Hot Pot Party!

Today’s post is about a lot of things – culture shock, trying new things, and of course some amazing food.

Quick personality backstory – I’m hasty to say no to new things. I don’t like to exit my comfort zone. I need a plan for everything, and panic when there isn’t one. I abstain from being social if there aren’t enough details. (How do you dress for an ambiguous night out? What if I have to meet new people? Do I eat before? Too many variables, too much stress.)

I am a creature of habit, an introvert happy to dream about being bold and daring and trying new things but wholly unmotivated to act on those whims. I say I know myself pretty well, so I know what I will and won’t like without having to try anything new. I live a rather narrow existence, and for years I’ve been happy with that.

In the last year, all that has changed. I’ve started saying yes to things I never would have before, dipping a toe into the world beyond my comfort zone. Guess what? I haven’t died, and I feel like my life is more complete – maybe not totally fulfilling, but I’m on my way.

fish market
Serious question: does this look appetizing to anyone?

In terms of food, anyone who knows me probably knows that I absolutely do not like fish (with the exception of shell fish and fried catfish). I swear up and down that salmon is disgusting; I can always pick up on the salty fish after taste and who wants to eat that?! In my new found spirit of saying “yes”, I agreed to eat salmon this year – and I loved it. Maybe my tastes changed. Maybe I just needed to open my mind to it. Either way, it was a seriously good choice.

For my next trick, I tried a fish ball.

Chinese-Hot-pot-at-table
Photo courtesy of Andrea Nguyen, Flickr.

Hot Pot Party

I have a Filipino friend who has the most divine sense of taste I ever encountered. She’s never recommended a bad restaurant (or dish, when I have to ask what on earth I’m ordering/eating) so I pretty much trust her judgment completely when it comes to food. When she came to me  and said “I want to have a hot pot party” I had absolutely no idea what I was agreeing to, but I said yes knowing that it had to be good.

It was so. damn. good.

So good, in fact, that I ate a bunch of things I never would have before, like dandelion leaves, some super cute mushrooms, lotus root and fish balls. That’s right, apparently fish comes in a blob form with no fishy aftertaste. Who knew? These little fish balls are kind of chewy, like scallops, but they have a rich, crablike taste.

I digress.

Hot What?

For those of you who don’t know (as I didn’t until this glorious Hot Pot Party) hot pot is an Asian dish comprised of a large pot filled with a simmering broth base, and a variety of vegetables and meats that get added to the broth over the course of the meal. I won’t pretend to be an expert on the preparation here – I was actually relegated to washing vegetables and asking a hundred questions for this meal. I felt like a guest in my own kitchen!

In addition to the hot pot itself, each person has their own bowl with a dipping sauce made up of a combination of sesame butter, tofu, and some bitter green stuff (I can’t remember what it was), mixed with a few spoonfuls of broth. Of course, everyone is also armed with a pair of chopsticks. Not my utensil of choice.

Side note: a hot pot party is probably the fastest way to learn how to eat with chopsticks. You have to fish a variety of oddly shaped foods out of a sea of broth (oh, fish balls how you teased me!) which is almost impossible for a newbie. You learn quick though, when someone else is decidedly plunging their chopsticks toward the last piece of crab, and you know you only have one shot to swoop in, snatch the goods, and deposit them in your own bowl.

The Culture of a Hot Pot Party

The coolest thing about the hot pot party was the way it unites people at the dinner table. Or, in my case, the kitchen counter. Hot pot is an “active” meal, meaning you are continuously adding ingredients, so it makes sense to stay near the pot. Because the broth is necessary for continual cooking, it’s kind of difficult to “make a plate” in the way you would for a traditional meal. So everyone sits around this simmering pot of broth and goodies, casually plucking out the next bite of their meal, chatting and occasionally chopstick fighting over the goods.

Moral of the story – say yes to new things! If you have suggestions for more food adventures for me, I’d love for you to leave your ideas in the comments. 🙂

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