The northeast may have survived Juno, but now we’re in a cold snap and there’s plenty of winter to go. What’s a girl to do in these dire circumstances of deciding between braving the outside world and staying inside for yet more soup?
How about some hot pot?
A traditional Chinese experience, hot pot is all about staying warm — and enjoying it — while huddled around a fire with family and friends. A large pot of soup is placed on top of a burner in the middle of the table and kept simmering while ingredients are placed into the pot and cooked (and eaten!) throughout the meal. Most popular during cold weather, some people enjoy it all year round (including the summer) just to sweat things out! So whenever you prefer to get your hot pot on, here’s the step-by-step guide to doing it right.
Friends! Family! All by your lonesome! It really doesn’t matter.
Hot pot is wonderfully DIY— because you control the ingredients, you can cater it to your own personal tastes. Vegetarian? No problem. Just add some tofu for protein. Carbo-loading? Add in some noodles. Going carb-free? Just leave those starches out. Meat lover? Skip the veggies!
Many people have it for dinner, but don’t underestimate the power of a lunchtime hot pot (though it has been known to cause the Sleepies..). Because it’s so easy to keep going, you end up eating more than you think, so you have plenty of time to digest before bed time. Also, since it keeps you so warm, why not have it earlier in the day? Definitely reserve hot pot for a time when you can eat slowly and enjoy.
There are not quite as many hot pot places in NYC as there are, say, dim sum places. The good news is that they’re usually all-you-can-eat. One favorite is Happy Lucky Restaurant in Manhattan’s Chinatown. At $19.95 per person, this place has great value and very friendly staff (even by Western standards).
Other places on the “to-do list” include: Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot in Flushing and 99 Favor Taste in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Some interesting tidbits to note: Little Sheep is a world-famous brand that sells hot pot soup bases for home use, while 99 Favor Taste also offers a BBQ buffet.
The How: At a Restaurant
1. Choose your soup base.
Just choose whatever you feel like. Happy Lucky has a great selection, guaranteed to suit your mood. The most common are the Sichuan spicy and the Chinese herbal. The Chinese herbal soup base is not spicy and contains herbs that are considered health-promoting in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Half spicy and half herbal soup base
2. Choose your ingredients.
The Happy Lucky staff will give you a sheet of paper and a pencil, on which you mark how many servings of each ingredient you would like. Just choose whatever sounds good. From experience: It’s a good idea to start off with one serving of each ingredient that you are interested in and then ask for extras. No restaurant takes kindly to wasted ingredients, so be mindful.
Some must-try ingredients to start with:
- Protein: Fatty beef slices (much more tender than regular beef slices), lamb slices, silky tofu, fried tofu, quail eggs
- Veggies: Napa cabbage, daikon radish, lotus root
- Starches: Taro root, sweet potato, glass noodles
- Mushrooms: Enoki mushrooms
Veggies & etc
3. Mix your sauce
Happy Lucky has a sauce station where you can combine all sorts of different sauces for your enjoyment, including soy sauce, spicy sauce, garlic, char siu sauce, garlic sauce, sweet and sour…you name it. Combine together whatever flavors you feel like eating, since apart from the flavor of the soup and the ingredients themselves, there really won’t be any other flavors in your meal.
4. Cook your ingredients
Once the pot is boiling, you can start adding ingredients! If you ordered noodles, save those for last, when the soup base has become flavorful due to the ingredients that have been cooked. Typically, it’s good to put in all of my veggies, starches (sans noodles), mushrooms, and protein (sans meat slices) in the initial batch because those ingredients can (or need to) be cooked for a long time while adding additional flavor to the soup.
After the soup boils again, you can start putting in the meat! If the meat is sliced correctly, it shouldn’t need much cooking — most of the time, it’s a dip and eat.
Once your ingredients are cooked, eat! Have it with your sauce mix, have it plain, anything goes!
6. Cook some more & repeat
Continue adding ingredients to the pot for cooking and eating until you are full.
Pretty simple, no?
But wait — it gets better!
You can do this at home!
The How: At Home
All you really need to do to enjoy hot pot at home is to get the pot, soup base, and ingredients. For the pot, you can use something as simple as a rice cooker or go all out with one of those kerosene portable camp stoves. For a soup base, you can buy chicken broth from the store, for example, or start from scratch with some water, garlic, salt, and herbs. As for ingredients, just grab whatever you feel like! The only tool that you need is a small strainer so you can scoop your cooked food out of the pot easily and safely.
Give this a shot this weekend and send us your action shots!
Happy Lucky Restaurant
96 Bowery Street
New York, NY 10013
Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot
136-59 37th Avenue
Flushing, NY 11354
99 Favor Taste
285 Grand St
New York, NY 10002