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Hot pot – our Christmas dinner

As a child of Taiwanese immigrants, I was sometimes embarrassed by the ethnic dishes my mom served for Christmas dinner. I wanted the beautiful browned turkey and the honey-lacquered ham; what we got was roasted duck from Chinatown. (And you can stop it with the fa-ra-ra-ra-ra jokes already.) Now, a couple of decades later, I can’t imagine Christmas without Taiwanese food, and besides, I hate turkey.

For the past several years, our traditional Christmas meal has been hot pothway goh in Taiwanese, huo guo in Mandarin — which is basically a stew cooked on the table instead of the kitchen stove. (We cook ours using an electric induction cooker.) It’s also known as shabu shabu in Japanese; this dish is eaten in many Asian countries including Taiwan, China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. Because it’s cooked right at the dining table with everyone participating in the preparation, it’s a communal experience and great for family gatherings of any size.

There are many regional hot pot variations, but the essential ingredients remain the same: broth, meat, vegetables, and condiments. The broth, which can be plain water or made with whatever stock and seasonings you choose, is brought to a boil. Paper-thin sliced meats such as beef, lamb, or pork are briefly swished through the hot broth; the thinness allows the meat to finish cooking very quickly. Vegetables and other sides — cabbage, bok choy, mushrooms, tofu, shellfish — are cooked for a while longer. As soon as it’s done cooking, everyone dishes up whatever they like. Some ingredients are left in the pot to simmer as this creates a very flavorful broth. We usually do this with mushrooms and taro, which takes an impossibly long time to cook anyway.

The food can be dipped into various condiments; in Taiwanese hot pot, it’s typically a combination of sa cha (a slightly spicy, grainy Chinese sauce made of brill fish, garlic, shallots, and chilies), soy sauce, and raw egg. When the food’s running low in the pot, more ingredients are added and the whole process is repeated until everyone retires to the couch to take a nap. At least that’s what we do in our family.

This year, our hot pot consisted of beef, prawns, fish cakes, tofu, enoki mushrooms, taro, baby bok choy, and cilantro, chopped and sprinkled on top of our steaming hot bowls of stew. I even got a hold of fresh quail eggs for the dipping sauce, but my mom has an irrational fear of raw eggs. We ended up hard boiling them instead.

Here’s an excellent article that covers Taiwanese-style hot pot in more depth.

wasabigelatine wants to know: What are some of your holiday food traditions?

8 Comments

  1. joan wrote:

    mmmmm :D it was yummy and fun indeed! :)

    Wednesday, January 2, 2008 at 4:28 pm | Permalink
  2. I always enjoy pulling off the shrimp heads for you :D

    Wednesday, January 2, 2008 at 4:38 pm | Permalink
  3. Cat wrote:

    Sounds like fun, and yummy if there weren’t so many sea critters involved! ;)

    Lately my family’s been having beef with horseradish sauce, asparagus with bernaise, and hot popovers for Christmas dinner. And my favorite wine gelatin for dessert!

    Thursday, January 3, 2008 at 12:52 pm | Permalink
  4. nina wrote:

    yup. That’s what we had for Christmas dinner. I’ve been shopping at my local Korean grocery for thin sliced meats and the variety of “sea critters.” Where do you get your ingredients around Chicagoland?

    Thursday, January 3, 2008 at 11:28 pm | Permalink
  5. I shop in the suburbs to get my Asian groceries mostly because my mom knows people in the shops so it’s easier for me. We go to Whole Grain Fresh Market (formerly Diho) in Westmont, a place in Naperville I can’t remember the name of, and Mitsuwa in Arlington Heights. I went to H-Mart in Naperville for the first time on Christmas Eve. That place is insane! In a mostly good way, though :)

    Friday, January 4, 2008 at 1:56 am | Permalink
  6. Budget Babe wrote:

    What a wonderful tradition. I enjoyed my first hot pot experience at a Vietnamese restaurant in DC, some ingredients were more exotic than others but I like to think of myself as an adventurous eater.

    Christmas Eve is a special holiday for us Polish folk, tradition dictates no meat – so instead we have dishes like potato pierogi (I made about 100 of them this year, Babcia would be proud), beet soup with mushroom dumplings, pickled herring and any number of fish dishes. Hazelnut torte for dessert. Yummm :)

    Friday, January 4, 2008 at 12:21 pm | Permalink
  7. Cat wrote:

    Pierogi! Yum. :)

    Friday, January 4, 2008 at 2:38 pm | Permalink
  8. I love pierogi! That sounds like a really yummy Christmas dinner :)

    Thursday, January 24, 2008 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

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