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huo guo 
enjoying a chinese 
hot pot dinner
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Good food is a fine thing, but a good meal – long, leisurely, and with the sounds of biting, chewing, sipping, scooping punctuated frequently by talk and laughter – is something you remember long after those final lingering flavors have left your palate. Which is why eating is best when it’s done communally, a family or a group of friends gathered around a large table (preferably circular, of course), each person supping from a shared bounty of food that’s located at the center of the table, within easy reach of all.

When the weather’s cold and mean, there’s no better way to warm up than by sharing a Chinese hot pot dinner with friends or family. The hot pot, for anyone not lucky enough to have experienced one before, is essentially a sort of Chinese fondue – only instead of gooey melted cheese, you’ve got steaming, simmering broth, and instead of bits of bread, you’ve got a panoply of raw veggies, meats, seafood and other goodies. Armed with chopsticks and a rice bowl filled with just a bit of dipping sauce, each person at the dinner table selects little tidbits from the array of offerings, dropping them into the broth to cook, then fishing them out once they’ve soaked up the flavors of the broth and turned good and tender.

Hot pot nights were a staple of my childhood, and on those winter evenings when my mother would pull out the hot pot and set it in the center of the table, we kids always felt like we were getting a real treat. My brothers and I would have fun fighting over that last succulent shrimp, and I, as the mean older sister that I was, have distinct memories of gleefully snapping up a sibling’s perfectly cooked piece of chicken before he could get to it first. There was inevitably a lot of time spent waiting around, because you never wanted to cook more than a couple of items at a time – otherwise, as anyone who attempted to get more ambitious would find out, you’d inevitably forget about where you’d left that first bit of precious scallop if you didn’t keep a close eye on it. It was, in a way, our earliest introduction to cooking, since with the hot pot, we learned quickly about what foods cook more slowly than others, and how to judge when an ingredient had cooked just long enough. Which may be the genius of the Chinese hot pot – it’s essentially a cook-your-own-damn-dinner night disguised as an informal feast.

Hot pots are easy, healthy, versatile, and as much fun to cook as they are tasty to eat. This is one comfort food that you can indulge in without guilt…

this way please!

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