Herbs for Hot Pot

By Eric Brand 

“Hot pot” is one of the great regional specialties of Chinese cuisine.  A wide range of regional styles exist, but they all share the common feature of a tabletop pot of boiling water that is used to cook thinly sliced meats and fresh vegetables (much like a fondue).  People sit around the table for hours cooking food in the boiling water, and by the end of the meal the water that has been used to cook all the food becomes a savory and delicious soup to cap off the meal. 

By definition, hot pot utilizes Chinese herbs as part of the broth’s seasoning base.  The herbs used vary depending on the region and style, and it is common to see versions that are incredibly spicy (especially in Sichuan province) as well as versions that are mild and delicate.  The herbs pictured above are a representative mix for the mild version, but adding handfuls of chili, oil, and Sichuan peppercorn can take the base broth in a spicy direction very quickly.  Despite the prevalence of hot pot throughout all regions of China, in the past no one had ever completed a comprehensive academic assessment of all the regional variations in the Chinese herbs that are used.  Consequently, one of my teacher’s PhD students in Hong Kong is doing her dissertation on this topic, and her work represents the first time that the topic has ever been comprehensively researched in academia.

 The Chinese herbs pictured above came from my favorite California herb shop, my “grandpa’s” shop DXD in San Diego.  It is a Mongolian style hot pot preparation, and it uses the following herbs:

Huang Qi (Astragali Radix)
Bai Dou Kou (Amomi Fructus Rotundus)
Long Yan Rou (Longan Arillus)
Shan Yao (Dioscoreae Rhizoma)
Dang Shen (Codonopsis Radix)
Yu Zhu (Polygonati Odorati Rhizoma)
Bei Sha Shen (Glehniae Radix)
Cao Guo (Tsaoko Fructus)
Hua Jiao (Zanthoxyli Pericarpium)
Gou Qi Zi (Lycii Fructus)
Da Zao (Jujubae Fructus)
Chen Pi (Citri Reticulatae Pericarpium)
Ba Jiao Hui Xiang (Anisi Stellati Fructus) [star anise is a warm, acrid and sweet medicinal that warms yang, disperses cold, and rectifies qi]

To make hot pot, a basic bone broth is boiled on a tabletop hot plate with the above herbs.  Very thinly sliced meats (usually packaged frozen for easy of handling) and veggies are stirred in the water and then eaten over rice with a tasty dipping sauce.  If you think Chinese herbs taste bad, you’ve never tried a good hot pot!