So here’s what I know about hot pot: 1) It’s delicious. 2) It’s healthy, if done properly. 3) Nothing else. Okay. Now that we got that part out of the way… and you are now aware that I am officially NOT a hot pot expert… let’s talk about how I even know it exists, or what business I have cooking it!
Let’s start with Mike, my fiancee. He is first-generation American Taiwanese, which means that his parents are legitimately from Taiwan. Like, his mom was scared to talk to me for the first few years because her English is so broken… that’s how “from Taiwan” they are (it’s endearing, though, so I say that in the most loving way possible!). He still speaks fluent Mandarin with his parents.
Anyhow… Mike and I are (finally) getting married next year; we’ve been together for nearly 8 years, so I’ve had a fair amount of time already to learn about and acclimate to his family’s cultural traditions. What’s funny is that he often doesn’t even realize that he even has “cultural traditions”, until I point them out as being really different from my own All-American upbringing. Point in case: it took me a while to get used to having a giant pile of chopsticks officially residing next to the forks in our silverware drawer. But I digress.
Mike grew up eating hot pot! He’s been ranting and raving about having hot pot for years, but my uncultured palate never encouraged me to ask what it was until last year. Before, I always just assumed that if he’d grown up eating it, that meant it was probably “super healthy” (read: something I probably wasn’t going to like) because that’s all his mom cooks.
But when we moved to San Diego last year, our house hunting adventures around the city found us passing a few hot pot foodie places (and trust me, living in SoCal makes you become a foodie faster than you can say ‘avocado’). Well… let me tell you, if it wasn’t all I could to hold that man in the car to keep him from jumping out the window! I probably should have wiped the drool off my car seats. It’s no wonder he and his dog get along so well…
Needless to say, his dramatic reaction prompted me to finally inquire about what hot pot was, and Mike told me all about what he grew up eating. Since we’ve been much more health conscious for the last few years about our eating habits, it was in that moment that I finally conceded that this “hot pot” stuff was something I would eventually have to take a stab at.
Fast forward to a few months later. Mike’s sister and her boyfriend move to our little corner of the country! We get together for dinner one night. She suggests hot pot, and offers to bring over their little electric hot plate so we could do it properly, seated at the table. The rest is history. Now I’m officially inducted into the Royal Hot Pot Society, otherwise known as my future husband’s family.
So that’s how I learned how to do “hot pot” at home, even though I
know knew nothing about hot pot to start! :) And now Mike and I have hot pot whenever the mood strikes, which he is always thrilled about.
I’ve also done some research online to find out a little bit more about it, ever since my first foray into the jungle. For example, I discovered that it’s sometimes referred to as steamboat, depending on the specific Asian culture cooking it. So for those of you who didn’t know what hot pot was until reading this post, you’re about to receive the fastest crash course in history, as I boil it down to the pure basics (*corny joke drum beat* awful pun totally intended… I’ll be here all night, ladies and gentleman!). Okay? Ready, set… go!
Picture this: electric hot pot in the middle of the table where everyone can reach it, bubbling away with a broth of chicken, beef, seafood, or vegetable base; with green onions, mushrooms, or herbs added for aromatics and flavor; sometimes made spicy and sometimes not (depending on personal preference – some hot pots even come with a built-in divider for this purpose!). There are also lots of fresh, raw ingredients, chopped up into manageable pieces and waiting in their own little bowls, ready to take the plunge. Proteins are pre-sliced or otherwise prepped for cooking, typically including various seafood options and/or thinly sliced beef. Fresh veggies can be absolutely anything you desire, although Mike and I just used some of the basics that we happened to have on hand: broccoli, carrots, green cabbage, and baby bok choy… but mushrooms, sprouts, and snow peas are also popular ingredients. (Side note: the non-Paleo folk also usually include some type of grain-based carb, like noodles or even pot stickers; Mike isn’t “officially” Paleo, so I begrudged him the udon noodles in the pot while I avoided them like the plague). And then there’s often a dipping sauce available for after you remove the cooked food you want from the pot; for this I used a mixture of coconut aminos, white vinegar, sesame oil, and minced garlic, instead of the traditional soy sauce. Mike just used some fish-based, spicy Asian barbecue sauce that he found at our local Asian market.
The best part about hot pot is really the fact that it brings people together. I thoroughly enjoy sitting down to a lengthier-than-usual dinner with other people; there’s something about cooking with people instead of for people that makes it one of the most relaxing meals you’ll ever have (after all the prep, of course). And since hot pot is so incredibly flexible as far as ingredients go, you can please just about any palate. It’s a win-win for everyone!
This being the case, the “recipe” for a Paleo version of this amazingly healthy Asian tradition is going to be more like a “You Pick” menu, where YOU get to be creative and make all the decisions. So have some fun with it, and happy hot potting! ;)
Share your thoughts… what unique cultural dishes does your family cook?
- Broth Options: chicken, beef, seafood, vegetable
- Spiciness Level (optional): chili sauce
- Aromatics: green onions, mushrooms, cilantro, basil, etc.
- Protein Options: thinly sliced beef, fish balls, shrimp, etc.
- Veggies Options: spinach, cabbage, lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli or broccolini, bell peppers, jalapenos, carrots, snow peas, mushrooms, sprouts, baby corn, asparagus - the sky's the limit!
- Dipping sauce: a mixture of coconut aminos, white vinegar, sesame oil, minced garlic, minced ginger; can also add fish sauce, chili sauce, and/or herbs
- Prep all meats and veggies by slicing or dicing into manageable, bite-size pieces.
- Keep everything separate, with their own utensils and bowls, to prevent cross-contamination.
- Bring the broth of choice to a boil in a "real" hot pot, or in a regular pot set on top of an electric hot plate; add aromatics of your choice.
- Individual people add portions of whatever proteins and veggies they want to the boiling pot, giving the pieces an appropriate amount of time to cook.
- Cooked pieces are then removed and placed into personal bowls to dip and eat, while new pieces are continually added throughout the meal!
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