Hot Pot Night in Hong Kong

“Sunday, you come to hot pot with me and my friends! Hong Kong style!”

Helen Shih-Chan is family of family of friends of my family (long story) who, along with her husband, is an overly generous Cantonese woman of about 60. I can never never refuse such an offer to eat with locals.  So off I’m am taken to a fluorescently-lit restaurant in what used to be the Walled City of Kowloon. I ignore the stares from the other patrons (as usual, I’m the only westerner there), and I quickly meet our fellow diners, the lovely Mr. and Mrs. Ng.

Upon arriving at the table, the waitresses install two simmering pots into the square table openings; one pot with water and quartered tomatoes, the other with a darker liquid and floating cilantro.

“No English here. I order,” Mr. Chan says to me as he checks off dishes on his paper sheet filled with Cantonese characters.

“Yes. She eat anything,” Helen assures him. (They had fed me duck feet and pig snout two days earlier.)

And soon enough, the dishes of ingredients start arriving: raw sliced beef, frozen meatballs, raw dumplings (similar to wontons in the States but a million times better), and various fish balls. And the cooking begins! Into the broth Mrs. Ng and Helen start dumping ingredients. Next come even more plates of raw dumplings, sliced fish, pigskin, squid, and other unrecognizables. And the chaos really begins! Steam is rising from the pots, arms and chopsticks are flying everywhere, dunking raw meat, passing plates, serving dumplings left and right, dipping cooked bites into the soy and chili sauce. Helen deposits steaming hot meats and fishes into my tiny bowl. “Its hot! Its hot! Don’t eat yet!”

After proper cooling, it is all delicious; especially the seafood dumplings and the meatballs. My bowl is filled over and over again since “no” isn’t a valid answer at this dinner table.

“Cow has four stomach. This is just one,” Mr. Chan tells me as he places a rubbery sting-ray looking item into my dish. “Its good!” he says.

No… It’s not.

Amidst this frenzy I start to wonder what this large untouched plastic bowl of lettuce and cabbage is doing to my right. “That’s for after,” Helen says. And sure enough when the numerous plates of meat are all devoured, into the pot goes all the vegetables along with rice noodles. I sit there skeptical as to how they will turn out: they are cooking them to death! But when the softened watercress and cabbage land in my bowl… Damn. They are the most flavorful greens my mouth has met! The flavor of all those boiled animals has hopped into that lettuce like I have never experienced. This order of operations makes sense after all.

Many Asian countries have communal hot pot dishes: shabu-shabu in Japan, jigae in Korea, suki in Thailand, and a hot pot of mostly lamb in Mongolia. They all have their own respective dipping sauces as well. According to the unbiased opinion of my local Hong Kong hosts, Hong Kong’s hot pot uses the greatest variety of  meats and ingredients and is supposedly all around the best tasting. Three weeks into my Hong Kong semester and this was certainly an exciting meal that I will never forget.

Cantonese lesson from a non-Cantonese speaker:

jan ho-may ”  =  that was delicious