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A ladle goes a long way

By Craig Mcintosh | China Daily | Updated: 2018-02-10 09:09
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Yet despite my conversion, I still have five simple rules to ensure a happy hotpot experience:

1 No more than four people around a table.

Any more diners and you risk culinary carnage. You all begin fighting over those quick-to-cook meatballs, and people start randomly throwing in ingredients in the wrong order, like putting in the lettuce first, which is madness, as it cooks in a flash and gums up the ladle-an essential tool for scooping out the meat and broken bits of potato that drop to the bottom of the pot.

Plus, if you have novices adding the ingredients, expect tears. Imagine a child "bombing" at a public swimming pool and splashing everyone. Now imagine if the water was 85 C.

2 It's no shame to use a spoon.

Yes, being a master at chopstickery (not a real word, but it should be) makes it easier to navigate the pot, but mealtimes shouldn't be a battle of wills. I've watched someone fight with a quail's egg for about two minutes before they surrendered and, in a fit of anger, attempted to skewer it with a single chopstick. I admire the ingenuity, but they missed out on all the meatballs. Spoon it; no one will think less of you.

3 Your bowl is your best friend.

There's many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip. But to avoid having at a dinner table covered in more soup than the wall of a Warhol gallery, bowls should be taken to the pot to fetch the food at all times.

4 Know your limit.

As a Westerner, I grew up eating the portions of food that were put in front of me. You know where you are and how much you've eaten. With the shared pot style of cooking in China it can be hard to keep track. A good hotpot can feel like a bottomless pit of pleasure, and before you know it you've consumed the equivalent of a small cow and a pensioner's vegetable patch.

After one such meal in Shanghai, I had to be pulled up the restaurant's steps by fellow diners to reach the exit because my legs were unable to carry the extra weight I'd taken on.

Having to undo your belt or the top button of your trousers is perhaps a warning sign that you're reaching peak meatball, so stop. Alternatively, to slow your consumption, use toothpicks instead of chopsticks-although if you do, you should probably also wear those gloves firefighters use.

5 Ultimately, have fun with it.

A good hotpot can be heaven, and it's a great way to get to know new friends-even if you do risk a few burns in the process.

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