Hot pot, less commonly Chinese fondue or steamboat, refers to several East Asian varieties of stew, consisting of a simmering metal pot of stock at the center of the dining table. While the hot pot is kept simmering, ingredients are placed into the pot and are cooked at the table. Typical hot pot dishes include thinly sliced meat, leafy vegetables, mushrooms, wontons, egg dumplings, and seafood. The cooked food is usually eaten with a dipping sauce. In many areas, hot pot meals are often eaten in the winter.
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Some have claimed that the Asian hot pot tradition had its origins in the region of Mongolia, even before the rise of the Mongols, although there is little historical evidence to support this, including the fact that hot pot is not a part of Mongolian cuisine but rather Chinese cuisine. Another more likely claim of origin is from near the Sichuan province of China, more specifically - the Ba region surrounding the municipality of Chongqing. In any event, the practice of hot pot spread to other parts of Asia through Chinese influence.
The Mongolian hot pot tradition originated from northern nomadic tribes. The Mongolian version of the steaming feast has been called the father of all Chinese hot pot. The Chinese hot pot boasts a history of more than 1000 years. Both the preparation method and the required equipment are unknown in the cuisine of Mongolia of today. Due to the complexity and specialization of the utensils and the method of eating it, hot pot cooking is much better suited to a sedentary culture. A nomadic household will avoid such highly specialized tools, to save volume and weight during migration.
Hot pot cooking seems to have spread to northern China during the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-906). In time, regional variations developed with different ingredients such as seafood. By the Qing Dynasty, the hot pot became popular throughout most of China. Today in many modern homes, particularly in the big cities, the traditional coal-heated steamboat or hot pot has been replaced by electric or gas versions.
Because steamboat and hot pot styles change so much from region to region, many different ingredients are used.
Frozen meat is sliced deli-thin to prepare it for hot pot cooking. Slicing frozen meat this way causes it to roll up during cooking, and it is often presented as such. Meats used include lamb, beef, chicken, and others. The cooking pot is often sunk into the table and fueled by propane, or alternatively is above the table and fueled by a portable butane gas stove or hot coals. Meat or vegetables are loaded individually into the hot cooking broth by chopsticks, and cooking time is brief. Meat often only takes 15 to 30 seconds to cook.
There are often disagreements between different styles of hot pot enthusiasts. Some like to place items into the hot pot at a relaxed, leisurely pace, enjoying the cooking process, while others prefer to throw everything in at once and wait for the hotpot to return to a boil.