Hot pot (huo guo in Chinese, literally fire pot. AKA Shabu shabu in Japanese) may be Chinese in general, but it is about as Taiwanese as you can get. If you come to Taiwan and want to eat what the locals eat, you have to take in a hot pot at least once. You always get a big plate of vegetables (lots of cabbage. Always lots of roughage) and tofu. Each place has its own differences – the picture has needle mushrooms, a few different tofu bobs, mushrooms, cabbage, lettuce, a hunk of corn, a piece of pumpkin, a chunk of taro, seaweed, some fake crab meat, sometimes a piece of tomato. This place also gives one shrimp. Another place we go to doesn’t really have much in terms of tofu, but gives you unlimited vegetables (sprouts, cabbage, carrots).
The big part of this is the meat. You choose your meat – pork, mutton, beef, chicken, seafood, fish – pretty much, you name it, they’ve got it. For meat, it’s sliced wafer thin for quick cooking. (You can actually buy meat just like this at the grocery store, many people do hot pot at home. I have a friend who was absolutely in love with hot pot and did this often.) Of course, there’s usually a vegetarian option, but not many choose it. I think it defies hotpot logic. I tried ordering it once and it was not all that palatable. At least, not satisfying for that night.
Everything is tossed into the broth (which is refilled as it gets low) at your discretion and cooked how long you want. This is what some people really dislike: “I have to cook my own food?!” I love it. And it’s so much food that we usually order to and goggle at people ordering many platefuls of food and dunking them all in. Tiny little grandmas and kids devouring entire platefuls! It’s amazing! You also get a kind of barbecue sauce – nothing like North American BBQ sauce, it’s thicker and a completely different taste that I’m not good enough to describe. You can add oil, soy sauce, garlic, green onions, hot peppers, and few other things that I don’t know. This is fairly standard, though I have encountered other things in other places.
At the end, you’re left with a delicious soup that is really quite tasty – after all, there’s been a lot stewing in it! Most places give you a raw egg that some people (Christine included) crack into the broth and cook and eat.
Many places offer tea, as most restaurants do, and some offer juice or slushes and ice cream afterward. And those kids that packed away all that soup still have room for ice cream. Not me. I’m full of delicious soup.