While there are countless variations on hotpot across China, when someone says they are having hotpot nowadays, whether inside or outside China, they are usually referring to Sichuan mala hotpot, málà huǒguō, 麻辣火锅—the numbing-and-spicy cauldron that stormed out of Chongqing only a few decades ago and has since conquered the world. While the broth—based on oil or beef tallow, doubanjiang, hot chilies and Sichuan pepper—may be intimidating to the spice averse, those of us outside Chongqing and Sichuan usually order a split pot with mala broth on one side and a mushroom or mild bone broth on the other. The yin-yang pot offers the best of both worlds and allows everyone to enjoy the hotpot experience.
And it most definitely is an experience. Hotpot is as much about the festivity and camaraderie—the hours gathered around the pot with friends and family in a communal activity where everyone cooks—as it is about eating.
The posts here walk you through creating a Sichuan mala broth and a Yunnan mushroom broth from scratch, as well as gathering the equipment to serve hotpot; the ingredients to dunk in the broth; and the sauces to dip them in. And just so you know, you can skip the broth making for any but the most important gatherings (or restricted diets), because the readymade hotpot bases on the market are truly as close as you can get to restaurant taste.
Before you do anything, however, start with this evacotive report from Chengdu about how and why to eat hotpot.
Soups & Stews
Hotpot Party at Your House Although this recipe for mala hotpot first published in early 2018 is the most popular recipe on our entire blog, we have revised and updated it as of November 2020. Why? Well, when I first developed it, there weren’t many recipes for Sichuan hotpot online in English—and none at all, that I could find, that…
Coconut Hotpot in the Tropics You may know Hainan chicken rice, but have you heard of 椰子鸡火锅 (yēzǐjī huǒguō), Hainan coconut chicken hotpot? From the largest tropical island in China, Hainan’s local hotpot is a refreshing playground for the region’s revered Wenchang chickens and the fresh coconut water and meat it cooks in. Elsewhere, you can find mala beef tallow broths and heavy…
Hotpot vs. Drypot
The popularity of mala huoguo, or hotpot, spawned a slew of other dishes in its likeness. Mala drypot, 干锅, gānguō, also known as 麻辣香锅, málà xiāngguō, fragrant pot, is basically hotpot without the broth. Hotpot flavors are mixed into a secret sauce in which your choice of numerous ingredients is quickly stir-fried. Another dish, malatang, often served on the street and on the go, is basically a single-serving hotpot, with your choice of ingredients in the soup. Neither of these two dishes are generally served over a flame like hotpot, but Chongqing 烤鱼, kǎoyú, or grilled fish in a sea of saucy veg, usually is. The sauces for mala xiangguo, malatang and kaoyu are made from scratch in restaurants, but many home cooks take the shortcut of starting with a hotpot base to make any of the three.