Clinkin' Bowls: Decoding The Popularity Of Hotpot In India

Hotpot has enamoured desi foodies and one can see why. There’s something about communal eating over a steaming cauldron of spicy broth that brings people together. However, what is it about this mode of sharing, family-style dining that’s garnered such traction merely a couple of years after the nightmare of socially distanced dining?

The hotpot is mainly popular in Asian cuisines (particularly Chinese, Japanese, and Korean) and involves cooking your own meat, noodles, sausages or veggies in a simmering broth at the dining table. Typically, a pot of broth is placed in the centre of the table, heated by a portable stove or built-in heating element. Diners choose raw (or steamed) ingredients, such as thinly sliced meat, seafood, tofu, vegetables, and noodles, and cook them in the broth till they’re done. The cooked ingredients are often dipped in sauces. 

The idea of self-cooking isn’t too unfamiliar to anyone who has ever been to a Korean BBQ restaurant; however, hotpot is quite different, as it uses high heat (Korean BBQ uses a low grilling temperature which eventually goes up) and in South Asia’s it emerged as an inexpensive way of dining during chilly winters. 

Chinese, Japanese and Koran hotpots may look all too similar but have some key differences, vis-a-vis the number of broths on the table and ingredients. Virat Kohli-owned chain of restaurants one8 Commune, recently introduced a hotpot menu curated by Chef Agnibh Mudi, which lines up some comforting Ramen, hearty Donburi, and the vibrant flavours of Bibimbap. 

Presented in traditional earthen pots and Korean stone bowls, their hotpot menu features Hokkaido Miso Ramen, Yakitori Chicken Katsu Donburi, Mapo Tofu and Soy Glazed Eggplant.

Nitika Tiwari, a graphic designer based in Chennai experienced hotpot in Singapore last year and is ecstatic about the trend garnering popularity here. “I love the idea of cooking fresh veggies, meat and seafood in a broth, it feels really organic to me. Anyone who enjoys eating fresh will have a great time with hotpot,” says Tiwari.

Hotpot’s origins can be traced back 800 to 1,000 years ago to the Mongol Empire and China’s Yuan dynasty. In summer the Mongol horsemen were known to cook meat on their spears over a fire, which influenced the recipe of kebab. On winter nights when they did not have any cooking gear, they would use their helmets to boil water and cook meat, which evolved into the modern hotpot!

Personalising The Big Trend

Upscale diners across the country are pushing the hotpot trend in an experiential manner, targeted at foodies who appreciate authenticity. Mumbai’s Hyatt Centric Juhu is offering the Sukiyaki experience with tables-side cooking featuring fresh veggies, meat and seafood simmering in a pot. 

“Adventurous diners will enjoy the novelty and excitement of the hot pot dining experience,” says the owner of Mumbai’s Asian fine diner Origami (Powai). “Our biggest seller hot pot is hemul Tang (mixed seafood hotpot)." Origami also offers Bude jungle, Kimchi dobu jungle, Bulnak jeongol hotpot at Rs 2,000 (approx).

“I think hotpot is the perfect group meal, not just because of the experience but also the prices,” says Ritasmita Banerjee, a Delhi-based professional. “If you go out for some appetisers and dinner with 3-4 people, it can cost you anywhere between Rs 3,500-5,000. A standard hotpot usually costs around Rs 2,500 or even less and it’s so filling! You can cook noodles, veggies, sausages, any protein, it’s a win-win.”

Priyanka Singh, who introduced Kolkata to its first dedicated hotpot spot Sumo’s, first experienced this style of eating in Bangkok. She eventually started making hotpot on her home terrace! “I stumbled upon this unique and interactive way of dining during my time in Bangkok!  The idea of cooking your own food in a communal broth, while having lively conversations with friends and family, is what really drew me to this experience. It’s a full-packed nutritional meal in one pot,” Singh shares.

Sumo’s menu offers a Korean Dumpling Hotpot which lines up an assortment of sausages, salami, dumplings, noodle cake and veggies like sweet corn, carrot, mushroom, pok choy , spring onion and cheese in a spicy Korean soup base. It also offers a Shabu-Shabu hotpot, which is a popular hotpot dish in Japan, featuring thinly sliced meat and an assortment of vegetables, tofu, and noodles, cooked in a flavorful broth (the term "shabu-shabu" comes from the sound made when the ingredients are swished back and forth in the hot broth using chopsticks).

Sumo’s Shabu Shabu hotpot has an assortment of meatballs, chicken julienne, carrot, pok choy, Napa cabbage, mushroom, corn, spring onion, crabstick, bell pepper, Udon noodles, in an Umami Kelp Soup Base, along with Peanut Sauce, Chilly Oil, Soy Dip.

"My favourite hotpot is the Jiangsu-Zhejiang, which I experienced in Shanghai; it’s called the “flower hotpot”, as the chicken stock is infused with chrysanthemum! But it really shows how you can make a hotpot recipe your own by brining in your favourite flavours and spices,” says Banerjee