot pot (and many ethnic culinary traditions) is to know the people, the land, culture and history. From ancient, imperial times, food has long been interwoven with art, politics and business in China. These days, multi-million dollar business deals are just as likely to be sealed over dim sum courses as they are on the golf course.
Gathering ‘Round the Stove: A Chinese New Year Tradition
Chinese Lunar New Year (also known as the Spring Festival) is one of the most significant of Asian holidays and a time for feasting, reflection and renewal. Traditionally celebrated over fifteen days, many shops are closed, so you better get your shopping or business done!
New Year’s Eve dinner, traditionally a hot pot meal, is the most important family ritual of the year, representing a night of unity, reunion, harmony. The name of the New Year’s Eve meal means “gathering ‘round the stove” in Chinese. Red envelopes (hong bao), fresh flowers and new outfits abound. Kids stay up late and seniors do the “longevity vigil” as a positive sign of their vitality.
Popular dishes include anything whole (complete) or long (longevity), plus fresh and candied fruit that represent good health, happiness, prosperity and blessings. Traditional favorites include: whole chicken or fish (don’t flip the fish over when eating; akin to an old fisherman’s tale of flipping a boat); long noodles, long leafy greens, long string beans, kumquats and oranges. Lion dancing is another tradition during this time to chase away demons and bring good luck to businesses and communities.
Hot Pot Heaven
Healthy & Fast: Fresh vegetables and/or meat of your choice, clear broth, spices, DIY cooking – what’s not to love?
Creative: Pick your favorite hot pot items and mix your own sauce (e.g. vegetarian, spicy or mild)
Eco-friendly: One-pot cooking is social, energy-efficient and creates little waste. Drink the nutrient-rich broth at the end.
Group fun: A fun, interactive culinary and cultural experience. Some restaurants offer individual pots, a different but still worthwhile experience.
Hot Pot Management & Eating/Cooking Tips
- Designate one person to be the Hot Pot Manager (HPM); someone with good chopstick skills (or get tongs)
- Don’t dump everything in at once. Put in items first that take longer to cook (corn on cob, chunky veggies, seafood). Eat and cook in rounds, especially if it’s a group pot, otherwise some items will get lost or be under/overcooked.
- Watch your meat or cook-as-you-eat. Thinly sliced beef or lamb only need a few seconds and can get lost in the pot.
- Add the noodles last and enjoy wonderful noodle soup as the closer. Instead of drinking soda or ice water with meals, hot soup is the “belly washer.”
- Request plain or unsalted hot water. I prefer seasoning with my own sauce rather than cooking in pre-salted broth.
- Sauce: Mix Chinese barbeque sauce (spicy), soy sauce, sesame oil, fresh garlic, cilantro, and dab of peanut butter – yum.
Hot Pot Spots & Resources
- Mini Hot Pot, 4897 Buford Highway (and new location in Duluth)
- Chong Qing Hot Pot in Chinatown, 5385 New Peachtree Road.
- Hot Pot Cooking Class or House Party! Contact Chinese Southern Belle, (404) 494-0088 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Upcoming Hot Pot classes are Jan. 20 at 7 p.m. and Feb. 5 at noon featuring hands-on cooking and shopping tour. For more information visit, www.ChineseSouthernBelle.com
Read more about the Chinese Southern Belle and the Keng family history in our eEdition at this link.