Travel in Taiwan Dining

The Chinese Hot Pot

By Conrad Oust Photos by Sung Chih-hsiung


Diners enjoy Thai Hot Pot

In the winter season, when chilly temperatures and frigid winds prevail over the land, people like to eat food that instantly warms their bodies and lifts their spirits. For that, the hot pot is a delicious and hearty choice. Families or groups of friends sit around a table and eat from a steaming pot in the middle, cooking and drinking and chatting. Eating hot pot is not a passive activity: diners must select morsels of prepared raw food from plates scattered around the table, place them in the pot, wait for them to cook, fish them out of the soup, dip them in the preferred sauce, and then eat them hot, fresh, and tender. They can also ladle up the broth from the pot and drink it.


Hong Kong Hot Pot

While the cooking is in progress there's some waiting, so the diners may sip a little hard liquor. A togetherness ensues, which soothes their hearts. Weilu--to 'circle' a hot pot--has a deep and profound meaning to the Chinese, who are gregarious and strongly emphasize family and clan. It is cozy, yet informal. It's not a banquet, yet it can take as much time as one. It uses a single pot, yet is varied in ingredients, sauces, and cooking styles.


Korea Stone Hot Pot (Photo by Chen Chih-wei)

The hot pot (huokuo) has a long history in China. It originated in the north, where people have to fend off the chill early in the year. It spread to the south during the Tang dynasty (A.D. 618-906). Later, northern nomads who settled in China enhanced the pot with beef and mutton, and southerners did the same with seafood. In the Ching dynasty, the hot pot became popular throughout the whole area of China.

The pot itself is usually ceramic or metal. In the past, charcoal was the fuel of choice. Nowadays people use mostly gas or electricity for this purpose; only the most nostalgic use charcoal. Alcohol is also used occasionally. Some of the pots are equipped with a chimney in the middle along with a valve for controlling the size of the flame.


Thai Hot Pot

The soup stock is prepared well beforehand and is made by boiling beef, pork, or chicken bones. Meat, seafood, vegetables, tofu, and bean noodles are the most popular ingredients. Freshness commands. Pork, beef, and chicken are often presented side by side; mutton is less frequently used. Meat should not be cooked too long; otherwise it will lose its tenderness. It's best for the meat to be cut as thin as paper, and that's why a sizable piece of meat often shrinks to a small bite after being boiled.

Seafood usually includes shrimp, crab, oysters, clams, squid, cuttlefish, and fish fillet. To make sure the morsels do not drift away or sink to the bottom or hide somewhere, a strainer in which each diner can hold onto his or her delicacies is recommended. Meat, seafood, and egg come in ball or ravioli-like form.


Thai desserts to cool you down after your hot pot.

Popularly used vegetables are cabbage, spinach, turnip, green onions, celery, and lettuce. Lettuce is a special favorite among diners for its tender, crispy, and sweet nature. People use a variety that does not have a head and whose leaves are dark green, resembling those of chrysanthemums. Fresh vegetables should be boiled only lightly. Mushrooms of various kinds, dried or fresh, are widely used, as are dried lily flowers. Bean curd and bean noodles serve as more than just fillers. They do not have much taste themselves, but they absorb the richness of the other ingredients. Bean noodles are usually cooked later to help finish up the soup. Some people put plain rice into the last of the soup to make a porridge. Consistent with Chinese culinary thrift, nothing is wasted.


Korea Stone Hot Poti (Photo by Chen Chih-wei.)

The sauces are also pre-prepared. Some are personal concoctions; while most consist of soy sauce, vinegar, and hot pepper, some people like to beat a fresh egg, or just the white of it, into the sauce. Like other Chinese cuisine, various kinds of hot pot from the mainland have congregated in Taiwan since the arrival of mainlanders in 1949. The Taiwanese have also developed their own styles and have even imported foreign varieties. In Taiwan today, Korean, Japanese, Thai, and Swiss hot pots exist alongside Chinese ones.

Shacha Hot Pot
The Cantonese shacha hot pot is perhaps the most popular style in Taiwan (it is also popular in Southeast Asia). Its sauce consists of dried shrimp, peanuts, garlic, hot pepper, tea leaves, and salt. The sauce is also used in cooking other dishes and is mildly hot. Soy sauce and fresh raw egg are usually added to it to make a dip. This style of hot pot makes use of almost all of the ingredients mentioned above.

Chrysanthemum and Mutton Hot Pots
Both chrysanthemum and mutton hot pots are Peking style. Chrysanthemum flowers are harbingers of coldness. Back in the old days when chrysanthemums bloom, it was considered the time to start eating hot pot. The principle ingredients are shrimp, thin slices of pork kidney and liver, and fish fillet. These take little time to boil, so alcohol was once used as the fuel for its low heat intensity. When the alcohol burns under the pot, the flames flare out in the shape of a chrysanthemum blossom, and mum leaves are actually scattered into the pot to add a touch of the flavor of the plant.

Mutton hot pot is a legacy of the northern nomads. In Japan it' s called "Genghis Khan cuisine." Sheep grow large in the north, and their meat tends to be tender and less rank. Shuanyangjou (lightly boiled mutton) has long been an enduring item in Peking food restaurants.

Szechwan Hot Pot Also called maotu (hairy stomach) hot pot, like many other dishes of this province, Szechwan hot pot is noted for its spiciness. The pepper oil added to the stock keeps it hot in more than one sense, since it acts as an insulator on the surface of the soup. Special ingredients of this pot are beef tripe, beef marrow, and pig brain. Bring a handkerchief to wipe away your tears as you eat it.

Stone Hot Pot
Hot pot is popular in Japan and Korea, and is becoming popular in Southeast Asia as well. Japanese hot pot, like other Japanese dishes, tends to be light in flavor, while Korean hot pot, like other Korean dishes, tends to be heavy. Koreans love both hot pepper and garlic.

The stone pot is carved from a piece of solid rock. Its wall is more than an inch thick, and it is characterized by consistency and evenness of the heat. The most famous stone hot pot in Taipei is that of the 23-year old H&ST (Hanhsiangtsun) restaurants at 25 Chinchou St. (Tel: 511-2252) and four other locations. The pot came from Korea, but it has been altered by chefs to suit local tastes. The sauce is concocted by the diner using green onion, garlic paste, pepper powder, soy sauce, vinegar, raw egg yolk, and shacha. Added to the soup stock are a score of herbs; fried taro is a popular addition.

Thai Hot Pot
When we talk about Thai hot pot, we have to mention the hot pot served in Coca restaurants. Coca is a latecomer to Taipei, however, since the first Coca restaurant was opened in Bangkok in 1957. It has quickly grown into an international chain with more than 30 branches in Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan, and Taiwan as well as its home country. The one in Taipei is located at B1, 223 Tunhua S. Rd., Sec. 1 (Tel: 731-0280.)

The most special thing about Coca hot pot is a secret combination of hot, sour, and sweet sauces. The soup stock is made by boiling whole chickens and turnips, making it sweet and light. Meats used include beef, pork, and chicken; seafood encompasses crab, abalone, pomfret, prawn, oyster, scallop, squid, and jellyfish; there are seaweed rolls, shrimp wanton, and stuffed squid.

There are many other kinds of hot pot emphasizing beef or seafood, or using milk as soup stock. Some food booths in department stores offer one-person hot pots. Hot pot can be enjoyed anywhere, anytime, by anyone--as long as the dining room is somewhat air-conditioned.

Swiss "Hot Pot"

By Conard Oust

The art of making fondue has a similar heritage to Taiwan hot pot but from a distinctly European perspective. The end result is quite different, but fondues could be considered to resemble hot pots because of the look of the pots and the cooking style. They are hot, and they are pots. The Chalet Wienerhaus at 40 Peining Road (Tel: 577-8464) in Taipei offers three kinds of fondue. This Swiss restaurant was opened 15 years ago by a Swiss gentleman, and its fondues have been steadily gaining popularity among the people who frequent the hot pot kingdom.

The cheese fondue here is bread chunks dipped into melted Swiss "aclette" cheese seasoned with garlic flakes and white wine, served in a ceramic pot. The combination of the smells of cheese, garlic, and wine keeps some people away while addicting others. In the Bourguignon fondue, morsels of prawn, beef tenderloin, or chicken breast are deep-fried in olive oil in a stainless steel pot and then dipped in mayonnaise, Tartar sauce, catsup with garlic, or a sauce made of egg yolk, black pepper, or curry.

The tenderness and juiciness of the meat, the flavor of olive oil, and the variety of sauces make this fondue special and enticing. In chocolate fondue, bite-sized pieces of fruit are coated with chocolate melted in a fondue cooker. The result is wonderful for the sweet tooth. All the pots are fueled by alcohol. The fondue craze hasn't really taken off here in Taiwan; but who knows with the acceptance of other foreign ideas and tastes, it could become a new fad.


Travel in Taiwan Dining
Copyright 1995 Vision International Publishing Co.