Hot pot, or hotpot (Chinese: 火锅), also known as a steamboat, is a Chinese cooking method, prepared with a simmering pot of soup stock at the dining table, containing a variety of East Asian foodstuffs and ingredients. While the hot pot is kept simmering, ingredients are placed into the pot and are cooked at the table, in a manner similar to fondue. Typical hot pot dishes include thinly sliced meat, leaf vegetables, mushrooms, wontons, egg dumplings, tofu, and seafood. The cooked food is usually eaten with a dipping sauce.
Archeological evidence shows that the earliest hot pots appeared around the Han dynasty. Diners among the nobility each had a personal pot. The pot was made of bronze, and named "Ran Lu" (Chinese: 燃炉). The main part of "Ran Lu" was a stove for carbon burning, with a plate for carbon dust under and a small pot above. Later, during the Qing dynasty, hot pot became popular among the emperors. In particular, the Qianlong Emperor was very fond of hot pot, and would eat it for almost every meal. Later, the Jiaqing Emperor also had a banquet with 1550 hot pots at his coronation. Empress Dowager Cixi was also known to have enjoyed hot pot, especially in the winter months.
There are many reasons why hot pot gained popularity among the Chinese. One folklore mentions that the Qianlong Emperor of the Qing dynasty enjoyed hot pot and had it frequently. When hosting banquets in the palace, the Qianlong Emperor always asked the servants to prepare hot pots. Having heard of the emperors’ love for hot pot, the common people desired to try it out as well and thereafter hot pot became popular among the masses.
Another suggested reason is that hot pot has the power to enhance friendship and unite family members or colleagues. Several people sit around a pot, talking and eating. The warm air is also considered to make people comfortable.