Hot Pot is a family style of dining that consists of a metal pot of flavored broth at the center of the table, kept simmering on a hot plate throughout the meal. It originated more than 1,000 years ago in Mongolia, and today variations of hot pot exist all over East and Southeast Asia in countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, Korea, China, Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam and Thailand. Traditionally, the meal centers around meat proteins like beef or mutton. As the popularity of hot pot dining has increased, the range of components has broadened to include other meats, seafood and a plethora of fresh vegetables, mushrooms, noodles and tofu.
Houston is fortunate to have a wide range of restaurants that feature hot pot dining. There are a few key ingredients to a great hot pot experience: broth, variety of components and the value (portion size of components).
The flavor of the broth depends on what kind of restaurant is presenting the hot pot. Typically in Chinese eateries, diners can choose a clear pork and/or chicken broth or a spicier version with the addition of dried Thai or Sichuan peppers. Similarly, a Vietnamese-inspired hot pot would feature a pork or chicken-based stock on one side and a spicier version on the other side of the metal divider in the center of the pot. Mongolian-style hot pots feature a stronger-flavored broth with more herbs, ginger, star anise and doubanjiang spices added to the stock. Doubanjiang is what creates the red chile oil pockets that appear at the surface of the broth.
How to eat Hot Pot:
The burner is set on the table, turned on and a large metal pot is left to simmer. The plate of pre-sliced proteins, which include chicken breast, beef, pork, fish balls, shrimp, imitation crab sticks, tripe and fish, arrives and is set aside. Another plate of raw vegetables, composed of watercress, cai lan and napa cabbage, along with tofu cubes and glass noodles, follows. A smaller plate of already cooked thin egg noodles tossed in sesame oil is brought to the table, along with a bowl carrying two whole eggs and a small bowl of sate chile oil.
The meal requires participation from all parties. Each person cooks what he or she would like to eat by dropping the pieces into the clear broth or the spicier reddish broth, in a process similar to fondue.
The raw egg can be cracked directly into the stock, or some enjoy combining the yolk with the sate chile oil to create a dipping sauce.
The flavor of the stock changes as the meal continues and more items are cooked in the soup. Diners spoon the broth into individual bowls to enjoy with the proteins, veggies and noodles.
Where to Find the Best Hot Pots in the City:
Hot Pot is best with friends or family in tow. It's a fun way to share a meal over conversation and communal cooking. Variations of hot pot can be found at the following restaurants.
Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot — Bellaire Chinatown and Galleria
8488 Bellaire Boulevard and 5901 Westheimer
There are two locations of Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot. This is one of the most popular destinations for hot pot dining. The national chain has restaurants in nine states across the United States and in Canada, China and Japan. The aromatic broth at Little Sheep sets it apart from the dish at other hot pot restaurants. The steaming, milky broth arrives with gogi berries, cardamom pods, ginseng and other herbs. The spicier version includes mala chile oil and peppercorns.
Diners can customize the experience by choosing the soup base, proteins, additional sides and pre-mixed sauces.
All You Can Eat is available every day (excluding holidays) for $21.99 per adult.
A lunch special is available before 2:30 p.m. on Monday through Friday (excluding holidays) from $7.95 and up.
Fu Fu Cafe
9889 Bellaire Boulevard
Traditional Chinese hot pot is available every day on the regular menu. There are six types of hot pot offered. Prices listed are for two persons; however, portion size typically satisfies three to four adults. There is a $5 upcharge for adding the spicy broth.
- Lobster, Dungeness crab and beef combination is $89.99 and listed for two persons.
- Seafood hot pot features shrimp, oysters, fish balls, fish fillet, squid, clam and imitation crab sticks for $33.99 for two persons.
- Beef and shrimp hot pot is $33.99 for two persons.
- Peking-style lamb hot pot features thinly sliced lamb meat and is $33.99 for two persons.
- Combination hot pot, which comes with beef, pork, chicken, shrimp ,tripe, fish fillet, fish balls and imitation crabsticks is $32.99 for two persons.
- Special chicken hot pot features a whole, cut-up, marinated chicken for $34.99 for two persons.
9788 Bellaire Boulevard
There are four types of hot pot at Sinh Sinh. The Chinese/Vietnamese restaurant has been a fixture in Bellaire Chinatown for many years. Suggested servings are not listed on the menu, but judging from the portions, each order can easily feed three to four adults. The price includes the soup, vegetables, noodle and tofu.
- Combination pot is $29.95.
- Lobster combination pot is $46.95.
- Seafood pot is $36.95.
- Vietnamese fish soup hot pot is $25.95.
Hot Pot City
8300 West Sam Houston Parkway South
One of the newer spots on the list is located in the shopping strip in front of the Viet Hoa shopping center at Beechnut and Beltway 8. The restaurant features six signature hot pot meals as well as an à la carte ordering system.
- Meat Lovers is $26.95.
- Seafood Divers is $27.95.
- Surf &Turf is $35.95.
- Tofu-Mush Grower is $25.95.
- Vietnamese S&S (Sweet and Sour) is $27.95.
- Thai Sweet & Sour is $27.95.
Tan Tan — Galleria and Sharpstown/Bellaire
8066 Westheimer and 6816 Ranchester
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A longtime favorite for hot pot in Chinatown is Tan Tan. A second location opened on Westheimer near the Galleria area in 2011.
- Beef and shrimp hot pot is $26.95.
- Combination hot pot, which includes beef, pork, chicken, tripe, pork ball, fish fillet and imitation crabmeat, is $28.95.
- Seafood hot pot, which includes shrimp, fish fillet, imitation crabmeat, fish balls, squid balls, squid, scallop, oysters and mussel, is $30.95.
Other variations of hot pot include Japanese shabu shabu, which is similar in that diners cook proteins in a broth, but the focus lies more in the proteins and not so much the broth, which may be as simple as boiling water. Shabu House at 9889 Bellaire, Suite 319, is a good place to start for the shabu shabu experience.
A Korean version of hot pot centers around soft tofu. The tofu hot pot come with a variety of proteins already cooked within the pot when it arrives at the table. Jang Guem Tofu & BBQ House at 9896 Bellaire has some of the best tofu pots in Houston.