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Mongolian Hot Pot: Is It Worth All the Work?

I have this thing about working for my food: I don't really like it. When I'm dining, I like to sit back and relax and enjoy food that's presented to me. It's ironic, really, because a lot of Vietnamese food (the food that I grew up with) requires work. We like to barbecue beef at the table for bò nướng vỉ (beef cooked on the grill), then roll them in rice paper wrappers. We have bánh xèo (a big, crispy crepe) that we roll up in lettuce before dunking it in a fish sauce dip. And we have this thing we call lẩu, which is loosely translated into English as "hot pot."

I actually love eating all these things, but since I'm averse to the work involved, I don't eat them that much. Especially hot pot. I almost never want to go eat it. I haven't quite worked out how to do it successfully so that my vegetables don't come out soggy, and I always get quite hot and uncomfortable from the steam coming off of the pot. But with the temperatures being what they have been on some days lately, that steamy heat was just what I found myself craving on a recent evening.

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Mai Pham is a contributing freelance food writer and food critic for the Houston Press whose adventurous palate has taken her from Argentina to Thailand and everywhere in between -- Peru, Spain, Hong Kong and more -- in pursuit of the most memorable bite. Her work appears in numerous outlets at the local, state and national level, where she is also a luxury travel correspondent for Forbes Travel Guide.
Contact: Mai Pham