It does feel like a sauna. Sweltering heat. Sunshine beating down. Clothes sweat-soaked in the thick humidity. That’s summertime in Taiwan.
*Stomach growls*. You hungry?
Ah! I know just the thing. Hotpot! Cozying up to a steaming bowl of soup and and a roaring fire is just what we need. No? Too hot huh. Come on, let’s be Taiwanese for a moment! Hot or cold, they eat hotpot year round!
How can they stand it? We’ll there’s a secret. But I’ll let you figure it what it is yourself when we get to the restaurant.
Ok, what kind of broth do you want? That will decide which restaurant we choose.
Something simple like a chicken or vegetable broth? Perhaps something with traditional herbs for a healthy taste? Or for a more rich flavor there’s steeped pork bone or seafood broth. There is of course fusion flavors like sweet spicy Thai or Japanese miso broths. Oh, I know! Spicy numbing hotpot! Indeed, a very popular flavor in Taiwan.
Ok, let’s go!
Here comes our server. That big pot she’s lugging will go on the gas burner in the middle of our table. Here she goes to start turn on the gas. Click! Click! Fwoom! We have our roaring blue fire! So cozy.
The meats are here! Thin sliced cuts of beef: flank, round, shank, rib loin. Pork and lamb slices along with chopped chicken leg.
Ooh! And the seafood! Shrimp. Lobster. Clams. Mussels. Fish. Scallops!
How about something a bit more exotic? Ok, then! Tripe, beef tongue, intestines, and blood cakes are on the way!
Those balls over there? Those are meat balls. Why so many kinds? Let’s see, we beef balls, pork balls, fish balls, and shrimp balls. And this one is actually fish cake with cheese filling. That one has shrimp roe.
Dumplings? Sure which kind would you like? Round ones? Long ones? There’s an interesting egg wrapped one too. Don’t forget to choose the kind of filling: pork or beef.
Yes, those rabbit shaped fish cakes are cute! A favorite of the children. And the imitation crab sticks are favorites too.
Our table is getting full, but here let’s try to make some room. Yes there’s more coming. Vegetables! Cabbage, bok-choy, shitake mushroom, straw mushrooms, carrots, daikon, and corn on the cob. Oh yes, here’s taro root and sweet potato. Those aren’t vegetables you say? Well, I suppose it depends on if you’re nutritionist or botanist. But this pumpkin here is, um, a fruit!
See these little spongy white cubes, and the soft smooth ones over there? And this light brown wrinkly skin. These are all different kinds of tofu.
Ok, rice or noodles? Noodles, right. Thin or broad. Ok, thin. Flour or rice? Rice. I’m getting bean thread noodles. Oh that yellow package with the happy boy in a blue cap? That’s a kind of instant noodle. Several other flavors available too.
No, sorry, no kitchen sink* on today’s menu.
Let’s get our sauce at the bar over there. These two black sauces, one is soy sauce and one is black vinegar. There’s white vinegar too. Chinese BBQ sauce … that goes with the soy sauce. Make sure to not accidentally get the black vinegar! Minced garlic. Green onions. Sesame oil. Chili oil. Fresh chilis. Chili sauce. Minced turnip. Sesame seeds. Peanuts. Mix what you like in this little dish.
We’re almost ready. We need to add friends and family. No, not to the pot! To our table!
Hotpot is more than just a meal, it’s a communal cooking experience. Here they come! Hello, family! Hello friends! So good to see you! Please sit!
Time to add things to our pot. Veggies first. Add some noodles. For the meat, just swish it for a several seconds and it’ll be cooked. It’s ready!
Wait, wait, before putting some in your bowl, try giving to one of our friends first. It’s a communal experience, remember? Everyone will get a turn to cook serve one another.
Just a little longer. If you eat that fish ball now you’ll get cooked! Your mouth I mean. While it cools down, let’s chat with our friends and family. Hot pot is a slow meal to enjoy the flavors of the food *and* the flavors of the conversation.
Ahh, that was tasty. And we have some leftover for tomorrow. The restaurant will pour it in a plastic bag for us to take home. Just don’t poke it with anything sharp. So it won’t leak.
Did you figure out the secret to hotpot in the summer? Right! Air conditioning. Winter, spring, summer, or fall, it’s always hot pot time in Taiwan!
* Kitchen sink: A humorous American idiom that means “everything imaginable”. Example: They’re putting everything but the *kitchen sink* into the pot.
– Allan Tsai, Shopworkers Church
(Taipei, Northern Taiwan)