Updated: Feb 18, 2019
When talking about hot pot (huo guo), what comes to your mind first? Is it a big pot full of red peppers, or individual pot that pre-filled with deliciousness enough for yourself? There are definitely more than two types of Chinese hot pot, luckily, you can find almost every kind here in Los Angeles.
1. Chongqing Mala Hot Pot 重庆麻辣火锅
Originated from the port city Chongqing that sits at the confluence of the Yangtze and Jialing rivers in southwestern China, hot pot used to be the daily food for families who live near the dock and wharfs.
The secret ingredient of the very popular Chongqing hot pot is beef fat, which flavor to the food cooked in the broth, and also absorbs the flavors from other meats. The most authentic Chongqing hot pot is what people call "old hot pot" (lao huo guo). It literally means hot pots with old broths, because the beef fats kept in the old broths have the richest flavors from previous cookings.
The pot itself is also quite special. It is divided into nine sections. There are a few explanations for the special design, some said it's for communal eating so that people don't lose track of their food, some said it's designed for different foods that need to be cooked at different temperatures. Regardless, the sudoku style pot looks much cooler, and it makes eating hot pot more fun.
2. Chengdu Style Hot Pot 成都火锅
Just two hundred miles west to Chongqing, Chengdu is another landmark for hot pot. Compared to Chongqing hot pot's heavy texture and flavor, hot pot in Chengdu uses canola oil instead of beef fat. It also uses fresh peppers instead of dried red peppers for a relatively more mild flavor, but don't get fooled, it's still spicy enough to clear all your nasals.
Another major difference between Chongqing and Chengdu hotpot is the dipping sauce. For Chongqing hot pot, since it already has such in-depth flavor, locals take it easy on the dipping sauce, which is simply a mix of sesame oil and minced garlic, whereas in Chengdu, there could be more than two dozen ingredients for eaters to mix and match, creating their customized flavor.
Nowadays Chengdu hot pot is being innovated with a variety of base ingredients including frog, bunny head, fish, blood curd and more, many which can only be found in Chengdu.
3. Old School Beijing Bronze Hot Pot 老北京铜锅涮肉
If the two hot pots from Southwestern China were too overwhelming to you, then you might be glad to check out this next one from the capital city Beijing. The mild Beijing hot pot can't be more simple, but it holds a high standard for every element.
The broth only contains three things: water (if you count it as one), ginger, and leeks. When the ingredients are minimum, you know the meat has to be premium (just like sushi).
When invented in 1903, this hot pot dish was treated as a halal cuisine. Halal butchers carefully hand-cut the fresh lamb, making sure the meats are evenly thin-sliced, with very little blood, that it can stick to a plate vertically.
The iconic pot with the giant cone in the middle has its own criteria too. First of all, it has to be made with bronze, which contains and delivers the right amount of heat for cooking. Second, the cone has to be big enough to hold plenty of charcoal for the entire cooking. It would be a big shame on the restaurant if the charcoal stopped burning before you finish your hot pot.
4. Taiwanese Hot Pot 台湾小火锅/台湾臭臭锅
If you don't always agree your friends or families' choice of food, or you can't get over that everyone's chopsticks are bathing in the same broth, then this might be a good choice for you because you get to have your very own pot!
Taiwanese hot pot is inspired by Japanese shabu shabu but with a whole lot more varieties and flavors. It can be extremely mild with just water and mushrooms, or it can be flaming hot.
The most iconic flavor though, is undoubtedly the stinky one. If that reminds you of stinky tofu, one of Taiwan's most famous street food, you are on the right path! Although, stinky tofu is not the only stink in this pot, fried pork intestine is another powerful player to add up the smell.
A classic Chinese saying describes the experience as "smells bad, tastes excellent" (闻得臭吃得香), I guess you will have to try it yourself to find out!
This is Boiling Point's concept store, which serves more modern options that are friendly to western audience. IT DOES NOT HAVE THE STINKY POT.
If you want to try the more traditional versions, including the stinky one, here are its other locations: https://www.bpgroupusa.com/OurLocations.html
5. Mongolian Hot Pot 蒙古火锅
Some say the hot pot is invented by the greatest conquerer Genghis Khan to feed his nomadic army during the war time, and also to take advantage of the high-quality muttons produced on the Mongolia land. Even Marco Polo described the delicious instant-boiled mutton in his journals.
Whether the Mongols turned their military helmets to boiling hot pots remains unknown, what we do know is that pasture land nurtures some ancient breeds of lamb with the tenderest meat that is perfect for hot pot.
The broth of Mongolian hot pot is neither as heavy and spicy as Chongqing or Chengdu hot pot, nor as plain and mild as Beijing hot pot, it's somewhere in the middle. You can find red peppers there, yes, you can also find a variety of herbs and spices like goji berry, cumin, fennel, clove, dates, etc.
Another gem of Mongolian cuisine is their barbecue skewers, made with the same premium mutton as the thin-sliced ones in your hotpot, but different cut and texture.
To best pair your Mongolian hot pot, make sure you order some Mongolian lamb skewers too.
6. Porridge Hot Pot 粥底火锅
Cantonese people love porridges, and they are very good at it too. A combination of porridge and hot pot might sound surprising, but it makes total sense for Cantonese cuisine.
Oftentimes, porridge has a stereotype as a flavorless rice soup; however, for Cantonese porridge (广东靓粥) that is not the case. To make the hot pot base, the chef first crashes the rice to brake each particle into 2-3 parts, then marinates the rice with salt and oil for about half an hour, before putting them into a big clay pot to boil and simmer until the milk-like rice juice bubbles from inside out. With some fresh ginger slices added at the end, the hot pot is ready for your to cook some seafood and mushrooms!
A tip for the porridge hot pot: add the green veggies at the end as they can dissolve and potentially ruin the porridge's pure flavor.
There are a few other types of hot pot including Chaoshan hot pot (潮汕火锅) features absolutely fresh beef and beef balls, Yunnan Dian style hot pot (云南滇味火锅) that contains a variety of mushrooms, as well as Sichuan Cow Tripe Hot pot (四川毛肚火锅).
Hot pot is said to be the Chinese communal dining in its most purest form. It brings friends and families closer to each other as everyone around one boiling pot of broth shares the experience of cooking and eating altogether.
Which one would you like to try for your next friends or family gathering?