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Where (and How) to Eat Chinese Hot Pot in Macau

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A traditional hot pot at Golden Court, a Chinese restaurant at the Sands Macao. Photo Credit: Accidental Travel Writer.

Food + Beverage

Hot pot is a Chinese soup starting with a pot of simmering broth that is set up on a portable burner at the middle of a table. Diners cook ingredients in the broth and then dip them in a dipping sauce before eating them.

There’s nothing quite like hot pot to warm the soul when the temperature drops and the winds of winter start to howl.

And it’s not just the yummy food or the warmth generated by the burner set up on the table or the bubbling cauldron of broth that diners toss tasty tidbits into that generates heat.

It is also the conviviality of a shared experience – the conversation, the jokes, and the drinking games that add spice to the meal.

Hot pot has its origins in Northern China, where the winters are long and harsh. They were traditionally served only in the colder months. With the proliferation of air-conditioning, however, they can now be enjoyed throughout the year.

While ingredients vary from place to place, typical ingredients include thinly sliced meats, leafy vegetables, mushrooms, won ton, dumplings, tofu, seafood, and sometimes egg.

These are either ordered from the kitchen and brought to the table on serving platters, or they are laid out on self-service buffet counters.

Chongqing Hot Pot

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A selection of meats is popular with diners at Xin Asian Hotpot and Seafood Restaurant in Macau. Photo Credit: Accidental Travel Writer.

But hot pot in all of its various interpretations shares one thing in common: an excellent base, quality ingredients and dipping sauces that are created according to the individual taste preference of each diner.

Hot pot has many variations, and one of the most popular – Chongqing hot pot – originated in China’s landlocked Sichuan province, where the winters are unusually brutal.

Not surprisingly, the base of hot pots in Sichuan tend to be heavily seasoned with the numbing peppers that the province is famous for.

Red meats such as beef or lamb are favoured, and pungent dipping sauces pack a powerful punch.

Across the centuries, hot pots have spread in popularity across China, with innumerable modifications that resulted from varying local preferences to  the ingredients that were available in each locality.

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Xin Asian Hotpot and Seafood Restaurant in Macau offers a pan-Asian varity of bases. Photo Credit: Accidental Travel Writer.

In subtropical Guangdong province, for example, the culinary emphasis is on enhancing rather the masking natural flavours.

As a result, hot pot bases in the province tend to be much, much lighter than those typically served in Sichuan. Also, because Guangdong has a lengthy coastline, seafood is preferred to beef or lamb.

Hot pot, which is sometimes referred to as steamboat, has also spread to neighboring countries such as Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

Chefs in each one of these places has given the cooking style a different spin. In Malaysia, for example, diners might prefer a laksa base to one that is based on the numbing peppers of Sichuan or the subtle bases of Guangdong.

In Vietnam, however, the base would be more similar to one of the lighter bases used in a typical Vietnamese pho.

But hot pot in all of its various interpretations shares one thing in common: an excellent base, quality ingredients and dipping sauces that are created according to the individual taste preference of each diner.

A Guide to Dipping Sauces

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Lotus Palace at The Parisian Macao brings a trolley loaded with the following 12 condoments: XO sauce, sesame sauce, Sichuan spicy sauce, satay sauce, Chaozhou chili oil, Guilin chili sauce, preserved radish chili sauce, sesame oil, deep-fried garlic, Thai chili, garlic, green and red chilies, and spring onions. Photo Credit: Accidental Travel Writer.

When it comes to dipping sauces, it is pretty much an issue of “every man for himself”. Ingredients are either brought to the table on a trolley or laid out at a buffet counter for diners to create by themselves.

Personal preferences aside, there are some guiding principles that can enhance the hot pot experience.  When in doubt, let the maître d’ be your guide!

For the wagyu beef, a sesame and garlic paste will bring out the natural flavour of the meat, says Jimmy Poon Wai Kau, Chef de Cuisine at Rice Empire, a Chinese restaurant at the Cotai Central shopping cenre in Macau.

For a seafood such as lobster, he recommends a light soya sauce with touch of sherry wine.

For live crab, he suggests a Taiwanese style sweet and sour sauce.

The leafy vegetables typically used in hot pot present a unique problem, Chef Jimmy says, explaining that they have a “disgusting grassy smell”. To deal with it, he suggests a spicy and sour fish soya sauce to mask the unpleasant taste. .

The sauce has an added benefit, Chef Jimmy says. It can also help to increase the appetite!

What to Drink with Hot Pot

Just as what goes into a hot pot varies from place to place, drinking preferences also vary. Tea is drunk with hot pot throughout China. But many diners prefer alcoholic beverages, and this is where regional differences kick in.

Diners in Hong Kong, Macau and Southern China wanting to drink an alcoholic beverage have traditionally preferred beer.

Diners in Northern China wanting to drink an alcoholic beverage have traditionally preferred Chinese wines or spirits.

With the growing interest in cocktails in recent years, however, some hot pot restaurants have started to create cocktails that can complement a hot pot meal. Sangria, Mojitos, or a cocktail or a mocktale made with tea are among the suggestions made by chefs at Chinese restaurants serving hot pot.

Children and teetotalers wanting to drink a cold beverage have usually prefered to drink fruit juice at hot pot meals. 

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Golden Court at the Sands Macao serves individual hot pots for each diner, reflecting a growing trend at hot pot restaurants. Photo Credit: Accidental Travel Writer.

Another growing trend at hot pot gatherings in recent years has been a more personalized service with more attention to detail. Some hot-pot restaurants, for example, have even started to put a personal hot pot in front of each diner.

Traditionalists might balk, but personal hot pots do allow diners with differing taste preferences to customize their bases the same way they have always been able to customize their dipping sauce.  

And there’s another issue: surely individual hot pots are more sanitary than shared hot pots.

Where to Eat Hot Pot in Macau

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Xin Asian Hotpot and Seafood Restaurant in Macau is one of the most popular hot pot restaurants in town. Photo Credit: Accidental Travel Writer.

Macau has numerous Chinese restaurants serving hotpot. The following restaurants are considered to be among the best.

  • Golden Court - 3rd floor, Sands Macao Hotel, Macau. Telephone: (853) 8983-8222.
  • Lotus Palace - level 3, The Parisian Macao, Macau. Telephone: (853) 8111-9260.
  • Rice Empire - level 1, Sands Cotai Central, Macau. Telephone: (853) 8113-8930.
  • Xin Asian Hotpot and Seafood Restaurant - level 1, Sheraton Grand Macao Hotel, Cotai Central, Macau. Telephone: (853) 8113-1200.

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