– A culture note as well as a recipe
Happy (black) dragon year on the 4th day!!
The festival atmosphere seems calming down a bit already over here in Oxford, but back in China, it is still everywhere. My parents over there have been very busy with visiting relatives and friends, eating and cooking. :)) I still hear the fireworks every time I talk to them.
So let’s keep on talking about festival food. :) I always think food represents culture, just like Chinese dumplings. Here is another dish — one of the most representative of China —– hot-pot. So these couple of posts are not only just about cooking, but also about Chinese culture.
I always thought hot-pot is the English translation for this particular Chinese dish, or say a way of eating, but after seeing some other recipes online, which are also called hot-pot, I start thinking ‘hot-pot’ is probably not a very accurate term to describe this kind of Chinese food .
The original name in Chinese for this dish is ‘Huo Guo’, as ‘fire wok’. To describe it simply: it is all about eating while you are cooking.
In Chinese history, there is no clear record describing when this way of eating actually started, but it must have been more than 3000 years ago. When the emperors held the worship or memorial services, they used containers called ‘Ting’ to boil meat in. Some say that was the early ‘predecessor’ of ‘hot-pot’.
Over thousands of years, this way of eating gradually evolved, especially in places like Northwest China and Mongolia. On the fields, people tended to just sit around, set up a fire in the middle, and hang a pot over the fire to boil meat and vegetables for dinner. There are some similar ways of eating in different cultures, for example, French fondue, but instead of eating with cheese, chocolate, or meat, Chinese hot-pot can have as many different ingredients as you like.
Personally, I also think it is one of the healthiest ways of eating. Imagine, no frying, just simple contact with water, everything is super fresh, and for meat, after briefly boiled in the water, the ‘fat’ can be dissolved in the sauce, you only have the lean part… And after boiling so many things together, how rich and tasty the soup can be! Ha…
Ok, let’s talk about the ‘complicated’ part of ‘hot-pot’. First — the pot itself. Traditionally, coal is used as fire source, and the pot is made with copper. It is just like a fire wall, with the fire light up in the middle, and around is the place for water soup. My dad used to make hot-pot for us with this kind of pot, it did taste and smell different to the ‘modern’ pot. However, the problem is that unless you have very good ventilation in the room, eating time has to be shortened, because the burnt of coal can get you uncomfortable.
In many restaurants, they use ‘alcohol burners’ or ‘paraffin wax burner’, and in many places, for hygiene reasons, everyone can have their own small ‘pot’ and ‘burner’, instead of many people having to share a big one. But at home, at the beginning, there was electronic ‘hot-pot’, then nowadays, the induction fire hot-pot is the easiest, safest, and the the most popular one to have hot-pot at home. It is normally multi-purpose, but it comes with special function for ‘hot-pot’, very easy and quick to control the strength of the fire. It is the one that I like to use whenever I have crave for hot-pot. :))
What to put in the water to cook with? There is another traditional name for ‘Hot-pot’ in Chinese called ‘Shuan Yang Rou’, as to ‘rinse’ lamb. So you can imagine that the main thing was for lamb. But since it is just ‘rinse’ the lamb in the soup, the thickness of the lamb is very strict, it needs to be very very very thin. Along with lamb, many green leaves vegetables, tofu, fensi, mushrooms are all essential ingredients for cooking ‘hot-pot’.
However, different regions in China have different traditions for what to cook. For example, in the south, Chicken drums can be cooked in the hot-pot, where in north, it is rarely the case. In northeast China, beef has also become one of the ‘must-have’ ingredients for ‘hot-pot’, but which part of the beef is very critical — it needs to have a little bit fat on it. The imported New Zealand beef is very popular. Also some winter ingredients, for example, frozen tofu, pickled Chinese leaves are all popular ingredients on the table. But no matter what ingredients, they have got be very easy to cook, or say not taking too long to get it done.
When you have hot-pot, you can have beer or wine with it, but no need to have rice or any staple food, because although it seems that you only have green vegetables and lean meat, you can still get filled up very quickly. And normally if you want, you can finish with boiling some noodles and egg in the soup base.
When eating it, you normally pick up the food that you want to ‘eat’, and leave it in the soup while you still hold it, then very shortly, you can take it out and dip in your ‘dip sauce’, then have it. So making good hot-pot is also relying on the good soup base and dip.
Sorry, I think I got to stop now for today before you getting bored of me. :) Tomorrow I will talk about how to make the soup base, prepare the ingredients and dip. Night for now. :))