If you’ve been in China for any length of time, this one warrants little to no explanation, but it’s worth mentioning because it’s so easy and very well-received by our Chinese friends of course!Hot pot nights have been a great thing to do with students for several reasons.
First of all, they’re easy to host because all you need to say is basically, “Hey guys, today we’re going to have hot pot (火锅),” and everyone knows what to do and how to eat it.
Another reason is that the biggest job for this meal is washing vegetables, and washing vegetables is a great activity to do with friends who want to help prepare. When we make western food, it can be a little tricky to direct between 5 and 10 sets of hands who are eager to help with prep work, but with hot pot, I just direct them toward a pile of meats and veggies and the washing begins! It’s a great way to spend time with friends, cleaning veggies and chatting at the same time.
And finally, I like these nights because it’s a fun way to connect with my students’ heart culture. They love western food, but when they sit down around our hot pot with our little space heater under the table warming our feet, they say things like, “Now we’re really like a family,” and I think they have a warm, close-to-home feeling in their hearts like the one Austin and I have when we see a pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving or a picnic spread on the Fourth of July… and that’s a feeling worth giving.
Some of the things we most enjoy putting out when we eat hotpot with friends:
- several varieties of mushrooms
- tofu balls
- meatballs (We buy hotpot style meatballs in the open market.)
- rolls of sliced lamb or beef (available in most bigger supermarkets during winter months)
- sliced pork or beef (marinated beforehand for extra flavor)
- lots and lots of green, leafy vegetables
- lotus root
- small wedges of corn on the cob
- sweet potato noodles (or any noodles, sold in open markets. Soak in water for 20-30 minutes before putting them out to be boiled in the hotpot broth.)
There are several varieties of ready-to-go hotpot broth flavoring packets available in markets and supermarkets. I’d like to figure out how to make my own really good broth some day, but for now I stick with the packets. I just add a packet (or 2 depending on packet size and flavor strength) to a pot of water and stir until evenly mixed.
We cook up a big pot of rice to go with and make sure to have heaping bowls of mini oranges for “dessert.”
Another great idea for added fun and flavor is to have a little bar set up with different oils, soy sauce, sesame paste, hot pepper sauces, etc. for guests to make their own dipping sauces.