Family-style Chinese hot pots warm your insides and your soul 

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Originally known as the fire pot (huo guo), hot pots are a popular winter dish in China. Legend has it that Mongol warriors in the 13th and 14th centuries rode across frigid Asia using their upturned shields and helmets to boil water and broth to cook meat, soup and vegetables. As the dish spread to other parts of China, it picked up local ingredients such as seafood in China’s southern regions. Families would gather around the steaming hot pot to escape the chill of winter and just be together.

Today, it is a pleasant way to experience communal eating and socializing. Despite the prominence of Chinese restaurants across the country, this particular dish is still very difficult to find.

When it appears on menus, it is commonly cooked in the restaurant’s kitchen and brought out to the table. More authentically, however, hot pots are served at the table as a broth with a gas burner underneath and an array of raw meat, fish and vegetables on platters for communal table cooking.

There is a proper way to cook with a hot pot. First, allow more cooking time for fish and meat than vegetables. Thinly sliced meat and fish usually need three to five minutes, with vegetables needing only about 30 seconds or a bit more. Remove the individual fish, meat and vegetables onto personal plates and add dipping sauces, noodles and rice.
The three Mandarin characters on the sign of Chow’s Chinese Restaurant, 3033 N. May Ave., translate to “large restaurant” and are typically used to suggest the restaurant is big and has a wide variety of fancy dishes. Chow’s does have an impressive, authentic Cantonese-based menu, including the elusive hot pot, with no less than seven tasty varieties.

Its beef tendon hot pot ($9.95) is a full meal in a bowl with chunks of beef, beef tendon, scallions, onions, carrots, crunchy sliced Napa cabbage and fresh cilantro. One might be perfectly content just to eat a bowl of the broth alone. It is rich and aromatic, and rice absorbs all of its delicious goodness. Tendon is not a beef item that finds its way to grocery carts. It’s extremely tough and chewy, but when cooked for hours and hours in this time-honored way, it becomes more tender.

There also are daily specials that include savory salt-and-pepper soft shell crabs for $14.95 and a seafood udon hot plate for $12.95.

With decor a bit on the plain side, the food at QQ China, 9521 N. Council Road, is sheer elegance. The yi pin pot ($11.95) is a seafood and tofu delight. Served in a boiling hot pot, it includes breaded and steamed whitefish fillets, crab, shrimp, scallops, Chinese cabbage and pan-seared tofu in neat, bite-sized triangles topped with cilantro.

For the ultimate golden hot pot experience, Golden Phoenix, 2728 N. Classen Blvd., rises to the occasion. You know you are in an authentic Asian District restaurant when you see smoked duck, chicken and pork hanging in a glass case, just like on every street corner in Chinatown, New York City. Here, you can have hot pots for one person ($10.95) or the more traditional hot pot presentations serving two, four or more people served communal style for prices ranging from $32.95 to $48.95.

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“Hot pots are found in all Asian cultures, and here in this Chinese-Vietnamese restaurant, it is traditionally Chinese,” said Vietnamese waiter Andrew Cao.

Golden Phoenix’s hot pots are served with two types of broth — one spicy, one mild — and are heated at the table with a gas burner. The seafood hot pot ($32.95 for two) includes shrimp, fish fillets, squid and mussels plus vegetables for cooking directly into the hot pot and is accompanied by yellow vermicelli noodles and steamed rice. You can also order extra sides, beef and chicken for an additional $6.95 each.

The bean curd with assorted meat hot pot ($10.95) has delectable ingredients that read like an Asian feast shopping list. Served in a large clay pot, it included bamboo shoots, shrimp, deep-fried tofu, spinach, succulent shitake mushrooms, broccoli, carrots, scallions, chicken and squid in a mellow brown broth with sesame seeds. This is a great date-night place.

Hot pots can also be found at Bashu Legends, 1522 W. Lindsey St., in Norman. As a special order (there is a separate hot pot menu), the hot pot setup is $4.98. Then you choose what you would like to cook in the hot pot: Vegetables such as bok choy, green onions or potato are $2.50 each; a variety of tofu is $2.98 each; and selections of chicken, pork, beef, fish and seafood are $4.98-$5.98 each. Lastly, select a dipping sauce of hoisin, chili oil, garlic sauce, bean paste or mixed sesame sauce ($1 each). Choose regular or spicy broth and you’re ready for tabletop cooking.

For just one order, the harmonious clay pot is $14.98 and is chock-full of healthy meat and vegetable goodness. The Bashu hot-and-spicy clay pot ($14.95) is not for the fainthearted. It’s fiery, and it’s fabulously delicious. Jam-packed in an individual clay pot are shitake mushrooms, potatoes, scallions, Chinese sausage slices, tofu, bite-size light chicken-pork meatballs, cabbage, dried lily buds and cellophane noodles in a minced hot pepper broth.

Rose Wolfberry Tea ($2.58) is a perfect pairing for this dish. Wolfberries (also known as goji berries) are full of nutrients and phytochemicals and taste slightly sweet. The addition of small rosebuds in the tea gives an overall light floral taste.

Print headline: Hot pots, cold nights, Family-style Chinese hot pots warm your insides and your soul.

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Angela Botzer

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