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Amber: Hey everybody! Welcome back to Amber and Victor’s Chinese Buffet. I am Amber.
Victor: 大家好 (dàjiā hǎo), 我是 (Wǒ shì) Victor.
Amber: And today our segment on Chinese culture is ‘Belly Up’.
Victor: True to the heart of Chinese culture.
Amber: I think of all the old men in my old alley with their bellies sticking out of their wifebeater tank tops and I think of this segment.
Victor: Years of Chinese food.
Amber: Yes. And years of hot pot, which is the food we are going to discuss today and the culture surrounding the consumption of it.
Victor: Definitely. As you know, Amber and I love Chinese food. Especially me. So, I’m going to bring you the best of this one aspect of Chinese food, which is hot pot.
Amber: Yeah. So, for anyone who doesn’t know, hot pot basically is a meal that is shared with a group of friends or family and basically, it’s a pot of broth that’s placed in the center of the table. It’s boiling like lava. Can be different flavors. And what we’ll talk about is a little bit about the different regions, how they do their different version of hot pot.
Victor: Right.
Amber: And everyone cooks their own food. The food all is raw, vegetables and/or meat and fish sometimes. And everyone kind of just cooks it. It’s a slow process. Very social way of eating.
Victor: Definitely. It’s kind of similar to the fondue in the West.
Amber: Yeah.
Victor: And in Japan, they call it the ‘shabu-shabu’.
Amber: Except no cheese.
Victor: Right. No cheese. But in Chinese, it’s actually called 火锅 (huǒguō).
Amber: Yeah.
Victor: Which means fire-pot. Because the traditional way of eating is there is actually like coal and the fire burning inside of the pot.
Amber: Yeah. Nowadays, they have a gas burner. But you’ll still see fire most of the time.
Victor: Okay. So, how about we go from North to South? Have a hot pot tour of China.
Amber: Yes!
Victor: Yeah, let’s do that. That sounds good. So, first stop is the Northeast, the 东北 (Dōngběi) region.
Amber: Yes.
Victor: Which is my home region.
Amber: Close to the heart.
Victor: Close to the heart, yes.
Amber: I see you salivating over there. Keep that off the microphone. So, what’s the style for your region, Victor? What style of hot pot?
Victor: Okay. So, if you know the geography of China, the Northeast region is very cold. Of course, close to Russia and in the winter time, it gets really, really cold.
Amber: Yeah.
Victor: So traditionally, the way to preserve vegetables in winter time is to make sourkrauts.
Amber: Yeah. Kind of like Korean kimchi. China has their own version as well.
Victor: Right. So in the Northeast, they have the sourkrauts hot pot, which is called 酸菜火锅 (suāncài huǒguō).
Amber: Which is literally sour vegetables hot pot.
Victor: Right. Yeah.
Amber: So, is this the broth made with the sour vegetables?
Victor: It is. It’s just the sour cabbage that you preserve and you cut into pieces. Very, very popular item during the winter time. Usually made with pork with a lot of fat in it because it gives people heat. So, like the big white belly pork.
Amber: Yes.
Victor: Glass noodles. And another thing, I think some people might find it a little bit gross, but I actually love pig blood pudding. It’s basically pudding made of pig blood.
Amber: Really?
Victor: Yeah. It’s like it’s dark red. I know people are like making faces listening to this at this moment. But if you ever get a chance to try it, it’s actually very, very good.
Amber: Don’t knock it till you try it. That’s the rule.
Victor: I don’t consider myself a very exotic eater, but some things I do eat and I really enjoy it. So, definitely very good for winter time if you go to the Northeast.
Amber: Yes. So if there’s nothing else, it will definitely keep you warm with that fire burning there. Okay, moving on. Beijing also has its famous hot pot.
Victor: Right. In Beijing, the hot pot is usually called 涮羊肉 (shuài yángròu).
Amber: Oh, and what does that mean?
Victor: 涮 (shuài) usually means to wash something with water, but in this case, it just means to put the stove in hot water, in the boiling soup. 羊肉 (yángròu) is lamb. So, 涮羊肉 (shuài yángròu) is something you have to try when you go to Beijing. And there is one chain restaurant in Beijing is called 东来顺 (Dōngláishùn). It’s very famous. It’s kind of like the Cartier of hot pot industry in Beijing, basically. With all this traditions and fame, it was started by this guy who sold basically streetcar food in Beijing in the 1900s, early 1900s. And then eventually developed into this huge chain restaurant. It is very famous and prosperous today.
Amber: And what is the broth like in this style of hot pot?
Victor: It’s pretty bland. It’s pretty mild. I think it is just made with basic ingredients and there is nothing too special about it. However, the pot they use is very elegant. I think it’s the most elegant-looking of all the pots I have seen. It kind of stands slightly taller on the table and it’s made of copper. And inside in the middle of the pot, there is a kong-shaped portion that stands out. And inside the ‘kong’, the burning coals are inside to heat up the water.
Amber: It’s very elegant selling hot pot.
Victor: Very Beijing. Very traditional. Very, very cool-looking.
Amber: Okay. Now, moving on to my favorite. Because I like spicy, it is of course Sichuan region.
Victor: Yeah.
Amber: Now, some people are very afraid when this hot pot arrives at the table because it basically looks like lava.
Victor: It looks scary, yeah.
Amber: It is a boiling pot of lava. Red lava. But the special characteristic of it is the peppercorns they put in, which is a characteristic of Sichuan food. They are actually peppercorns that kind of have a numbing hot.
Victor: Right. It’s called 麻辣 (Málà).
Amber: Yeah. So, to order it, you call 麻辣火锅 (Málà huǒguō)., which means numb-hot hot pot.
Victor: Right. It is basically like a layer of hot red stuff on top of it. I had it once and halfway through the meal, literally, this happened in Chengdu. I could not feel my lips. I’m not exaggerating. Halfway, my lips stopped feeling.
Amber: Maybe it’s like a blessing because if you kept feeling it, you’ll burn up and be like in pain and agony.
Victor: But it does look kind of scary. So, definitely something to try with courage.
Amber: Yeah. And I think I could chip is you can have a cold drink on hand so that you can wash it down. A word of warning, I do know some people get stomach problems after this hot pot because it’s really red oil. It’s boiling your food.
Victor: Right.
Amber: What kind of things do they put in it? Anything special? Just regular meats and vegetables like the other ones?
Victor: Yeah. I think the ingredients that you put into it is pretty much the same as everywhere else, but just the soup base is very different. And one tip for people who want to try and don’t want to have to deal with stomach problems is if you drink some soda before and during the meal, it helps a lot.
Amber: Subtle the stomach.
Victor: I read this somewhere. I forgot why but basically, gas that’s in the drinks helps with the stomach digested oil.
Amber: You heard it here on the Chinese Buffet. Only as a Chinese Buffet can tell you.
Victor: Yeah. And of course, if you are concerned about the hot stuff, you can have the split pots.
Amber: Yeah, I have seen that. Half and half.
Victor: Half and half. It’s called 鸳鸯锅 (yuānyāng guō).
Amber: So, half will be just the bland soup and the other half will be the lava. Often in Taiwan, you will see the 小火锅 (xiǎo huǒguō), which is a small one where you get your own individual pot, which I kind of like better being sort of a germ-phobic and I am. Although I think it’s boiling and I’m sure the germs are dead. But, I like having control over what order I put the food in. I find that in Taiwan, they like their food a little bit more bland and the hot pot there was not spicy so much. But they have a very delicious dipping sauce.
Victor: Yeah. It’s called the 沙茶酱 (shā chá jiàng).
Amber: It’s delicious.
Victor: It’s a 沙茶 (shā chá) sauce. It’s slightly spicy.
Amber: Yeah. What’s it made of? It seems like some secret recipe of deliciousness.
Victor: Yeah. It’s really, really good and actually, one of my friends taught me how to make the hot pot the Taiwanese version. It’s actually very easy. To make the sauce, you use the 沙茶 (shā chá) sauce and then you add some sesame oil and some dark vinegar, which is called 陈醋 (chéncù). It’s not just regular vinegar. It’s the Chinese dark vinegar that you can find in all the Chinese groceries stores. It’s called 陈醋 (chéncù). And then you can add cilantro and scallop, if you prefer. But the sauce is really, really good. And the Taiwanese recipe for the hot pot is really easy. I actually just started making this on my own is you can make the soup with chicken stalk, napa cabbage and daikon. So, you cut up the daikon and the white parts of the napa cabbage and then add some chicken stalk into the water. And that’s our soup base and it’s great. And that’s basically how you make the Taiwanese version of it.
Amber: Avery good meal to make on your own as well because only one dish dirty. All you need is a fire. Is that safe in your apartment? Now, let’s go into a little bit more depth about what kinds of things people will stick in the pot to cook. Definitely lots of different vegetables. Lots of different kinds of cabbage, mushrooms. Basically, any vegetables is pretty standard. Something that at first, sometimes now it is to alarming people, is the fishballs. People are like, “What are fish? They have balls?” But they are delicious. I really like fishballs actually.
Victor: It’s basically fish meat made into balls.
Amber: Yes, it’s a paste basically. Don’t be afraid. It’s a paste of fish meat and there will be some kind of flour and they form into a ball and they are delicious.
Victor: Yeah.
Amber: Pork balls as well, sometimes. That fake crab meat is kind of good in the hot pot as well.
Victor: Yeah.
Amber: Tofu. I really like they have this thing 冻豆腐 (dòng dòufu), which is frozen tofu.
Victor: Right.
Amber: So, they freeze it and it changes the texture of the tofu. Then they thaw it and you cook it. It’s really delicious. It almost kind of turn into layers.
Victor: Right. You can just basically put a tofu in the freezer for like a night.
Amber: And do it yourself, yeah.
Victor: Do it yourself.
Amber: The other thing I really like is the tofu skin, 豆皮 (dòu pí). It’s really delicious in the hot pot because it kind of absorbs the flavor of the broth.
Victor: And then there is the glass noodles.
Amber: Yes, you can usually finish up. Usually they cook the noodles at the end right, Victor?
Victor: Right. In the very end.
Amber: Yeah. We cook the noodles in the broth at the end or you can have rice with it too. Some people do that. Okay, there are some more exotic ingredients that I’ve seen placed in hot pots, Victor, as well. Like for example, I’ll never forget the vision of seeing someone pick up a brain and put it in their mouth. Sometimes, there is brains. You can order brains and numerous innards as well. I mean, they are popular for hot pot.
Victor: I love tripe.
Amber: Yeah. So, just be aware that you can get those items if you’re so craved.
Victor: Alright. But you don’t have to. That’s not like a requirement.
Amber: Yeah. That’s the beauty of hot pot. It can be high maintenance either.
Victor: I’m not trying to scare people away.
Amber: Okay. Now, last but not least, we just have some Chinese buffet hot pot tips for you.
Victor: Right.
Amber: So, Victor has one. This is through many years of experience eating hot pot.
Victor: Eating hot pot. Just always paying attention to eating. Basically, the soup that’s left over after hot pot meal taste the best.
Amber: Yes. Because it’s been reduced almost with all of those delicious ingredients.
Victor: Yeah, because it’s got all the essence of everything that you just put in, especially like seafood. Put a crab in the soup and after everything else is gone, the soup is the essence after everything you just did.
Amber: Yes. So, leave room for the soup at the end. Do not neglect the soup.
Victor: Right.
Amber: My tip is a little bit of a safety tip because I have a burn to show it to this day. Be careful of the pot when you lean your hand over with the chopsticks to fish something out. Do not lay your arm on the pot.
Victor: Yeah. That’s definitely something to be careful of.
Amber: It’s sort of like my hot pot battle scar.
Victor: It’s quite a battle for you.
Amber: I’m still kind of proud. I don’t have a tattoo but I have a hot pot battle scar as proof of my days in China.
Victor: Another tip I have is about the 四川火锅 (Sìchuān huǒguō). If you do go to Sichuan and you order Sichuan there, do realize, and this is a known fact, that most restaurants will use the same pot of soup base all day for different customers. I mean, people there know that too. It’s not a secret.
Amber: Like you just sit down and someone else’s soup is already there?
Victor: No. They’ll bring out like a pot that’s apparently used by someone else before yours. This is funny because when I was eating hot pot with my friend who is from Sichuan, she told me this halfway through the meal.
Amber: But Victor, you said the stuff leftover at the end is the best. So maybe that’s why it’s such a famous hot pot, right?
Victor: I think the argument is that because it’s boiling and it takes a lot to make the base.
Amber: Yes.
Victor: So you know, safety concerns can be argued if it’s boiling all the time and I guess they don’t want to go through the problem of making every single fresh pot all the time. However, she did not tell me this, is that if you paid a little extra, you can get your own fresh pot.
Amber: Oh, and they’re like, “Are you crazy? It taste way better when there is leftovers.”
Victor: No, but she told me that’s kind of...
Amber: Well, that’s a good tip.
Victor: So, if you do go to 四川火锅 (Sìchuān huǒguō) and order hot pot, make sure you can order your own pot with a couple of extra pots.
Amber: And another tip is though I love hot pots so much I’d sometimes consume it in the summer, be prepared to overheat. It’s a very steamy dish. Think Of it like a spa treatment if you’re having it in summer. But, it’s very good to have it in the winter. It really warms you up.
Victor: Right. And it’s good, you know, because it’s a circle pot and you have your friends in a circle and just eat the night away.
Amber: Yeah. And the good thing is for those of us not in China, there is a lot of restaurants in the West that do have hot pot.
Victor: In Chinatown.
Amber: Yeah! And you can make it yourself like Victor did. My friend here in New York, she has periodic hot pot parties and she makes the Sichuan hot pot and all of the ingredients are available in Fleshing, which is the new Chinatown.
Victor: Right. Sometimes you can actually buy those ingredients like for the soup in a box. It comes with it.
Amber: It has all those spices and when I had that hot pot, it was just as authentic as anything in China.
Victor: Right.
Amber: But minus the brains. But we could have had the brains if we wanted to. So, it’s good to know you can get the authentic thing if you really want to.
Victor: Right. But of course for the best of the best, you have to go to China…
Amber: Which we strongly recommend. We recommend going to each region on a hot pot tour.
Victor: Right. Just follow our tour and make sure you order your own fresh pot in Sichuan.
Amber: Yes. And report back to us. So, that’s it for the Chinese Buffet today and if you want to learn more Chinese or about Chinese culture, make sure come visit us at chineseclass101.com We have lots of lessons there that can give you lots of insights about China and also teach you to speak Chinese. 再见 (zàijiàn)!
Victor: 再见 (zàijiàn).