Sunday, December 03, 2006

Sichuan Hot Pot & the Chinese Ideology of "Hot Air"

The winter season is something everyone looks forward to. Things get fuzzier and people are nicer during the holiday seasons. Some people can't wait for the first drop of snow and go boarding/skiing. Fashionistas start hopping on websites for online clothing shopping. People with nothing better to do run around the neighborhood, harassing civilians with annoying christmas songs. But for the Chinese people, winter only means one thing: hot pot. In chinese, we call it 'huo guo' which literally means 'fire pot', or 'da bean low' in cantonese. The concept of hoarding over a pot with a smorgasbord of fresh vegetables, seafood and thinly-sliced meat originated in Mongolia. Just imagine big, nomadic people in armor with shields/swords throwing a campfire sans marshmallows. It is absolutely freezing in the desert! Korean-style bbq and Japanese yakiniku bbq also originated from Mongolia. They would grill meat on their metal shields and use their helmets to boil soup. Genius. The same shield that is stained of blood also serves as a culinary gadget. Maybe it adds flavoring.

My college friends and I get together once in a while to shoot the sh*t and we love to do it over a big communal meal with beer. I headed over to 99 Ranch Market to acquire the goods. I love buying stuff for big meals. Everyone stares at you like your a pig because you're pushing around a 100-lb cart of grub. Oink.

Every one has their preference of hot pot ingredients. You can pretty much put anything in there. We ended up getting nappa cabbage, enoki/oyster/king/maitake mushrooms, egg dumplings, fish and pork balls, vermicelli, shrimp, tofu, quail eggs and about 6 lbs of meat for the 10 of us. I of course, bought way too much food. The nice thing about hot pot is that everything will be boiled and is pretty much good for you.

We had to kill some time to let the water boil in the 4 pots we had. I grabbed some of the fish balls we had and skewered them. I made a quick marinade using satay bbq sauce, soy sauce, white pepper, sugar and water and basted the fish balls. Threw them on the grill for a few minutes till they were lightly charred. Mmmm, these were so good. Just how I had them in Hong Kong.

While I grilled, I had a cool bottle of Taiwan Beer. I love the name - so simple and generic. Although the label proclaims it as World Class Beer, I think it's a little too light. Very crisp and refreshing though, like Korean Hite beer. This still tastes better than Tsingtao beer which I think of as bottled urine.

There are many different sauces you can use for the hot pot. I just do the cantonese style which is pretty much the same as the fishball marinade. I take 2-3 tablespoons of the satay bbq sauce and add one raw egg, soy sauce and a little sugar. Mix that up and you're good to go. For a nice kick, add thinly sliced green onions, cilantro and green chilis. So good! Hot pot can be done with plain old water. After about an hour of cooking the meats/seafood/veggies, you'll get a nice rich broth which can be seasoned with salt for soup. Talk about double dinner in one sitting. We just used a 1 can of chicken broth and 2 cans of water and added shrimp and daikon into the pot. You can start eating once the water boils.

Here are two of the three platters we compiled. The sliced beef, shrimp and vermicelli are not pictured.

Because we had four pots, we decided to designate two for the Lava Pot, also known as "Sichuan-style Hot Pot" (Ma-Lah-Huo-Guo). 'Ma' means numbing and 'lah' means spicy. And that's exactly what it is. Ladies and gentleman, you are looking at the inside of a volcano. Sichuan-style hot pot uses a lot of red chili peppers and spices. And lemme tell you, it's lethal. My friend and I took a whiff of the broth and immediately teared. Our nose hairs felt like they were just singed. Wow, some potent stuff. But it tasted fabulous. My friend W was at the market and didn't know which flavoring pack to buy and had to call his mom up. She told him to look for the bottle with the "ugly old woman" on it. Some of you may know about Chinese packaging. It's so vain of the creators to smack their face on the label. But thanks to the "ugly old woman", we loved it. The spiciness of her sauce must reflect her self-hatred for the lack of beauty. Caution: Sichuan-style hot pot will cause the "Ring of Fire" or "Sting Ring" if you know what I mean haha.

It was time to start and everyone dove in for the food. Within 15 minutes, you can hear people sniffling and see them wipe sweat off their foreheads. That Sichuan pot was destroying us. One of my friends filled up a 64-oz cup of water and I ended up refilling my water cup 3 times. After about 45 minutes, I started to slow down. My stomach was hurting with goodness and my mouth felt a little numb and swollen.

I was starting to have the symptoms of "yeet hay" or "huo qi da" which literally means "hot air". Although there is no medical explanation for this in English, the term is widely-used in Chinese. Some people say it's similar to a canker sore but really it is an imbalance in the immune system. The Chinese believe in "yin and yang" which is the ideology that everything has a complementary opposite. And it applies to food as well. Ever eat fried chicken or something oily on a hot day? Yeah, you don't feel too good after that. Chinese will balance out a hot meal with a cold cup of tea and eat a cold meal when it's hot. Makes sense. They will rarely eat hot, fried food on a hot day. Symptoms of 'yeet hay' are bumps on the tongue and inside the mouth, sore throat and possibly bloody noses. Basically, this is a term that reminds people to keep a healthy diet, get lots of rest and do things in moderation. It made sense when I ate the food, it was just way too spicy and scalding-hot for me, but drinking water helped balance things out.

After the hot pot, we all sat down on the couch with food coma. It looked like a cemetary of gluttons. We stared at each other like zombies but it was ok, we just had great food. I love the feeling of eating something good and relaxing. That's what hot pot is all about. The whole meal cost about $180. MUCH cheaper than going out to a restaurant to eat. Hot pot is something usually done at home. Good seeing you guys! Thanks for reading.

Check out the Japanese version of hot pot done by Oishii Eats here - shabu shabu. It's good sh*t!


rameniac said...

dude that looks awesome. good ole da been low. my god cantonese looks ugly in romanization. did "ugly old woman sauce" contain medicinal herbs for the sichuan hot pot? i'm thinking of the huo wo at mon land, which may not really be sichuan and might just be a a mongolian thing. you just reminde me tho that i gotta get my hot pot on at least once this month. christmas partyyyy for all the food bloggers! ^-^

Daily Gluttony said...

your post is making me homesick, man! da been low is one of my family's fave things to do in cold weather. how did you guys make the sichuan broth? we usually do a broth flavored with daikon & ginger, but i do wanna try & do the spicy one one of these days!

and yeah, i get ya on the "yeet hay." my folks always made us drink lotsa water or some kind of soup w/ cooling properties (e.g. wintermelon) after eating a meal of fried foods or da been low, for that matter. i am a true believer in it & its effects on a person's overall feeling of well being, though i told my caucasian co-workers about it once and they looked at me like i was on crack. funny, did you know that there are even some fruits with yeet hay properties? my mom told me that pineapple, grapes and lychee are considered "hot" fruits. at first i didn't believe her, but i started noticing how i felt that very subtle dry mouth feeling after eating them.

elmomonster said...

I got into hot pot a few years ago (new to me since in Indonesia it's always hot, never a good time to sit in front of a boiling cauldron), and you're right, it hits the spot in the winter. I'm saddened a little that my favorite place called Little Sheep in City of Industry has gone out of business. But really the cheapest way is to just buy the stuff from the market and do it at home.

eatdrinknbmerry said...

Rameniac, yes good ol' dabeenlow. Such a simple yet nostalgic meal. haha cantonese is so hard to romanize. I think the ugly old woman sauce does have herbal/medicinal ingredients. If you think about it, hot/spicy stuff makes 'things move' so I guess it's medical in a sense haha. You like shabu or da been low better? Personally, I can't get away from the satay bbq/egg sauce. I can eat that over rice or with fun see (vermicelli).

DG, don't worry. This week's nabe party pretty much has the same ingredients. I can try getting some sichuan flavoring broth which you can get at any chinese market. For sure I will bring the satay bbq/egg yolk sauce for us. J's sauces are good as well. The spicy one is contagious, you know it's going to rock you but you give in and keep eating from it. yes, i've heard that fruits like durian and lychee can give you yeet hay as well. i don't eat fruit anyway so that won't happen to me haha. but just think how gross it is to eat a fat, oily piece of pizza on a 95+ day with hot coffee. bleh.

Elmo, there is also a little lamb/sheep in San Gabriel and Monterey Park I believe. Hot Pot/Shabu Shabu would've been a nice option for the blogger meetup. I'm all for eating at home anyway. Friends, beer and a hot pot = good times.

sneakypeteiii said...

Man, I miss da been low, though I don't usually associate it with being yeet hay (then again, Hong Kongers aren't famous for their tolerance for spiciness).

You're making me salivate at the thought of going back to ole HK for Christmas!

Chubbypanda said...

Woot! Hot pot! I already commented on my favorite broths back when Jeni did her shabu shabu article, so I don't have much to add. For Thanksgiving, my family had a roast turkey with sides and Taiwanese hot pot with Dungeness crab. Mmmm...

I really wanna have a hot pot party now.

- Chubbypanda

Colleen Cuisine said...

ooooh - that looks so good! you guys know how to do it right with the hot pot. all I had growing up was mcdonalds... booo. can't wait for friday!

Blue Plate said...

The hot pot is a way of life for Chinese families. Your post brought back memories. Now excuse me while I go get my pot.

chicopants said...

Loved the original post, what a wonderful meal to tour thru...and I enjoyed reading everyone's comments too:) Thanks!

Jeni said...


Bon Vivant said...

Well, I am in awe of you. I've always wanted to do this at home but am always too lazy (it's so much easier to go out to a Hot Pot place.)

You've given me a great idea about what I'm getting my bro for Xmas. Every year he requests kitchen items that are specific to cooking one food (potato masher, asparagus steamer, pizza stone, etc.) I had run out of gifts until I read your post. He's getting a Chinese Hot Pot from me this year. Thank you!

Food Marathon said...

Which restaurant does justice to a Hot Pot?

Passionate Eater said...

I know that "ugly old woman sauce," that is one of my relatives you SOB! Jk, I love that sauce because it comes with the perfect punchiness of spice and salt, and MSG! Looks great, and this was an amazing post EDNBM. Thanks for the lesson in Chinese culture!

One Food Guy said...

I too love hot pot! There is a great place in Boston's Chinatown called Shabu Zen. The last time I was there with some friends, our server reminded us at the end of the meal that the broth in the pot resulting from all the cooking of vegetables and meats is tasty way to end the experience. So, my friend M decided to scoop up a spoonful...and burnt the sh!t out of his mouth! He doesn't want to go back now, which is too bad, the place is great!

eatdrinknbmerry said...

Sneaky pete, yeet hay is more about the temperature of foods. hot pot is really hot food after hot food and it can destroy the tongue/mouth. well, atleast for me it does. I'm going to HK for x'mas!

CP, crazy... hot pot and crab. The turkey must've been neglected.

Colleen, make sure you and B have the sake face on!

Blue Plate, hot pot for sure brings back family memories. We had it once w/ the family and I felt like I was a little kid again.

Chicopants, thanks for stopping by.

J, japanese version coming up! Too bad Japanese food isn't spicy. We can do a Japanese/Sichuan style hotpot.

BVivant, you'll find that it's substantially cheaper if you do this at home w/ friends. I've been to places and dropped over $30. So not worth it. I'm sure your brother would appreciate this as a gift.

Food Marathon, in LA a lot of people like to go to Little Sheep. There's one in San Gabriel, Monterey Park and Hacienda Heights. I've been there once but at that time wasn't big on lamb which is what they serve mainly.

PE, i am so sorry haha. Tell her that I love her sauce though. So good. You know about 'hot air' right?

One Food Guy, yes, the soup created at the end of the meal is super rich and tasty. But can also be a means for 'yeet hay' hot air. really, this ideology is about not eating rich foods in large quantities.

elle said...

that looks like fun eating-you paint a great picture.

joanh said...

that looks SPICY! i'm supposed to go do "ma-la" hotpot someday soon.. it's funny how we usually do hotpot for holidays- i guess it's a easy, communal thing to do, so that no one gets stuck in the kitchen.

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