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Roommate S had wanted hotpot for the longest time, but we always had been too busy/had a constant food source during the school year to bother to do anything about it. During the summer however we had no board dinners and ample free time–along with the discovery that there’s a bus line that goes straight from Caltech to 99 Ranch, an large asian supermarket, we didn’t have an excuse to put off having hotpot anymore.

Originally, we planned to only invite the few people who usually/sometimes eat dinner with us, but, like most things, this soon spiraled out of control. In the end, we had 18 people wanting to pitch in and eat hotpot with us. We ended up having to rent a stove from the Caltech Y to hold all the pots and moving the eating location from the small kitchen we usually use to the house dining hall.
But hey, the more the merrier, right?

We had so many people eating with us, it was almost like a house dinner. We even got one of the student waiters eating with us to announce "DINNER!!" at the top of his lungs like what usually happens during the school year. Too bad our House Pharoh wasn’t around to eat with us and hold announcements…
Woah there, hold on a second, you say. What is this "hotpot" thing anyway?
A hotpot is a dish of Chinese origin. The basic gist is that a group of people sit around a pot of boiling hot water (sometimes soup stock) and add to the pot whatever food they want to cook and eat — vegetables, tofu, mushrooms, fish balls, and thin slices of raw meat are all fair game. When the food you want to eat is cooked, you take it out of the pot and put it in your own bowl to eat, dipping it in sauce if you wish. As courtesy, you put in a little bit more food in the pot
than you would eat so that other people can have food sooner. As the food gets cooked, the broth becomes a flavorful, delicious, soup from all the food cooked in it. Although it’s meant as a winter dish (sitting around a pot of boiling water tends to keep people warm), we’re eating it in the summer because it’s more convenient. Also, like most Chinese dishes, hotpot is meant to be eaten with lots of people.
(There’s a Japanese variation of the hotpot is called sukiyaki–there are generally restaurants around where you can eat this or another variant called shabu-shabu, so keep an eye out the next time you go out!)
Some of the things we bought for hotpot are:Vegetables– Nappa cabbage: a good, large, vegetable base to flavor the soup with; basically mandatory- Tong ho, or Garland chrysanthemum: a dark green leafy vegetable whose sole reason for existence is to be cooked in hotpots; can easily be bought in asian supermarkets- Enoki mushrooms, or "long stringy white mushrooms": super delicious in hotpots and is basically mandatory. If you don’t like "normal" mushrooms, still give this a try! You’ll find that it tastes quite different. – Fresh shitake mushrooms: because mushrooms are delicious- Watercress: another dark green leafy vegetable
Proteins– Thinly sliced beef: the cheapest kind, of course. The ones sliced for hotpot purposes are too high quality (read: too expensive) for us lowly college students- Thinly sliced pork: we used the ones sliced for hot pot because it was the only type sliced correctly- Tilapia: fish is delicious- Fish balls, fish cakes, fish dumplings, and imitation crab- Various tofu (including tofu skins!)
Carbohydrates**– Thin Chinese vermichelli noodles (aka glass noodles or cellophane noodles): this is pretty much mandatory as well. Usually you put it in the hotpot last, when most of the cooking had been done already, so it can soak up the flavorful soup and become super delicious.- Sticky rice cake, of the not-sweetened kindMisc.– Vegetarian frozen lamb hotpot soup (I forgot to take a photo, but I’m serious, this exists): a frozen soup stock base thing with tofu bits and a little bit of Chinese herbs in it. Since the vegetarian pots won’t have meat in them, their soup won’t be as flavorful, so we wanted to give them soup stock- Konbu: a type of large, dried seaweed chunk used for soup stock
Dipping Sauce** (mix your own!)– Hoisin sauce, soy sauce, hot sauce, sesame oil, mirin (sweet cooking rice wine) – Green onions and garlic, chopped finely- Sacha sauce: mandatory. I’ll explain this later.
The ingredients we used were pretty standard; if you want a minimalized hotpot, get (some sort of) cabbage, a few tofu cubes, a few shitake mushrooms, a few stingy mushrooms, assorted fish balls, a leafy green vegetable, and tons of thinly sliced meat. Wikipedia also provides a nice list of common ingredients. We were also going to get lamb, shrimp, and clams for the hotpot, but 99 Ranch didn’t have thinly sliced lamb, and seafood was way too expensive. Oh well.

Of course, we ran into a few mishaps: the electric stove that belonged to the house was really weak and had trouble heating up the vegetarian pots; we put too much water into all of the pots, so the soup didn’t really become as flavorful as it should have. But in the end, everything worked out fine. Everybody left on full stomachs, and we even had a bit of tofu and fish balls leftover, not to mention a large amount of soup. The cost of the meal totaled out to about $5.08 per person, which is quite reasonable!
Final verdict: 9/10, had some mishaps but still pretty delicious. It’s good to eat dinner with everyone 🙂

Chengyi L