Hot Pot: A Crash Course

Article By Alex Zheng

When someone mentions “hotpot”, many are likely to think of the fiery, oily cauldrons of Chongqing. Unfortunately for many spice-averse expats, this is the version that the Xi’anese have adopted as their own. The pain of swallowing liquid fire for hours followed by more hours of indigestion is enough to turn a lot of foreigners off of hotpot for good. If you’re one of those people, you should know that you’re missing out. From the spicy ragus of Korea and the savory stews of Japan, to the curry broths of Malaysia, hotpot is ubiquitous in Asia. If you thought that your only hotpot options in Xi’an were blood-red mala magma floes, you thought wrong.

The easiest hotpot to eat is Japanese nabe, as the basic ingredients are the most familiar to those raised in the West, such as sliced beef, cabbage, mushrooms and tofu. If you want to get fancy, you can also have fresh shrimp, fishcake and vermicelli noodles. This is the hotpot where you don’t have to add the ingredients yourself. It’s served to you, already boiling, in a thick, cast-iron pot. Simply dig in and start eating. A great, but expensive, place to get nabe is Intimitable Sushi (旺角创意餐厅) located at the intersection of Keji 5th Road and Tangyan Lu in Gaoxin. Other places you can also try are Mongkok Sushi located in Vivo City or Robatayake Sake Bar (青都里渔乐酒场) in Yiyang International (益洋国际). Price 85-100 RMB per pot.

If you like Japanese nabe then you can move onto Korean pork bone hotpot, gamjatang. Many of you have already eaten this without even knowing it. When you order any food in a Korean restaurant the proprietor often serves you a bowl of plain soup topped with some scallions. Now, imagine that bowl of soup is a huge pot filled with pork ribs and potatoes. That is the quintessential gamjatang. Most people that have eaten this dish assume that it is spicy, but the pepper paste is supposed to be served on the side and you regulate how spicy you want it. I have eaten every Korean pork bone soup in Xi’an and there is only one restaurant worth eating at. Go to Hongjiajigutang (洪家脊骨汤) in Greenland City in Gaoxin (绿地世纪城). Price 120 RMB per pot + 30 RMB for extra meat.

Equally as compelling as Korean pork bone soup is Cantonese fishbone hotpot. If you’ve ever had a bowl of wonton noodle soup during your college years, you’ll recognize this broth in a heartbeat. Despite the name, there is no fishiness to this dish at all. This is more of a conventional hotpot style. The emphasis is on preserving the delicate flavor of the broth, so those that eat fishbone hotpot often usually order fish, shrimp, leafy vegetables, golden needle mushrooms, soft tofu and rice noodles. Seafood soy sauce (not pure soy sauce), mixed with minced garlic and spring onions, is the best dipping sauce for this type of hotpot. The best place to get fishbone hotpot is Freshway (鲜上鲜). There are a bunch of them located in Xi’an and all in really convenient places.

Here is a recommended ordering list to show the server:

Standard fish broth  普通鱼锅
Fresh fish slices  鱼片
Fresh prawns  鲜虾
Crown daisies  茼蒿
Winter melon  冬瓜
Fish wonton  鱼肉抄手
Golden needle mushrooms  金针菇
Soft tofu  鲜豆腐
Vermicelli rice noodle  米粉

Now, if you want a plain soup without the richness of a fishbone broth then you want the original hotpot. Conceived on the plains of Mongolia and perfected in northern China, Beijing hotpot has a plain, savory broth meant to be enriched by the ingredients you add to it. The Beijing-style pots resemble a witch hat with hot coals in the middle and broth on the brim. This hotpot is all about the beef and lamb, sliced so thin that the meat can cook in seconds. You can add other vegetables and mushrooms but the purpose of this hotpot is really to make a fatty beef and lamb soup in which you can cook noodles at the end and make yourself a hearty noodle stew. The traditional dipping sauce is sesame paste mixed with black beans. There are literally a million of these hotpot places in the city but my personal favorite is Faigo Hotpot (小辉哥火锅) which is a Beijing chain making its mark in Xi’an. You can find it at Gemdale Plaza (金地广场). Price 80 RMB per person.

Here is a recommended ordering list to show the server:

Standard broth  白汤锅
Sliced beef  肥牛肉片
Marinated beef  嫩牛肉
Sliced lamb  羊肉片
Napa cabbage  白菜
Shiitake mushrooms  香菇
Hand-pulled noodles  手工面

Last, there is Chongqing hotpot. Made from dried chili peppers, beef fat and about 30 other ingredients, it has the ability to sear your whole digestive system and leave it suffering for days. If you’re the adventurous type then this is the best hotpot for you. The strong flavor of the broth means you’ll be ordering things like dumplings, bamboo, tofu skin, pancakes, beef tripe, black pudding, wood-ear fungus, sweet potato noodles and beef balls. This is not a fancy hotpot for cooking slices of goldfish or wagyu beef. You’ll need a sesame oil dipping sauce and some soy milk (维怡) to coat your stomach from the heat of the chili peppers. The best place in the city for sheer spiciness and deliciousness is Xiaoyu Hotpot (重庆喻未晓宇火锅) located on Fen Xiang Street just a hop and a skip away from the bars on Defu Xiang Bar Street. Another great one is Malashangxi (麻辣尚席) right beside the Tang Paradise (大唐芙蓉园). Price is 80-100 RMB per person.

Here is a recommended ordering list to show the server:

Spicy broth + non-spicy broth  鸳鸯锅
Bamboo slices  青笋
Beef tripe  千层肚
Beef balls  牛肉丸
Duck blood  鸭血
Wood-ear fungus  木耳
Tofu skin  豆腐皮
Pancakes  葱油饼
Pastry twists  麻花
Sweet potato noodles  宽粉
Potato slices  土豆片

The varieties of Asian hotpot are endless, as I haven’t even mentioned shabu shabu (no authentic places in Xi’an), Vietnamese fish hotpot (doesn’t exist in Xi’an), and a million other Chinese styles of hotpot but these are definitely the ones you want to try out if you live in this city.