When it comes to surviving winter's seemingly endless chill, we can take a lesson from Asia.
I recently returned from Japan's Mie Prefecture where temperatures were dropping, but dining on hot pots kept me internally warm. Hot pots are one-pot meals, similar in style to fondue in that they're typically cooked at the table, with each person dipping a variety of meats and vegetables into a simmering broth until they're boiled to personal perfection. Not only do hot pots work their magic like a thermal sweater, but the communal aspect enlivens the long, lonely nights often associated with the season. When you're sitting and talking with friends while you're each dipping wafer-thin slices of high-grade Matsusaka beef into a bubbling stock of sweetened soy sauce, it's easy to forget about the frost that's forming outside.
Asia's hot pots are as diverse as the countries and regions where they're found, but they're all simple to recreate at home. All you need is a portable burner, compatible pot (stainless steel works well) or electric skillet, and dipping sticks such as extra long chopsticks. A little imagination goes a long way, too. To start you off, here are a few quintessential hot pot recipes:
In Japan, the general name for hot pot is nabemono or nabe, which basically means "cooking pot." Shabu-shabu, which derives its name from the sound made by swishing the ingredients in the pot, is one of the most popular varietals. It consists of a basic broth typically served with a selection of thinly sliced quality cuts of beef and pork, along with tofu and vegetables like mushrooms, carrots, and watercress.
Start by cooking your heartier veggies (e.g. carrots) first, then move on to the meats and leafier vegetables. Dipping sauces are also a primary part of shabu-shabu, most notably ponzu and the nutty, sesame-based goma dare.
Try this recipe for Shabu-Shabu from Japanese Cooking 101.
Sukiyaki is a more decadent version of Japanese nabe — the type of dish that a sweet and tender meat like Matsusaka beef is made for. If you can't find this Japanese export, substitute a thinly sliced sirloin or tenderloin instead.
The keys to sukiyaki are a broth of soy sauce and sugar, and a raw egg for dipping the meat and veggies once they're cooked. The staff at Gyugin Honten in Matsusaka, Japan, recommend cooking the vegetables (carrots, mushrooms, boy choy) and meat separately, one after the other, creating a stronger, richer broth each time.
Try this recipe for Traditional Beef Sukiyaki.
While hot pots in China run the gamut from spicy Sichuan hot pots to Beijing's instant-boiled mutton, one of its best-known versions is the Steamboat, a decidedly southern treat. Steamboats have a thinner, soupier stock than in China's north, where winters are harsher and colder. Seafood is often a main ingredient, though variety is key.
Try this recipe for Chinese Steamboat (Hot Pot).
Despite its name, Thailand's Thai suki has much more in common with a Japanese steamboat than with Japanese sukiyaki. It's known for having a larger variety of seafood, vegetables, and noodles, as well as the addition of an egg dropped directly into the bubbling broth at the start. Still, the main draw here is its dipping sauce: nam chim suki or Thai sukiyaki sauce, a spicy chili- and lime-based blend.
Try this recipe for Thai Sukiyaki.
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