Chinese hot pot is a cooking process that involves cooking ingredients in hot stock right at the dinner table. Learn how to make Chinese hot pot at home with this easy-to-follow guide.
When the weather gets dark and chilly, there are few dishes that I crave more than Chinese hot pot. This fun interactive way of eating is a great way to spend time with friends and family while enjoying a tasty (and healthy!) meal.
I’ve eaten hot pot many times, but obviously, that doesn’t make me an expert on the dish. So I did my research, and consulted my Chinese friends, so I could create a guide that is accurate and respectful.
To be extra sure that I was on the right track, I reached out to my friend Mary over at Mary’s Happy Belly to help me create this guide that anyone can use to make Chinese hot pot at home.
Once you get the right equipment (which I’ll talk about later), and select your ingredients, you’ll be cooking in no time!
Keep reading this detailed guide to help you make Chinese hot pot at home.
What is Chinese Hot Pot?
Chinese hot pot is both a cooking process and an experience. This communal dish might look like soup from the photos, but it’s really closer to fondue than soup when you think about it.
To enjoy hot pot, a pot of hot broth gets placed on a heating element right at the table. Then everyone takes turns cooking the ingredients.
The cooked ingredients are dipped in a flavourful sauce (or sauces), and the remaining broth is often enjoyed as well.
This interactive way of eating is popular all across Asia, and each region seems to have its own version of the dish.
Many hot pot dishes feature thinly sliced meat, vegetables and noodles, but where you really see the regional flavour differences is in the broth and dipping sauces.
Of course, there are many many versions of hot pot, and every family will put their own spin on the dish, but here are some general flavour variations from different areas.
Japanese hot pot, called Shabu Shabu, has ingredients that are cooked in a kombu broth and then dipped in ponzu sauce. In Thailand, there’s a version called Jim Jum, which has a flavourful broth made with lemongrass, lime leaves, galangal and fish sauce (similar to Tom Yum soup), and a spicy dipping sauce.
Mongolian hot pot is also known for having a flavourful broth, made with goji berries, jujubes (not the candy!), black cardamom and herbs. Actually, the first time I experienced hot pot was at a Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot restaurant. This huge chain restaurant has locations across China, Japan, Canada and the United States, and while I have no idea how authentic they are, they do make really tasty broth!
Chinese hot pot is called 火锅 (“huo guo” in Mandarin, “fo wo” in Cantonese), and is sometimes casually referred to as Da Been Low in Cantonese . The version of Chinese hot pot in this post has been influenced by my experiences with Mongolian hot pot, a cooking lesson with Mary from Mary’s Happy Belly (see the video at the top of this post!), and conversations that I’ve had with Mandy about how her family (who are from Hong Kong) makes hot pot at home.
A quick note that this dish is not at all like Caribbean hot pot, though. That is something else entirely.
How Do You Eat Chinese Hot Pot?
The first time I had hot pot was at a restaurant, and I had no idea what I was doing.
I had my own mini pot of broth and I thought that I was making soup. So I threw all of the ingredients in, simmered it, scooped it out (broth and all) and ate it. It was tasty, but that’s the proper way to enjoy this meal.
Step 1: Simmer the Broth
What you’re actually supposed to do is bring the broth up to a simmer on its own. You can add things like spices, herbs, garlic, spring onions, ginger for flavour, but that’s it.
Step 2: Add Ingredients to the Hot Broth
Once your broth is up to a simmer, it’s time to cook!
If you’ve got your own mini pot (which is not traditional, but is offered at some restaurants) you can just add what you want to eat, cook it, fish it out and eat it. However, you’re not likely to make hot pot this way at home.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t have space on my dining room table for more than one burner!
When you’re sharing a large pot, you have to be considerate of the other people you’re eating with. Since everyone cooks their food together (see the etiquette tips below!), it’s important to either agree to share what’s in the pot, or keep track of what you put in.
The easiest way to keep track of your ingredients is to either hold each item in with a clean pair of chopsticks, or add the items to a small metal strainer and lower it into the broth.
When my friend Mandy and I visited Mary to shoot the video for this post, we all shared what went into the pot.
Mary took the lead on cooking and added the noodles and greens (which we all shared) and then we took turns cooking our meat, seafood, mushrooms etc. In the end, things got lost in the pot (which happens) and we just divided up what was left.
The same thing happened when Mandy came over to shoot the photos for this post, and we had hot pot with the rest of my family. Mandy and I took lead on cooking, and we all shared most of what went into the pot, with everyone cooking their own meat and small vegetables.
Step 3: Remove Cooked Ingredients from the Broth
It’s important to make sure that your ingredients are cooked properly before you remove them. While some items, like beef, can be eaten rare, you wouldn’t want to bite into a half-cooked shrimp!
Of course you also don’t want to overcook your food either, so be sure to keep an eye on how things are cooking in the broth. As your ingredients become cooked, you remove them from the broth and add them to your bowl.
Step 4: Get Dipping!
Once you have what you want to eat in your bowl, you can either add in your dipping sauce and eat everything together, or dip each item into your sauce individually.
This part is a personal preference thing – it doesn’t really matter how you do it.
Can You Drink the Broth?
Yes, you can drink the broth. However, there are a couple of things to keep in mind.
First, if you’re starting with water and a flavouring mix as your broth, or are using a weak broth, it’s not going to be very tasty at the beginning of the cooking process. You will want to wait until you’ve cooked some of your ingredients before sipping the broth, so it has time to take on some flavour.
This is also why some people choose to wait until closer to the end of the meal to add their noodles in (so they can absorb the flavourful stock).
Some people don’t eat the broth at all until the end of the meal, but I’ve found that the broth becomes too fatty by then. As you cook your meat, the fats will begin to melt into the liquid, which can be tasty… but too much of that leaves a greasy film on your tongue.
Again, this is a personal preference thing that you’ll figure out as you cook.
Chinese Hot Pot Etiquette
When you’re having hot pot with your family, you can be a bit more relaxed, but you’ll definitely want to stick to these guidelines if you’re sharing hot pot with friends!
- If you’re cooking two types of broth (plain and spicy) at the same time, do not cross dunk your ingredients. This keeps the flavours of each broth from becoming contaminated with the other.
- Use the courtesy chopsticks to cook your food, not the ones that have been in your mouth.
- Eat what you’ve added to the pot, unless you’ve agreed to share (so one person adds in noodles for everyone, for example)
- If you’re not sure if someone else added an ingredient to the pot, ask before eating it. Don’t be that person who eats someone else’s perfectly cooked scallop!
What Equipment Do You Need to Make Chinese Hot Pot?
Chinese hot pot doesn’t have to be complicated, but you do need a few key pieces of equipment to make this successfully.
While it might be tempting to make this dish on your normal stovetop, it just won’t work properly. Trust me, I’ve tried that! Here’s what you’re going to need.
You know how fondue only works if you’re cooking at the table? The same goes for hot pot. You need to have a pot of broth simmering in the middle of the table throughout the entire meal, which means you’re going to need a portable source of heat.
Portable butane burners are a popular choice, as they are powerful and it’s easy to control the heat settings on them. These can be dangerous though, and many models specifically say they are for outdoor use only (they are generally sold as camping stoves). If you are going to use one indoors, you should consider opening a window to let in some fresh air. Another point to consider is that you will need to replace the butane canister occasionally, as you use it up.
A safer option is use to an electric countertop burner, as these are made for indoor use and are easier to clean too. I haven’t used one of these myself, but they look like a nice option.
Another safe option is an induction cooktop, which is what I have at home. These are also safe for indoor use, and are easy to wipe clean. They are also energy efficient and often have a wide range of temperature settings. The downside of an induction cooktop is that the pot has to be magnetic (that’s how induction cooktops work). So while most metal pans will be able to conduct heat, copper-bottom and ceramic pots will not work on this cooktop. They can also get really hot really fast, so you need to learn what setting works best for this dish.
If you’ve ever been to a hot pot restaurant, you’ve probably seen the stainless steel pots that have a divider down the middle. These pots are great because you can put regular broth on one side and spicy broth on the other. Buying a single pot like this makes sense if you already have a burner, and it’s easy to store.
Another option is an electric hot pot. This device has two pieces – a burner and a pot. This is handy if you don’t already have a portable burner, but the downside is that you can only use this burner with this specific pot. Also, the unit it larger, making it harder to store when you’re not using it.
You can also find hot pots that come with lids and accessories, which may be appealing to you.
I just use a regular metal pot with a lid when I make hot pot at home, but my pot is a bit too deep so it can be hard to find the ingredients in there. A shallow pot is better, because not only can you keep track of what’s cooking, but it’s easier to fish out the items too.
If you want to keep things simple, you can just use chopsticks to cook and eat with. However, there are a few other tools that can make your hot pot experience a bit easier. For example, small tongs can be quite handy. You will also need small bowls for your dipping sauce, spoons, and larger bowls to eat from.
Each person should have their own pair of chopsticks to eat with. There should also be courtesy chopsticks which everyone can use to add the ingredients in the pot. This way, no chopsticks are going from someone’s mouth to the pot and vice versa.
Shallow metal nets are handy for removing cooked items from the broth. These are tricky to cook with, because the food tends to fall out of them once you place them in the water. Deeper nets are easier to cook with, and some of them even have a hook so you can attach it to the pot.
What Ingredients do You Need for Chinese Hot Pot?
Chinese Hot Pot can range from an inexpensive way to use up leftovers to an expensive meal fit for entertaining. It all depends on the ingredients that you choose to add to your pot.
Obviously, meats and seafoods are going to be your most expensive ingredients, but if you have to buy all of the sauces you want too, your first bill can get pricy fast! Think about the flavours that you enjoy and build up a reasonable grocery list from there.
Below are some options for ingredients that you can add. You can add way more items, but these are some basics that you might enjoy.
The first most important ingredient for Chinese hot pot is the broth. You can use plain water and just add some flavouring to it, like this soup base from the restaurant chain I mentioned earlier. Also, large Asian groceries like Nations and T&T sell seasoning packets and soup base seasonings that you can add to water too. Otherwise, chicken stock seems to be the popular choice for the broth. Homemade is great, but of course you can use your favourite store-bought brand too.
The Dipping Sauce
The dipping sauce for Chinese hot pot should be made with soy sauce. You could use soy sauce on its own, but it’s extra tasty if you mix other ingredients into it. Mary makes a delicious dipping sauce with about a 1/3 cup of soy sauce, 1 sautéed finely diced shallot, a drizzle of sesame oil, and a little bit of sugar. She thins the mixture down with water, and adds lemon juice if it’s a bit too salty.
There are lots of condiments and flavourings that you can add to your dipping sauce too:
- Chinese XO sauce
- Sambal oelek (made from chili peppers)
- Preserved bean curd
- Chinese sake BBQ sauce
- Black sesame paste
- Sesame Oil
- Minced garlic
- Finely chopped green onions
- Watercress (which needs to be washed very well, as it can have small bugs hidden in the leaves)
- Gai lan (Chinese broccoli)
- Snow pea shoots
- Cremini or button mushrooms
- Enoki mushrooms
- Shiitake mushrooms
- Savoy cabbage
- Baby bok choy
- Sweet Potato
- Kabocha Squash
- Beef (store-bought thin rolled slices)
- Pork slices (store-bought thin rolled slices)
- Lamb slices (store-bought thin rolled slices)
- Rib-eye steak (thinly cut, marinated in soy sauce, ginger and corn starch)
- Asian meatballs (pork or beef mixed with cornstarch and seasonings, found at Asian markets)
The meats should all be thinly sliced so they can cook quickly. Many Asian groceries (and even Real Canadian Superstore) sell rolled up slices of meat specifically for hot pot. Keep these items cold in the fridge until ready to cook.
I do not recommend using raw chicken in hot pot, as it is dangerous to consume chicken that is not fully cooked, and there’s a risk of cross contamination with other items.
- Shrimp (can leave the shell on if desired)
- Squid (pre-cut rings would work well)
- Shrimp Balls (Shrimp mixed with cornstarch and seasonings, found at Asian markets)
All fish and seafood should be cleaned, prepped and cooked from raw. Keep these items cold in the fridge until ready to cook.
- Firm Tofu
- Tofu Puffs
- Noodles (almost any Asian noodle works well, including glass noodles, rice noodles, Udon noodles etc.)
- Wontons (pre-cooked)
- Dumplings (pre-cooked)
Chinese Hot Pot
For the Dipping Sauce:
For the Broth:
- 8 cups chicken stock , (you may need more or less depending on the size of your pot)
- 2 cloves garlic , peeled
- 1 piece ginger , peeled and sliced thinly (about 1/2 inch piece)
- 1 sprig green onion , roughly chopped into large pieces
- 1 bunch watercress , washed thoroughly in multiple changes of water
- 1 package enoki mushrooms , rinsed
- 1 package cremini mushrooms , cleaned and sliced
- 1 package beef , thinly sliced
- 1 package lamb , thinly sliced
- 1 package shrimp , shell on if desired
- 1 package wontons , frozen, cooked ahead of time
- 1 package Udon noodles , cooked ahead of time
- Chinese XO sauce , with dried shrimp and scallops
- Chinese BBQ sauce
- Sambal Oelek , or other hot sauce
- Preserved bean curd , optional (very strong flavour!)
Make the Dipping Sauce:
- Sauté the diced shallot in a small skillet with a little bit of oil. Cook until softened and fragrant.
- Add the sautéed shallot to a small bowl, and combine with the other dipping sauce ingredients. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Set aside for later.
Prepare Other Ingredients:
- Clean all vegetables properly, especially the watercress.
- Slice the cremini mushrooms. Arrange on a platter with the other vegetables, and set on the table.
- Cook the wontons and noodles, being careful not to overcook them. Set these items on a platter on the table.
- Take meat and shrimp out of the fridge. Arrange these items on a platter, and set on the table, along with the condiments.
Make the Broth:
- Place burner in the middle of your table. You may wish to put down a plastic cloth first, to protect your table from splashes.
- Place pot on the burner, and fill it about 3/4 full of stock. Add the rest of the broth ingredients, and bring to a simmer.
Finish setting the table:
- Provide small bowls and spoons for the sauce and condiments, as well as larger bowls to eat out of.
- Place chopsticks for each person, plus an extra pair or two for cooking. If using tongs and/or metal nets, place these on small plates or sauces (to avoid putting wet utensils on your table).
- Once the brother is simmering, take turns adding ingredients into the broth. Allow all raw items to cook fully before removing and adding to your bowl. Dip cooked ingredients into dipping sauce, or top with condiments are desired.
- Provide chopsticks (or forks) for everyone to eat with, but also have an extra pair for cooking.
- Cover your table with a plastic tablecloth to protect it from spills and stains.
- Follow the safety instructions for your portable burner.
- Keep meats, fish and seafood cold in the fridge until you’re ready to eat.
- Discard any meats, fish or seafood that has been sitting out at room temperature.
- Also discard any decanted sauces or condiments.
- Leftover vegetables should be refrigerated promptly.
- Turn the heat off on the burner and allow to cool. Discard any remaining stock from the pot once everyone is done eating.
- Wipe down the (cooled!) burner and table.
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Thank you to Mary from Mary’s Happy Belly for collaborating on the video, and for teaching me how to make your version of hot pot!
Thanks to Mandy for filming every scene that I’m in, and assisting with the photo shoot too!
Thanks to Keith for giving me the Chinese name for hot pot ( 火锅 (“huo guo” in Mandarin, “fo wo” in Cantonese)!