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Tips for giving your reunion dinner a steamy twist

With the Lunar New Year around the corner, it’s time again to get organized for the yearly reunion dinner with the family.  And it’s hard to go wrong with a hot pot or steamboat, as it’s called in Singapore and Malaysia.

A form of communal dining, hot pots consist of a pot of simmering broth in the center of the table, surrounded by raw ingredients.  Dinner is cooked by placing raw vegetables, meat and seafood into the pot.  When cooked, diners fish out the food they like and eat it with a dipping sauce.  Easy to prepare, fun to cook and eat, a hot pot dinner is a deliciously fresh meal for people of all ages.

Originating in Mongolia over 1000 years ago, the hot pot dinner has since spread across Asia, with different variants popular in different countries.  In the past, hot pots were made and kept heated with charcoal fires or portable gas stoves.  These days, portable induction cookers like the Electrolux EIH600 make hot pot dinners a more convenient affair.

The use of electricity ensures that you’ll never run out of an energy source to generate heat, while precise touch controls let you boil or simmer the soup as needed.  Induction cookers are also safer than the naked flames of gas or charcoal cookers, so that’s one less thing you’ll have to worry about with children at the table.

Regardless of how you choose to heat your hot pot, here are a few ideas to give your Lunar New Year dinners a different flavour.

Mala Huo Guo

A popular variant of hot pot from China, Mala Huo Guo literally means “numbing spicy hot pot”. So spicy that it numbs the tongue, Mala is often described to be savory, spicy, complicated and addictive.

Mala sauce is usually made with dried chili peppers, chili powder, chili bean paste, Sichuan peppercorns, clove, garlic, star anise, black cardamom, fennel, ginger, cinnamon, salt and sugar. Ingredients are simmered with beef tallow and vegetable oil for many hours, which is how the broth gets its distinctive layer of oil.

As the Mala broth imparts a strong flavour to the ingredients, there is little need for dipping sauces to go with the food.  In fact, it’s more common to eat food cooked in Mala with white rice to mitigate the intense spiciness of the food.

Lu Canh Chua
Translated into “sour soup hot pot”, Lu Canh Chua is a popular type of hot pot in Vietnam.  It is made with Canh Chua, a sour soup originating from the Mekong Delta region.  The broth is typically made with tamarind, pineapple, vinegar, tomatoes, bean sprouts and marrowbone or fish.  It is garnished with a combination of herbs to give it fragrance, including caramelized garlic, scallions, coriander, basil and okra.

Depending on one’s preference, a main ingredient, such as beef, seafood or other types of meat is ordered, although a mixture of meats can also be used.  Once cooked, the ingredient is eaten with fish or soy sauce.  Rice noodles, vegetables, tofu and mushrooms are also commonly served with the hot pot.

 

Shabu-Shabu

Literally “swish swish” in Japanese, the shabu-shabu hot pot is named after the sound of ingredients being swished around in the pot.  Perhaps the simplest hot pot to create, using just boiling water or a fish stock called dashi.

Thinly-sliced beef is the primary ingredient cooked in a shabu-shabu, although different meats and seafood can also be used.  Tofu and vegetables are also cooked alongside the meat. The cooked food is dipped in ponzu or sesame sauce before being eaten with white rice.

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