No Sweet Sour: Yunnan Mushroom Hotpot (Huoguo, 火锅)
Published Mar 28, 2021, Updated Oct 21, 2023
Wild Mushroom Heaven
I was so thrilled when I received the gorgeous handmade brass hotpot from The Mala Market. Finally, I could prepare a proper Yunnan mushroom hotpot in Norway! I love hotpot (火锅, huǒguō) not only because it is a fun way to cook food, but also because hotpot brings to mind a warm sense of social gathering. Whenever I meet old friends back in Kunming, we often share a hotpot meal while catching up with each other.
Hotpot varies depending on the different geographic regions of China. In the south, Chongqing’s spicy hotpot is the most well known. The numbing and hot 麻辣 (málà) broth is pictured on the spicy side of the pot above. In Yunnan and Guizhou, hotpot flavors diverged further to suit local tastes.
Locals fond of sour flavors in Guizhou province eat 酸汤鱼火锅 (suāntāngyú huǒguō), a sour hotpot prepared with a fermented tomato chili broth, where fish (鱼, yú) is the main ingredient. In northern Yunnan, where the locals appreciate savory, umami flavors, two seasonal hotpots prevail. 天麻火腿鸡 (tiānmá huǒtuǐ jī) hotpot, prepared with gastrodia root (天麻, tiānmá), Xuanwei ham (火腿, huǒtuǐ) and silkie chicken (乌骨鸡, wūgǔjī), is widely popular during wintertime. Then, every summer once the rainy season begins in June, the region transforms into wild mushroom heaven. Suddenly, a whole range of wild mushrooms find their way into Yunnan mushroom hotpot feasts!
As far as I can remember, Yunnan mushroom hotpot didn’t exist until the late 1990s. At that time, a growing demand for high-end dining experiences led to a wave of revolution among restaurants, who had to come up with new, exciting ideas to attract more customers. Adding wild mushroom—a precious ingredient with a limited seasonal supply—in hotpot was considered “luxurious,” a real treat. It became a very popular concept. Numerous mushroom hotpot restaurants opened their doors within one year of the initial booming success.
My family lived in a residential area where most mushroom hotpot restaurants were located. The intersection of 金汁路 (Jin Zhi Lu)／关兴路 (Guan Xing Lu) streets became a must-visit for travelers wanting to taste an authentic Yunnan wild mushroom meal. Every time I walked down the street, I was tempted by the scent of hotpot broth floating in the air. Inspired by the idea, my parents soon started preparing their own mushroom hotpot at home.
Preparing your mushroom hotpot
Yunnan mushroom hotpot is traditionally prepared with a rich chicken or silkie chicken broth, slow-cooked with the simplest spices (i.e., ginger and Sichuan pepper) for two hours. Because dried mushrooms carry more flavor than fresh ones, most mushroom hotpot restaurants also use a range of dried mushrooms in the base broth, reserving fresh mushrooms for serving. Sometimes, a piece of Xuanwei ham is added to further enrich the flavor.
When I prepared this recipe, I selected ingredients that are easy to source internationally year-round, but still guarantee a rich and flavorful hotpot. Dried mushrooms ground to powder boost the broth flavor in lieu of Xuanwei ham. Shiitake and porcini offer a flavorful broth base, while king oyster mushroom, enoki mushroom and beech mushrooms satisfy the tongue with a meaty mouthfeel and juicy, umami flavor. If you are able to source dried morel mushrooms, be sure to add it in the broth base as well. I love how they soak up all of the flavorful broth like a sponge.
The star ingredients for mushroom hotpot are no doubt wild mushrooms. 松茸 (sōngróng) matsutake, 鸡枞菌(jīzōng jùn) termite, 牛肝菌 (niúgān jùn) porcini and 鸡油菌 (jīyóu jùn) chanterelle are the most popular mushrooms among diners, but there are hundreds of more rare and obscure mushrooms foraged from the mountains around Kunming. Growing up, my grandmother used to bring me foraging on the backside of 金殿/Jindian forest park, near their village. Mornings were the prime picking time for mushrooms—many foragers get up at 3 a.m.—especially when it had rained the day before.
Foraging for wild mushrooms in Yunnan
Foraging requires experience and shrewd observation skills because wild mushrooms grow under specific conditions and locations. Jiyou jun/chanterelles are easy to find near streams in shady, sloped areas with short, wet grass. However, rarer species like niugan jun/porcini and Yunnan’s native 干巴菌 (gānbā jùn)—a grey, flower-like coral fungus with a unique woody and umami fragrance—hide in the fallen dried pine leaves of the coniferous woods they call home.
Jizong/termite mushrooms are rooted in symbiotic fungus combs cultivated by termites, hence their unofficial nickname. Sometimes, I found them near the root of an old pine tree, or on a grassy slope by the road. They often regrow on the same spot; an experienced mushroom picker would note the location, then hide the spot with dried leaves to prevent others from discovering it. I remember finding a piece of ganba jun or a spot with jizong felt like hitting the jackpot!
Other types of wild mushrooms grown near Kunming: 青头菌 (qīngtóu jùn) greenhead mushrooms (like a champignon button mushroom with a jade-colored cap); 扫帚菌 (sàozhǒu jùn) yellow coral mushroom (we call it “broom mushroom” because the shape resembles a broom); 奶浆菌 (nǎijiāng jùn) saffron milk cap (similar in color to chanterelle, a milky colored liquid will release if punctured). These mushrooms prefer an environment of needle leaf and broadleaf forest and are much easier to spot, making them an ideal choice for a less pricey wild mushroom meal.
Songrong/matsutake, ganba jun and jizong jun are hard to find outside Yunnan. However, niugan jun/porcini and jiyou jun/chanterelle are available during the mushroom season from August til the beginning of November in northern Europe. If you live near a place where wild mushrooms grow, I encourage you to take a tour in the woods and look for them. (Editor’s note: if you have no prior experience foraging, consider going with a professional. Many poisonous mushrooms exist that seem similar to edible ones.)
Lastly, a hotpot is not complete without a dip. In most hotpot restaurants, there is a self-service bar with tons of ingredients for diners to mix their own dipping sauce. This recipe combines the most commonly used ingredients to prepare a Yunnan flavor hotpot dipping. I selected ingredients for a spicy chili dip because the mushroom hotpot is mild in comparison to a Chongqing hotpot. A more intense dip adds complexity to its final flavor.
When eating mushroom hotpot in Yunnan, restaurants set a timer on the table to boil for at least 20 minutes after any wild mushrooms have been added, until they are safe to consume. This ensures all the wild mushrooms are cooked to eliminate the chance of someone getting mushroom poisoning. You do not need to do this for store-bought mushrooms, but if you are foraging for your own, please follow suit and consume at your own risk.
If you have a two-sided hotpot, you can still eat and enjoy the spicy side of the hotpot. If you only have one broth option, simply add the wild mushrooms early on, before inviting everyone to the table.
For a spicy mala hotpot recipe, try our Sichuan Mala Hotpot, From Scratch (Mala Huoguo with Tallow Broth)!
No Sweet Sour: Yunnan Mushroom Hotpot
Mushroom Hotpot Broth
- 20 grams dried porcini mushroom, divided
- 20 grams dried shiitake mushroom, divided
- 1¼ cups warm water for soaking/stock base
- 1 large free-range chicken leg quarter, bone-in halved
- 25 grams peeled ginger, sliced thickly
- ½ teaspoon whole Sichuan pepper
- 2 green onions, divided
- 1 Chinese black cardamom pod (caoguo) optional
- 8 dried Chinese dates (jujube)
- 1 large tomato, sliced into six wedges
- 200 grams fresh enoki mushrooms, divided approx. 7 ounces
- 200 grams fresh clamshell (beech) mushrooms, divided approx. 7 ounces
- 200 grams fresh eryngii (king oyster) mushrooms, divided approx. 7 ounces
- and/or an assortment of wild mushrooms if in season and available
Yunnan Style Hotpot Dipping Sauce
- sesame oil
- Laoganma fermented beancurd
- garlic, minced
- fresh cilantro leaves (xiangcai)
- green onion, sliced thin
- oyster sauce to taste
- salt to taste
- MSG to taste
- toasted chili powder (toasted ground chilies) optional
- Thai bird's eye chili pepper, finely chopped optional
- 3-4 tablespoons hotpot broth
Mushroom Hotpot Broth
- Divide the dried porcini and shiitake into 10 gram portions. In a bowl, soak 10 grams of porcini and 10 grams of shiitake with 300ml warm water for 30 minutes. Drain, reserving the stock. Using a spice grinder, grind the remaining 10 grams of porcini and 10 grams of shiitake into a fine powder.
- In a stockpot, add 2 liters of cold water. Add the chicken thigh, ginger, Sichuan peppercorn, black cardamom pod and one green onion. Bring to a boil, skimming off and discarding any foam. Add the reserved mushroom stock. Turn heat down to medium and simmer for 40 minutes.
- Strain and discard all aromatics from the broth, keeping the chicken only. Add the porcini and shiitake mushroom powder, stirring to dissolve. Bring back to a boil, then simmer for five minutes. Season with salt to taste.
- Transfer the stock base into the hotpot. Add Chinese dates, tomato slices, remaining green onion, and 100 grams each of the whole fresh enoki, beech and king oyster mushrooms. Boil again, continuing to cook for 5 minutes. Add the remaining mushrooms throughout the meal and enjoy!
Yunnan Style Hotpot Dipping Sauce
- Combine all of the ingredients together in a dipping bowl. Add 3-4 tablespoons of the hotpot broth just before serving and mix well. Each person can decide on the ratio of each ingredient depending on their tastes.
Tried this recipe?