The Chinese hot pot boasts a history of more than 1000 years. As far back as the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), hot pots were already common. The basic idea is to have a steaming pot of soup in the center of the table surrounded by platters of thinly sliced meats and vegetables that can be cooked by blanching in the hot broth.
There are plenty of regional variations to this form of dining.
Beijing's mutton hot pot is almost a signature dish for the Chinese capital. A large brass pot with a funnel in the middle, that allows hot coals to keep the soup bubbling throughout the meal. Huge platters of thinly sliced frozen curls of mutton or lamb are the main attraction, accompanied by a sort of do-it-yourself dipping sauce that can include sesame paste, soy sauce, chili oil, fermented red bean curd and pickled flowering chives.
What is now extremely popular is an imported hot pot from Sichuan, and a dining concept that is holistic to say the least. A pot divided down the middle gave us a choice of cooking our meats in either a plain chicken stock, or a Sichuan version with about a centimeter of hot chili oil and spices floating on top.
The Cantonese-style hot pot is eaten without any complicated concoction of sauces, since the Cantonese prefer the original flavors of the food. But often, the steaming hot, just-cooked slivers of meat would be dipped into a small bowl of beaten egg. This coats the meat, effectively cooling it down and adding a velvety cover that provided a delicious tactile contrast.