While many of us reach for electric blankets and heavy doonas as the temperature falls, winter means something much more delicious for many other Australians: hot pot. It has many variations across Asia.
But whether it's called huo guo, jeongol, shabu shabu, suki or lau, what is universal is that hot pot involves gathering around a fragrant bowl of broth simmering over a portable gas stove with your nearest and dearest.
The broad concept of hot pot is consistent. An array of dipping ingredients – meat, seafood, vegetables and noodles – are cooked together in a vat of soup.
But when you explore more closely, each country has its own distinct hot pot style.
In China, where hot pot is believed to have originated, a simmer broth is brought to the table with raw ingredients such as meat and vegetables, which are added to the soup.
In South-East Asian countries such as Vietnam and Thailand, aromatic local produce including lemongrass, tamarind and galangal are more prevalent in the broths.
And in Japan and South Korea, sometimes the hot pot arrives with all of the ingredients already submerged in the stock.
When it comes to appropriate hot pot etiquette, there are no fixed rules, but here are some basic tips:
- If you're having Chinese, Thai or Vietnamese hot pot, bring the broth to the boil before adding any raw ingredients to the pot.
- If you're unsure about cooking times, just ask the restaurant staff. Firm tofu and root vegetables such as daikon take longer, while thinly sliced beef should be ready to eat in a matter of seconds.
- Don't overload the hot pot with too many ingredients.
- Don't double dip!
TEN MUST-TRY HOT POT RESTAURANTS IN SYDNEY
A two-person Hong Kong-style chicken pot at Hong Kong Bing Sutt in Eastwood. Photo: Wolter Peeters
Hong Kong Bing Sutt
Hong Kong Bing Sutt has been serving classic Hong Kong dishes for seven years, and this winter it's brought a truly local dish to Sydneysiders – chicken hot pot. Invented in Hong Kong about two decades ago, the "Chonqing chicken pot" features bite-sized pieces of chicken braised in a spicy sauce with red onion, shallot, chilli, lotus root and bean sprouts.
The beauty of the chicken hot pot is there's "double the flavour in one bowl", says owner Jessica Chan.
The chicken is cooked in the pot first, braised in a chilli spice mix with the red shallots, red onions and lotus root. You eat some of the braised chicken and then, when you're ready for soup, the broth is added.
"That's when you can cook all of the other 'sides' included in the set," Chan says. These include finely sliced wagyu beef, Queensland tiger prawns, mussels, fish balls and beef balls, house-made deep-fried beancurd skin and pork skin.
"We're always trying to bring the true taste of Hong Kong and Hong Kong culture to Sydney ... our chicken pot is perfect in the winter," she says.
Hong Kong Bing Sutt's chicken hot pot comes in half chicken (two people) or whole chicken (four people) servings – call ahead or slide into the restaurant's DMs to pre-order.
Shop 8, 11-15 Deane Street, Burwood, and 172 Rowe Street, Eastwood, instagram.com/hongkongbingsutt
Head chef Sungjun Kim preparing bone broth at Hansang. Photo: Wolter Peeters
Hansang, located in Sydney's Little Korea in Strathfield, is the only Korean restaurant in the country that cooks its beef broth for at least three days, according to head chef Sungjun Kim.
"[In Korean] han means 'one' and sang means 'table', so when you put the words together it means one big table, or a lot of food for people to share," he says.
Beef broth is the name of the game here, with the two simmering "master pot" cauldrons of soup greeting diners as they enter.
Korean-style hot pots (pictured, top right) arrive at the table with all of the ingredients already immersed in the vessel – just turn on the flame and slowly bring it to the boil. The ox knee hot pot has luscious pieces of tendon and cartilage floating in a beef stock, with the pure beef taste only achieved through hours of cooking. Another popular hot pot is the traditional spicy potato and pork neck bone, which has the meat falling from the bone into a fiery red soup.
At Hansang, the larger hot pots come with two bowls of black rice designed to be shared. They are the perfect accompaniment to the stock – spoon the rich broth onto the rice, or vice versa.
Shop 2, 8-14 Lyons Street, Strathfield, hansangsydney.com.au
Vietnamese steamboat is a winter favourite at Hai Au Lang Nuong restaurant in Canley Vale. Photo: Janie Barrett
Hai Au Lang Nuong
"Vietnamese people like to enjoy hot pot both at home and out [in restaurants]," says restaurant owner Ben Nguyen. The Vietnamese restaurant in south-west Sydney is well known for its charcoal-grilled meats. But in winter, when the mercury drops, the popularity of its steamboat (another term for hot pot) rises.
Nguyen recommends the silver perch steamboat. Two whole fish are served alongside bean sprouts and herbs that surround the boiling sweet-and-sour broth in the centre of the cooking vessel.
"Everyone likes to eat [hot pot] differently, but I like to put in the fish and harder vegetables first, as they take longer to cook," he says. The hot pot soup "gives you that kick", predominantly from the sharpness of tamarind but also the sweetness that's found in the Thai tom yum soup.
Vietnamese customers also like to dip the cooked fish in a fish sauce, which brings out the flavour of the silver perch, Nguyen says. Other hot pots on the menu include goat, seafood and salted fish.
48 Canley Vale Road, Canley Vale, instagram.com/haiaulangnuong
Khao Kang Maruay
For Thai people, hot pot is something that's enjoyed 365 days of the year, especially in roadside restaurants, according to Nararat Carromprath, who runs Khao Kang Maruay in Chinatown with her husband, Vin.
"Hot pot is for everyone and for all ages [in Thailand]," she says.
Vin runs the kitchen, specialising in north-eastern Thai cuisine from his hometown region of Isan. His version of "chim chum" – a style of hot pot from Isan – comes onto the menu as a special during the colder months.
The Thai dish is served in a small claypot filled with broth, flavoured by galangal, lemongrass and makrut lime, giving it a slightly sweet as well as savoury flavour. A plate of raw protein, including squid, prawn, liver, beef, chicken and pork, is topped with a house-made sauce and raw egg.
"Just put the raw [beef] in the hot broth for 10 seconds and it's ready to eat," Vin says.
Another huge plate brought out with the meat features vegetables such as morning glory, cabbage, Chinese cabbage and Thai basil, as well as glass noodles.
The restaurant also has a more modern hot pot called Red Ocean Hot Pot, a creamy tom yum base with king prawns, squid, mussels, fish balls and instant noodles.
Shop 4, 37 Ultimo Road, Haymarket, instagram.com/khao.kang.maruay
Taiwan is crazy about hot pot. The country's cuisine is strongly influenced by its indigenous people, colonisation, migration and cultural imports, all of which shine through in the popularity and variety of its hot pot culture.
One Pot is the only Taiwanese hot pot restaurant in Sydney, and as with Korean hot pots, it serves individual pots with all the ingredients submerged in the soup base – all you need to do is bring the pot to the boil. You can choose what type of carb (rice or noodle) and protein (beef, lamb or pork) for most of the dishes.
The sesame oil chicken hot pot is a classic Taiwanese flavour combination, with braised pieces of tender chicken (skin on, of course) in a sesame oil-rich broth flavoured with ginger, wolfberry, corn and mushrooms. Another quintessential Taiwanese hot pot flavour is the satay (tofu, pork and clams), with a base broth using Taiwanese shacha sauce, an umami-rich condiment made from garlic, shallots, soy beans, chillies and dried shrimp.
One Pot also serves hot pot versions of Korean kimchi soup, Thai tom yum and Japanese miso.
696 George Street, Haymarket, instagram.com/onepotsydney
Haidilao's 'quad flavour' hot pots are divided into four sections. Photo: Kimberley Low
Complimentary manicures, toothbrushes and other toiletries in the bathrooms, twirling noodle makers, soft toy mascots and robots: this is China's largest hot pot chain, Haidilao, which now has two branches in Sydney.
In addition to the (welcome) over-the-top service, Haidilao is ideal for groups. Its "quad flavour" hot pots are divided into four sections, allowing for four different soup bases – choose from spicy vegetable, tom yum, tomato, chicken and (for the more adventurous) pork stomach and pepper.
Once you've selected your broths, dip your chopsticks into all kinds of proteins but don't go past the speciality "meat pastes", including fish balls filled with roe and the signature shrimp paste, which are carefully spooned into the bubbling soup.
Condiments are not to be passed up either – Haidilao's self-service sauce station provides all manner of textures and flavours, including crushed garlic, peanuts, sesame oil and sesame paste. And staff are on hand to suggest their preferred combinations.
Shop 607, 1 Anderson Street, Chatswood, and Level 5, The Exchange Darling Square, 1 Little Pier Street, Haymarket, instagram.com/haidilaohotpot_aus
The plush surrounds at Dolar Shop in Haymarket. Photo: Bill Chen
The Dolar Shop
If luxury hot pot is your scene, The Dolar Shop in Chinatown provides a premium experience for diners. Originating from Macau, the city of casinos and high rollers a short ferry ride from Hong Kong, this hot pot specialist also screams excess with its ingredients and service.
Diners each get their own hot pot (great news for non-sharers), and there are seven broth options available, the most popular being black truffle mushroom broth (a chicken-based soup with hints of truffle) and "exquisite silver soup" (blending chicken stock with pork tripe and white pepper). You can also get a combination of two soups, with the hot pot divided in two.
It's one of the few hot pot restaurants in the city that offers live seafood, including king crab, brown crab, Tasmanian red lobster and blacklip abalone. All of the beef on the menu is wagyu: the premium selected wagyu platter contains boneless chicken, beef tongue and wagyu cubes that cook in seconds. And if you feel like splashing out, the Japanese Kagoshima wagyu is priced at $129.90 for 150g.
The condiment station is not as well stocked as other Chinese hot pot joints, but the complimentary soft serve (green tea or vanilla flavour) after your meal is a sweet touch.
Level 3, Market City Shopping Centre, 9-13 Hay Street, Haymarket, dolarshop.com
The two most famous styles of Japanese hot pot are shabu shabu and sukiyaki, both of which are staples in the colder months at Masuya Suisan in Haymarket.
The restaurant's signature shabu shabu is the Wagyu Snow hot pot, which has a garlic soy milk broth made from dashi and soy milk, giving it a clear white colour and a sweet and creamy taste. The flavours will become more savoury as you dip and submerge the wagyu beef slices, cabbage, vegetable, mushroom, shallots and fish balls.
The Hakata Chanko hot pot has a pork soy milk soup base, paired with pork belly, salmon and scallops.
Sukiyaki is traditionally cooked in a cast-iron pot with a sweeter soy sauce-based broth. Masuya Suisan's version comes with David Blackmore's full-blood wagyu bolar blade cut that has a marbling score of 9+ and, like the shabu shabu, it's paired with seasonal vegetables (usually mushrooms, spring onion and Chinese cabbage).
447 Pitt Street, Haymarket, masuyainternational.com.au/restaurants/masuya-suisan/
With its wooden panels and faux brick interiors reminiscent of a Chinese tea house, Xiaolongkan ("little dragon" in Mandarin) is a hot pot chain from China with 900 stores worldwide. It has two outposts in Sydney, located in Chinatown and Burwood.
This one's for those who love the burn – choose up to three soup bases (spicy, spicy tomato and mushroom being the most popular), complete with floating dry chillies ready for dipping. The menu also has a handy guide for the ideal cooking time for every dipping item – 30 seconds for sliced beef and three minutes for mushrooms, in case you were wondering.
Unlike many hot pot restaurants, Xiaolongkan also offers some desserts, including handmade rice cakes coated in brown sugar (chewy, crispy and springy all in one sweet bite) and mantou (fried milk buns) dipped in condensed milk.
177 Burwood Road, Burwood, and Shop 88, 1 Dixon Street, Haymarket, instagram.com/xiaolongkan.hotpot
YX Mini Hot Pot
YX Mini Hotpot in Eastwood is probably Sydney's most beautiful hot pot restaurant. Designed by Basalt Studio, it has a Shanghai tea house vibe, complete with an illuminated sky mural, hanging red lanterns, mezzanine level, awnings and booths.
The Chinese hot pot restaurant specialises in adventurous broths using premium ingredients. Oxtail, tomato and pickled fish, for example, has a strong sweet-and-sour taste. Another luxurious option combines fish maw (swim bladder) and free-range chicken.
The hot pots are served individually, with live seafood such as coral trout, WA crystal crab, white eel and king prawn being a key drawcard. Try the fried beancurd sheets, which only need to be dipped for a few seconds to soak up the broth.
Shop 1b, 14 Glen Street, Eastwood, and Shop 1, 102-108 Hay Street, Haymarket, instagram.com/yxminihotpot