Legend has it that during China’s Qing dynasty (1636 to 1912), the powerful Qianlong emperor enjoyed eating hot pot: an Asian communal meal prepared with a bubbling pot of soup stock wherein diners can cook a variety of meats and vegetables—consider it a fondue counterpart.
A few centuries later in present-day Vancouver, there’s plenty of evidence that the love for Chinese hot pot expanded beyond Asia. From hot-pot joints established a long time ago (Landmark Hot Pot and Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot) to newly arrived Chinese hot-pot chains (Haidilao and Dolar Shop), there’s definitely no shortage of this type of cuisine in the city.
For most hot-pot lovers, this type of meal is usually prepared in the comfort of their own homes. It’s fairly easy to purchase all the ingredients you need at your local Asian grocery market, and hot-potting under your own roof means you can enjoy your dinner without the nuisance of table time limits when eating out.
But why, exactly, is this type of fare increasingly popular among locals? As a seasoned hot-pot consumer, I can explain why hot pot is a cult-favourite dining option. To start, it should be understood that no one really eats hot pot alone. Indeed, newer spots like Dolar Shop offer each guest their own mini pot, but it’s almost guaranteed they aren’t dining by themselves at the table.
Hot pot is a communal meal for good reason: it gives people the chance to connect and interact with each other while enjoying tasty food. It’s not rare to see people bond over hot pot, which, when enjoyed at a leisurely pace, can take three or four hours. It’s also entertaining: in today’s culinary world, where customers enjoy watching chefs cook both in real life and on reality TV, the prospect of cooking your own food alongside friends or family members can be intriguing.
In my opinion, though, the best reason why hot-potting is such a well-loved dining experience is its food variety: at any given hot-pot gathering, it’s common to see more than a dozen dishes ready to be cooked in the simmering pot at the centre of the table. Popular hot-pot items include thinly sliced fatty beef and lamb, fish balls, fresh shrimp and oysters, soft tofu, lettuce, radish, and noodles. It’s also important to have the right mixture of condiments in which to dip your cooked food; these can include soy sauce, hoisin sauce, sesame butter, chili oil, XO sauce, cilantro, and more.
If you ever get asked to have hot pot, take our advice and accept the invitation. It’s a one-of-a-kind dining experience that’s been around for ages, which is a testament to its popularity. And besides all of the above reasons to partake, it comes down to a simple factor: it’s delicious. At the end of the day, eating hot pot means indulging in comfort food, and that should satisfy the bellies of even the pickiest eaters.