Hot Pot Night Behind the Shop
It's coming up to Jon's birthday, so we're celebrating early and all month long and with good food, mostly involving meat. One of Jon's favourite meals is hot pot - a dish that I think most Asian cultures have in some form.
According to Wikipedia, hot pot originated in Mongolia, which Jon finds thrilling since he has this thing for Genghis Khan. In any case, like most Asian dishes in the Chan household, while hot pot has many rich and regional variations, the most important part for Jon is that it involves a lot of meat. The "hot pot" is a pot of broth placed in the center of the table where everyone can reach. The pot is continuously heated (we use a butane camper), and you dip in and cook various meats, Asian meat balls, seafood, noodles, and vegetables. The broth flavours the meat as you cook it, but the meat also flavours the broth over the period of the meal.
You prepare all of the ingredients ahead of time. We get pre-sliced meat from T&T (they actually have a whole freezer section just for hot pot meats). Wash and chop vegetables or mushrooms, put everything on plates or in bowls. You can use anything you like, Asian style or otherwise, but for us, we usually make sure to get: - sliced meat (pork, beef, lamb) - fish balls, beef balls - fried tofu - some sort of vegetables - usually we get watercress, but it didn't look so hot this time, so we got something else - seafood like shrimp, mussels, oysters - enoki mushrooms - udon noodles (frozen) I used to be a bit self-conscious about inviting people over to hot pot, because there are so many ways to do it: when you go to someone else's family, you see how they do it, and there are often different foods and different styles of doing it and even different etiquette. But then I realized that when people come over, it's part of the fun to see and try how other people do hot pot.
You can prepare the pot of broth on your stove because it's faster and you don't have to use the butane fuel. You can get a little $2 package of soup mix to pour into water, but for an extra rich soup mix, you can add it to chicken broth. My favourite is the Lee Kum Kee brand Satay soup base. After we've set up our camper stove (which you can also get from T&T, or from Canadian Tire, etc.) and the broth is hot, we all gather around. I think if you have a lot of people you should get a second burner and pot, so it's not too hard for everyone to reach, but Jon and I are more intimate-affair type people. You make your individual dipping sauces with soya sauce, sesame oil, hoisin, chili sauce, a raw egg yolk, vinegar, or whatever you'd like. I like a lot of hoisin in mine, which makes it sweet, and which Jon says is kind of weird. However, I notice that at the end of the night after he's done all his sauce, there's an extra pair of chopsticks in my bowl.
And you're ready to eat! You can take your time all evening as drop in your tasty bits of food to be cooked or warmed and enjoy the good company you're in.
***Not only is it Jon's birthday, we're also celebrating our third year in business this month. To be honest, we're kind of celebrating it a bit haphazardly - a glass of wine here, a late night run to pick up donuts there. I guess we're still a bit in shock at the fact that we're still around and that it's not some crazy dream. When you first open up shop, especially in a market like ours, selling stationery and fountain pens, people often ask how business is going, and we've heard those good old chestnuts about how "you've made it after you've been in business for a year" or "you've made it if you're still alive after two years"... Now we're celebrating three incredible and miraculous years, but the truth of the matter is that you can never count on tomorrow to bring you anything but new adventures and challenges. And so all month long, in between packing orders and saying hi to folks in the shop, and sweeping the floors, and cleaning ink spills, we're celebrating three magical years and today and maybe tomorrow.