When I was growing up, hot pot was a weekly event in my household. It was a simple yet extravagant occasion. Simple in that my parents, my brother and I would sit cross-legged on the floor around our living room coffee table, plug in a portable hotplate and eat as we watched TV. Extravagant in that it involved a multitude of elements working together to create a delicious experience: tender slices of beef and pork, my mother’s homemade meatballs, fish-paste balls, oyster and enoki mushrooms, fresh tofu, spinach, cabbage and big leaves of lettuce that would soak up whatever happened to be the evening’s dipping sauce. When I was young, the salty and spicy satay was my favorite, combined with a dash of soy sauce and rice vinegar, and hearty helpings of freshly chopped garlic and cilantro. Nowadays, my favorite is sesame paste – thick and creamy like smooth peanut butter, with a rich, nutty taste that lingers in the mouth. The best part of the meal would come last, just as the sauce was running out, for this was when you would add the noodles – sometimes flour-based, sometimes vermicelli, but most often Japanese udon – mix it well with your last bits of sauce and a spoonful of broth, then savor.
It didn’t take a lot of preparation: Sometimes it involved using whatever was left over in the fridge and a bit of a mother’s magic to make anything taste good; other times, it required a trip to the grocery store beforehand and selecting items that could be cooked in a soup with relative quickness (which includes most things). As simple and common as it was, these were my favorite family meals, for they encompassed not only eating but also sitting around a table together, and cooking and sharing from a communal pot.
Every culture has its own version of hot pot. It might not involve a pot, it might not even be hot, but it will be a ritual, a tradition, in which a family gathers together over food, because nothing brings a family closer than breaking bread together (or sharing a bowl of noodles, for that matter). That is why in this special double issue of tbjkids, you will find a dining guide introducing 101 family-friendly restaurants in Beijing. And when you tire of eating out, you can try creating your own hot pot at home by following our simple instructions in “Steaming Up With Hot Pot”.
We all need to eat, and we all need food. But it is eating with family that makes food special. So make your meals matter, enjoy them with the ones you love, and let this month’s tbjkids help you do just that!