What's Hotpot? Complete Guide to Hotpot Restaurant Styles

What's Hotpot? Complete Guide to Hotpot Restaurant Styles

August 23, 2023

A hotpot restaurant, also known as a steamboat restaurant in some regions, is a type of dining establishment that specializes in serving hotpot dishes. Hotpot is a popular and interactive dining experience commonly found in East Asian countries, especially China, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, but it has also gained popularity in other parts of the world.

The central concept of a hotpot restaurant involves a simmering pot of broth or stock placed at the center of the dining table. The broth is usually flavored with various herbs, spices, and ingredients to create a rich and flavorful base. Customers then select from a variety of raw ingredients, such as thinly sliced meat (often beef or lamb), seafood, vegetables, mushrooms, tofu, noodles, and dumplings, which they cook in the simmering broth at their table.

What Makes a Hotpot Restaurant Special:

  • Interactive Dining: Hotpot dining is highly interactive, as customers are responsible for cooking their own ingredients in the boiling broth. This creates a communal and engaging dining experience where guests can chat and cook together.

  • Customizable: Customers can tailor their hotpot experience to their preferences by choosing the type of broth, ingredients, and dipping sauces. There are often numerous options to cater to various tastes, including spicy, mild, vegetarian, and more.

  • Variety: Hotpot restaurants typically offer a wide variety of ingredients, ensuring there's something for everyone. This variety extends to the types of broths available, with choices ranging from mild and clear broths to fiery and spicy ones.

  • Dipping Sauces: Many hotpot restaurants provide an array of dipping sauces, condiments, and garnishes that customers can mix to create their own personalized dipping sauce. Common ingredients include soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, cilantro, and chili paste.

  • Health Benefits: Hotpot is often perceived as a healthier dining option because ingredients are cooked in broth rather than fried or heavily sautéed. The use of fresh vegetables and lean meats adds to its health appeal.

  • Seasonal Specialties: Some hotpot restaurants offer seasonal ingredients and specialty broths to keep the menu fresh and exciting throughout the year.

  • Social Dining: Hotpot dining is a social activity where friends and family gather to share a meal and bond over the cooking process. It's a popular choice for group gatherings and celebrations.

Varieties of Hotpot:

Hotpot, a popular dining experience in many Asian countries, comes in various regional styles and flavors. Here are some of the different types of hotpot:

1. Sichuan Hotpot (Chuan Chuan Xiang):

  • Broth: Typically characterized by spicy and numbing flavors, Sichuan hotpot broths feature ingredients like Sichuan peppercorns, dried chilies, and various spices. There are also non-spicy options available.

  • Ingredients: Sichuan hotpot includes a variety of thinly sliced meats (beef, lamb, and pork), vegetables, mushrooms, and tofu. It's known for its wide selection of dipping sauces.

  • Signature Dish: Beef slices dipped in a spicy Sichuan broth.

2. Mongolian Hotpot (Shuan Yang Rou):

  • Broth: Mongolian hotpot broths are often mild and clear. They emphasize the natural flavors of the ingredients.

  • Ingredients: Thinly sliced lamb or mutton is a common choice for Mongolian hotpot. Vegetables, mushrooms, and noodles are also popular.

  • Signature Dish: Slices of lamb cooked in a mild, flavorful broth.

3. Taiwanese Hotpot (Ma La Tang):

  • Broth: Taiwanese hotpot offers a range of broths, including spicy and non-spicy options. It may feature ingredients like herbs, sesame, and garlic.

  • Ingredients: Various meats, seafood, vegetables, and noodles are commonly found in Taiwanese hotpot. The emphasis is on customization and dipping sauces.

  • Signature Dish: A customizable hotpot with your choice of ingredients.

4. Japanese Shabu-Shabu:

  • Broth: Shabu-shabu features clear, savory broths like kombu (seaweed) or bonito (fish) dashi. It's known for its simplicity and emphasis on natural flavors.

  • Ingredients: Thinly sliced beef or pork, along with vegetables like napa cabbage and mushrooms, are popular in shabu-shabu. Dipping sauces may include ponzu and sesame sauce.

  • Signature Dish: Thinly sliced meat cooked by swishing it in the hot broth (the term "shabu-shabu" refers to the swishing sound).

5. Korean Budae Jjigae (Army Stew):

  • Broth: Budae jjigae is a Korean hotpot dish that combines spicy gochujang (red pepper paste) broth with a variety of ingredients.

  • Ingredients: It includes a mix of meats (such as spam, sausage, and tofu), vegetables, and ramen noodles. It originated during the Korean War when ingredients were scarce.

  • Signature Dish: A spicy stew featuring a combination of ingredients.

6. Thai Sukiyaki:

  • Broth: Thai sukiyaki typically features a clear, sweet and savory broth with a hint of spiciness from chili sauce.

  • Ingredients: Thinly sliced meat (often chicken or pork), seafood, vegetables, and glass noodles are common ingredients. It's known for its sweet and tangy dipping sauce.

  • Signature Dish: A sweet and savory hotpot with a Thai twist.

7. Yunnan Hotpot (Crossing the Bridge Noodles):

  • Broth: Yunnan hotpot is famous for its rich and aromatic chicken or pork broth.

  • Ingredients: It features a wide range of ingredients, including rice noodles, thinly sliced meats, and various vegetables. The ingredients are added sequentially to the simmering broth.

  • Signature Dish: Crossing the Bridge Noodles, where ingredients are added one by one to the hot broth, creating a unique dining experience.


Overall, hotpot restaurants offer a unique and enjoyable dining experience that combines fresh ingredients, flavorful broths, and social interaction. Whether you're a fan of spicy Sichuan hotpot, Japanese shabu-shabu, or any of the various regional styles, hotpot dining is an adventure for the palate and a fun way to connect with others at the table.