written by jun
i’ve been in hong kong for a year now. and through my astute observation, there are certain things that i’ve noticed about hong kong people. they love waiting in line, sorry, i mean queuing up in line. they love spending time with their bff… the mobile phone. and most importantly, they love to have hotpot. hotpot is like the unofficial dish of hong kong. it’s eaten year-round, even in the summer with 100 degrees heat and 500% humidity. i didn’t understand the fascination at first. i mean, you’re just dunking food in boiling flavored water. what’s the big deal right?
well, my roommate would say otherwise. he, who shall remain nameless, is dubbed the “hotpot king.” it has been said that he can eat hotpot 4-5 times a week. i can vouch for that because i’ve seen it done first hand. he even uses it as a pickup line. i’m not kidding. it actually works! he’s picked up so many girls by merely asking “do you like hotpot? do you want to have hotpot together?” and of course, girls won’t say no because they actually do love hotpot! i know, total pimp right! they don’t call him the king for nothing.
having seen the allure of hotpot in person, i have to dig deep to find out what the appeal was all about. below are my 5 reasons why hong kong loves hotpot.
gatherings. let’s face it, it’s not easy to cook for a large group of people no matter where you live. sometimes preparing a meal for the whole family, especially if that includes aunts, uncles, and cousins, may sometimes take a whole day to prepare and cook… think thanksgiving. in hong kong, most people work 10-12 hours a day. the last thing they want to do is slave away in the kitchen. and since hotpot does not require cooking, it’s a quick and efficient way to feed a large group of people. the hardest part of the whole process is washing the meat and veggies, which isn’t really that hard at all.
small kitchen. i’ve stayed in claustrophobic studios where the “kitchen” is just an electric hot plate and a sink. there’s no place to cook, let alone chop onions. the solution to this tiny predicament is to have hotpot. it’s as simple as 1,2,3… buy the ingredients, boil a pot of broth, and start eating.
hot and heat. this is actually a two-pronged answer. the first being hot food. with prepared meals, dishes start to get cold after cooking. but that’s not the case with hotpot. you are putting a steaming hot piece of food into your mouth literally seconds after cooking it. the second part is heat. in hong kong, there’s no such thing as central heating. that’s because the weather doesn’t get freezing cold to justify having it. but it can get chilly in the winter though. hotpot is a way to keep warm as people huddle around the bubbling pot. you can fill your tummy and stay cozy at the same time, albeit at the expense of smelling like boiled meat.
cheap. hong kong is blessed with an abundance of food from both the land and sea. you can find everything you want to eat at the local wet market for a very reasonable price. things like thin sliced fatty beef, pork liver, live pissing shrimp, fish heads, tofu, green leafy vegetables, just to name a few. we bought enough food to feed 4-5 people for only $320 hkd, which is less than $45 usd. this included beef and seafood too, which usually are the more expensive items.
customizable. with hotpot, everybody can get along. yes, even vegetarians. you don’t have to eat what everyone else is eating. you simply order (in a restaurant) or buy the items you want to consume. if all you want to do is indulge on fatty beef, then by all means, go for it. or if spicy food is your thing, then you can have a hotpot that is swimming with red chilies and numbing peppers. or heck, you can have two different broths in the same pot (whoever invented the double broth pot is a freaking genius). when it comes to customizing, it even trickles down to the sauce. there’s no inappropriate way to dip your food. everything and anything that you want to dip is there for you to combine and create.
before moving to hong kong, i never liked hotpot. it just seemed so boring to me. but that luckily has changed. with so many ingredients and variations, it’s hard not to get excited.