Thursday, December 07, 2006

Winter is here!

Sorry to have been out of the posting loop for so long. I'm sure quite a few of you have forgotten about me (and the Little Maple Project, which has been untouched for a couple of months). I could give the usual blurb about being too busy, being in grad school, and writing up a storm for a text game (it's harder than it sounds), but I won't bother... after all, it's irrelevant.

But the weather has already turned, and this means that I get to expound on the one thing that makes me VERY happy about winter: HOT POT!

Wikipedia's entry about hot pot

So, as you've probably found out (if you went to the link), hot pot is a literal translation of what the Chinese is: "Huo3 Guo1" The first character is "fire" and the second... "pot" (the kind you cook with). For my region, it's a traditional winter comfort food.

Let me describe a modern hot pot experience (at home, as opposed to a restaurant):

1. I take the hot pot out of storage. Older versions of the hot pot was essentially nothing more than an electric cookpot, but my current version comes in two different parts - one, a dutch-oven lookalike, but with a slot in the middle and slightly less wide at the bottom, and two, a modern version of the Coleman outdoor range.

2. I go out and buy LOTS of food - eggs, thinly sliced meat (whatever kind I feel like, and my Chinese grocery store has it in the frozen food section... if you're special you can also find chicken), a couple of different varieties of processed fish balls, some processed meatballs, frozen shrimp (deveined if possible), a bunch of different types of vegetables - napa cabbage, spinach, pea sprouts, tofu, and a bunch more different yummmmmy foods that would go into a clear broth. Oh yeah, and since I'm lame, I buy chicken broth as well instead of making my own.

3. Devein the shrimp, rinse and cut all vegetables. Move meat to plates. Set out a small Chinese bowl, a wire net per person, chopsticks, hot sauces of various types (particularly one that's called XO).

4. People come over! Yay!

5. Put the broth on the range to boil, and once it's done, set it on the campfire stove and start the fire going. The pot boils or simmers the entire time.

6. All raw foods are set on the table.

7. People make their sauces in their own little bowls. I don't handle spice very well (and I'm not kosher), so I just beat a raw egg into my bowl. 30 years later, people are all scared of salmonella, but for hot pot I just run the risk, because I think it's better that way. Other people, like my dad, just take the yolk and add seasonings to it. And yet other people (who are freaked out about the raw egg), just make a sauce out of soy sauce and whatever else they have on the table. So it's really personalized, depending on your taste.

8. People will choose what meat they want and stick it into their little nets and set it into the communal pot. Once it's cooked, they take it out and plop it into their bowls and eat. There are some things that are never put into the soup - one's chopsticks never go into the soup, for instance - and there are other things that take longer to cook that have to be put in a bunch at a time to cook. This means that there are often things floating around in the soup that are just up for grabs whenever they're ready.

9. As dinner progresses, the soup gets richer and richer, as the flavors of each food get added to the stock.

10. At the end, everyone can drink a bowl of the soup. I normally add some really hot soup to what's left of my egg at the end and make basically an egg flower soup. My parents will cook some ramen (the rare time that I, the health nut, will eat ramen noodles) at the end and serve that as a noodle soup.

Sometimes this meal is combined with a "tie3-ban3" (it's pronounced tyeh2-ban3), like in that photo from Wikipedia, where you actually pan-fry some of the food, but it's a little distracting that way.

For myself, I have very fond memories of times with family. Hot pot is always a communal experience - it's very boring by yourself, because you end up with pretty much hot water at the end, and no change in flavor from the beginning to the end. So this has turned into a Christmas tradition for my family. Some people have goose, some people have turkey, others have ham... you guys keep that stuff, I'll have my hot pot. :)


Sam said...

YUM!!! Can I come too?! No one in our adoption travel group would order hot pot with me! Even our guide wasn't interested. Bummed me out! Yours sounds great!!!!


Doris & Dan Clark said...

Sounds nummy! Like asian fondue.

Keep smilin!

wzgirl said...

Mmmm! I LOVE fish balls!

Kathy and Joel said...

Interesting...I'm becoming so much more culinar-ily (?) informed. :)