Huo Guo (Hotpot 火锅)
What is it?
Huo guo boils thin slices of meat, seafood and vegetables in a communal pot of seasoned broth. Morsels are then plucked out as they cook. There are numerous regional variations of hotpot. One of the most popular is Sichuan hotpot, which serves a numbingly spicy soup base. Beijing is also known for its own version of instant-boiled mutton – a flash-cooking of paper-thin lamb then dipped into a sesame sauce. And if you are concerned about hygiene (lots of chopsticks in the shared pot), there’s no need to be. Most restaurants offer an extra pair of chopsticks for pulling out the cooked items.
Why is it famous?
Some historians say hotpot originated as early as the Three Kingdoms (220-280) when people used bronze cauldrons to cook. Other historians claim that hotpot was already popular in the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220), when it was common to cook food in ‘dou,’ another type of bronze vessel. But what’s certain is that by the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127), there were restaurants selling hotpot. It was believed that hotpot was also hugely popular during the Qing Dynasty. Emperor Qianlong, probably China’s most famous gourmand, was a fan. Nevertheless, at the time there weren’t as many variations in the broth as there are today and most people cooked the food in just boiling water.
While hotpot can be enjoyed year-round, it is especially popular in the winter.
Where to go?
Haidilao in Beijing offers authentic Sichuan hotpot, but doesn’t take reservations so be ready for a long queue. 2A Baijiazhuang Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing; Tel: 86-10-6595-2982).
Dong Lai Shun is also a good place to try traditional Beijing hotpot. 5/F Xin Dongan Plaza, Wangfujing Dajie, Dongcheng District, Beijing; Tel: 86-10-6528-0932).
People in Hong Kong are hotpot aficionados so much so that top mainland hotpot chains like Haidilao and Little Sheep have tried but failed to compete against local establishments. One of the most authentic hotpot restaurants in Hong Kong is Ying Kee Hotpot and Seafood Restaurant. They also have several tanks of live seafood for those who want to see where their ingredients come from. Address: 19 Wilmer Street, Western District, Hong Kong; Tel: 852-2548-8897.
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