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The Northeast may have survived this winter storm, but now we’re in a cold snap and there’s plenty of winter to go. What’s a girl to do in dire circumstances of braving the outside world or staying inside for more soup? How about hot pot instead?

A traditional Chinese experience, hot pot is all about staying warm around a fire with family and friends. A pot of broth simmers on a tabletop fire, surrounded by fresh ingredients like slices of meats and vegetables that you cook in the broth and eat!. While most popular during the cold weather season, some people enjoy it all year-round (including the summer) to stay cool? So whenever you get your hot pot on, here’s the step-by-step guide to doing it right.

Get your friends! Family! All by your lonesome! It really doesn’t matter. It’s one-size-fits-all. Hot pot is wonderfully customizable and DIY— because you control the ingredients, you can cater it to your own personal tastes. Vegetarian? No problem. Just add tofu for protein. Carbo-loading? Add noodles. Going carb-free? Just leave those starches out. Meat lover? Skip the veggies! The broth is what you make it. Make a chicken stock, beef stock, vegetable stock–it’s up to you!

Many people have it for dinner, but don’t underestimate the power of a lunchtime hot pot (though it has been known to cause the Sleepies). Because it’s so easy to keep going, you end up eating more than you think, so you have plenty of time to digest before bedtime. Also, since it keeps you warm, why not have it earlier in the day? Definitely reserve hot pot for a time when you can savor and enjoy.

There are not quite as many hot pot places in NYC as there are, say, dim sum places, but they’re usually all-you-can-eat. One favorite is Happy Lucky Restaurant in Manhattan’s Chinatown. At $19.95 per person, this place is a great value with very friendly staff (even by Western standards).

Other places on the “to-do list” include: Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot in Flushing and 99 Favor Taste in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Some interesting tidbits to note: Little Sheep is a world-famous brand that sells hot pot soup bases for home use, while 99 Favor Taste also offers a BBQ buffet.

1. Choose your soup base

Happy Lucky has a great selection. The most common are the the Sichuan spicy and the Chinese herbal, which isn’t spicy and has herbs that are considered health-promoting in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Hot Pot

Half spicy and half herbal soup base

2. Choose your ingredients

The Happy Lucky staff will give you a sheet of paper and a pencil to mark which ingredients you’d like. Pro-tip: Try one serving of each, then ask for more of what you like. No restaurant takes kindly to wasted food, so be mindful.

Some must-try ingredients to start with:

Protein: Fatty beef slices (much more tender than regular beef slices), lamb slices, silky tofu, fried tofu, quail eggs

Sliced meats

Veggies: Napa cabbage, daikon radish, lotus root
Starches: Taro root, sweet potato, glass noodles
Mushrooms: Enoki mushrooms

Lotus root, taro, mushrooms, corn

3. Prepare your dipping sauces

Happy Lucky has a sauce station where you can blend all sorts of different ones, including soy sauce, hot sauce, garlic, BBQ sauce, garlic sauce, sweet and sour…you name it. Combine your favorites and experiment.

4. Cook your ingredients

Once the broth simmers, start adding ingredients. If you ordered noodles, save those for last, when the soup base has soak up all the flavors. Add thicker vegetables first and cook thinner slices of meat briefly to avoid overcooking. Once the soup simmers again, you can start putting in the meat! If the meat is sliced correctly, it shouldn’t need much cooking — most of the time, it’s dip-and-eat.

5. Eat!

Once your ingredients are cooked, dip in your sauces, or have it plain.

6. Cook + repeat.

Continue adding ingredients to the pot to cook until you are full. Pretty simple, no? But wait — it gets better! You can do this at home!

The How At Home

All you need to do to enjoy hot pot at home is a sturdy pot, your favorite broth or soup base, and ingredients. For the pot, you can use something as simple as a rice cooker or go all out with a portable kerosene camp stove. For the soup base, use store-bought chicken broth or start a stock from scratch. The only tool that you need is a small strainer so you can scoop cooked ingredients out easily and safely. Give this a shot this weekend and send us your action shots!

Happy Lucky Restaurant
96 Bowery Street
New York, NY 10013

Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot
136-59 37th Avenue
Flushing, NY 11354

99 Favor Taste
285 Grand St
New York, NY 10002

Feature photo: Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot