What is included?
The there are three basic components to Hot Pot: broth, dipping ingredients, and sauces.
A single hot pot restaurant in the United States will often offer several broths to choose from, though indecisive folks can sometimes opt for a combination served in the same pot with a metal divider. The most well-known style is a basic cloudy broth made from chicken, ginger, goji berries, and other aromatics. My personal favorite is the bold and numb-spicy Chongqing variant, which is chock-full of Sichuan peppercorns, red chillies, preserved mustard greens, and basically anything else you’d typically find in a Sichuanese chef’s spice rack. You could opt for a savory mushroom broth, sweet-and-sour tomato, or, in some places, even a coconut-infused seafood tom kha variant.
As for the hot pot ingredients themselves, restaurants will usually offer a good mixture of thin-sliced meats—from pork belly to lamb shoulder to filet mignon—meatballs, vegetables, noodles, dumplings, and rice cakes that you can order a la carte. Sometimes they’ll offer combination platters with a good balance of proteins and vegetables. For example, Tang Hot Pot in New York City offers a beautiful-sounding “Sichuan Adventurer” set that includes delicacies like chicken gizzards, Asian swamp eel, beef tripe, crown daisy leaves, vermicelli noodles, and enoki mushrooms. But that’s the fancy stuff. You also can’t go wrong with ordering a pyramid of semi-frozen shaved ribeye, a clutch of hand-cut noodles, and bok choi and calling it a day.
Most places will offer a variety of sauces to dip your cooked ingredients in, and you’re welcome to use them or not. Some might even offer a whole DIY station with individual elements for you to mix, including minced cilantro, oyster sauce, sesame oil, and black vinegar, with suggestions for newbies. For many hot pot fans, the dipping sauce is a very personal thing, so if you want that extra scoop of garlic, fly that freak flag. Here’s a tip: if you see chive flower sauce on the menu, order it. It’s packed full of umami and tastes amazing with everything.