Hot pot or 火锅 'Huoguo' became popular in the era of the Qing dynasty. In the chilly winter in China, you may see a whole family sitting around a table with a steaming hot pot and chatting cheerfully. Since reunion is a traditional cultural practice of China, hot pot is also endued by this cultural meaning. No matter the gender and age, people gather and share their stories and life, and eat the various types of steaming meat and vegetables from one pot together.
In the old days, the hot pot was consumed exclusively in the winter months to fight the cold, but eventually it began to appear on tables at any time of the year. Some people like to eat hot pot even in summer with air conditioning blowing cool air on them. But still, it is primarily prepared for warming up on a cold day.
A pot is placed over the fire, and when the broth starts boiling, thin slices of raw meat are added. After a couple of minutes, the meat is ready, and it is taken out with chopsticks, dipped in some sauce, for example, sesame seed oil, hot red pepper sauce, or vinegar. Beef, lamb, chicken, and pork are the traditional hot pot ingredients as well as fish, shrimp, and other products. Vegetables, mushrooms, and tofu are also used as ingredients. In fact, you can try anything. The types of hot pot also vary across China. The southern hot pot, which is typical in Chongqing, is known as being spicy, while the northern and new hotpot is known as the instant-boiled mutton.
There are about a dozen hot pot styles that divide into northern and southern variations. Chongqing Hotpot (重庆老火锅) is the most famous one as Chongqing is often labelled as a hot pot capital of China. It is known for heavily flavoured broth with premium butter and numbing hot spiciness that is well-balanced by sesame oil. This spicy hot pot is often consumed with cow stomach (máodù). Beijing-Style Hotpot (老北京火锅) emphasizes the quality of the ingredients such as tender meat and fresh veggies over the broth that is often replaced with clear water. Yunnan Hotpot (云南滇味火锅) is a great option for vegetarians as it's tasty even without meat and is often eaten with fresh veggies, mushrooms, and edible flowers, and the dipping sauces in combination with mint make the taste simply unforgettable.
You may find hot pot in any region of China all year round, but months with cold winter weather from November to March is the best season for warming up with this spicy dish.