Patience Is Key For Perfect Hot Pot

There's a reason why hot pot restaurants have been popping up from coast to coast across the U.S. Foodies can enjoy a steaming meal at Qiao Lin Hotpot in Chicago's Chinatown. Or, if you find yourself in Manhattan, you can stop into Han Dynasty. If you're across the country in Seattle, Happy Lamb is ready to satisfy your hot pot craving. What's all the hype about? 

We've got news for you: Hot pot has been a thing. According to The New York Times, it used to be popular among the emperors of ancient China. Since then, the concept of hot pot has taken off across Southeast Asia in Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and Malaysia, united by the universal appeal of a communal meal, per Today. Hot pot is as much a meal as a social event — like so many meals, an excuse to gather.

The novelty is in the cook-it-yourself format via a pot of boiling water shared at the center of the table, while the hot pot meal involves simple meats and veggies. Baby bok choy, napa cabbage, daikon radish, mushrooms, firm tofu, rice cakes, watercress, and chrysanthemum greens are common fixtures in a classic hot pot lineup. Meats like bulgogi, pork belly, and short ribs are sliced razor-thin or cut into bite-size pieces for lightning-fast cook times. But, for a perfect hot pot, the most important ingredient isn't food at all: It's patience.

Make sure your water is hot enough to thoroughly cook your meat and veggies

Keep in mind that different foods require different cook times. That thinly-sliced meat only needs about 10 seconds in the boiling water to cook through, while mushrooms need at least five full minutes, states Thrillist. To that effect, make sure your water temperature remains hot enough to actually cook your food throughout the duration of your meal. Dunking raw pork belly into a vat of tepid water isn't going to cut it; wait for the water to boil again before diving into your next course.

To maximize your time, it's a good idea to put foods with longer cooking times in the pot first, shares Tourist Secrets. Vegetables like napa cabbage and mushrooms take longer than meats, so you'd want to add those in first. Plus, this way, you can snack on quick-cooking bulgogi while you wait for the veggies to cook through. Just be sure to keep an eye on your food to avoid overcooking, as it's easy to get distracted as you socialize over hot pot with your friends.

Don't be afraid to ask your server any questions you might have, and as Zimu Chen of hot pot restaurant Baba in Massachussetts notes, "The most important thing is to have fun at hot pot!" (via Foodbeast). "Hot pot is all about experimenting and discovering your personal flavor preferences, so have a good time with it."