Hot pot is gaining fans in Omaha. I just tried it myself recently and felt pretty clueless going into the restaurant, ordering, and well, just unsure during the whole dining experience. It’s gaining in popularity and I imagine others will be curious enough to want to try it as well. To save you some awkward moments, I thought I’d gather up some hot pot tips and recommendations for you all.
What is hot pot
Hot pot in its simplest terms is a communal dining experience involving a pot of simmering broth in which you cook ingredients. Most say hot pot originated in China more than 1,000 years ago (the Chinese word for hot pot is literally “fire pot.”). It’s a tradition found throughout Asia now from South Korea to Japan, with each region bringing their own spin to ingredients and flavors.
The basic ingredients for hot pot include:
- Stock. Could be chicken stock, could be something else like Tom Yum, a Thai broth that’s got a sweet and sour thing going on.
- The list of things to cook in your hot pot will most likely long. These will likely include raw meats, shrimp, tofu, mushrooms, vegetables, and noodles. There may also be pickled items and, perhaps, some offal.
- Dipping sauce, flavored to suit your personal preference. Ingredients you may find at a restaurant include soy sauce, vinegar, fish sauce, garlic, green onions, and sugar.
Hot pot dipping sauce recipes
One of the biggest head scratchers for us was the sauce bar. We were directed to go to the buffet bar in the back of the restaurant to make our sauces. What was the sauce for? We did not know. We asked our waitress to recommend a sauce, and she mixed one for us. We didn’t know if we poured it into the hot pot, or poured onto the cooked food, or if we dipped the food into it, but well, we stumbled our way through it.
I eventually learned that this was dipping sauce and put the cooked food into the sauce bowl. It tasted good. I’m embarrassed I even contemplated dumping the sauce into the bubbling broth.
Anyway. I asked food bloggers familiar with hot pot to share some of their favorite hot pot dipping sauce recipes, and they delivered! Try mixing one of these sauces up on your trip to a hot pot restaurant:
Where to try hot pot in Omaha
Omaha loves its food, and we have a growing Omaha Food Lovers group that keeps the interest growing. Through the group, I discovered a hot pot place in Omaha: China Garden B-B-Q Hot Pot, or just China Garden, at 8441 W. Center Road, Omaha, Neb.
Korea Garden at 5352 S. 72nd St., Ralston, Neb., has tabletop grills, so it’s hibachi not hot pot (you’ll be grilling meats). You get a variety of sides along with it, so you’ll likely get to try some new stuff.
Hot pot first-timer tips
I brought my family to China Garden and encouraged everyone to have an open mind since even I didn’t really know what we were about to do. After looking over the menu, we settled on just my husband and I trying the whole hot pot thing and allowing the kids to order a Chinese entree they were more familiar with. They were super interested in the whole experience though and I kind of wished I’d pushed them more out of their comfort zone.
However, the price was high for something I wasn’t totally sure my kids would try. In Omaha, the price is $27.99 per person for hot pot (as of early 2023, at least).
If you’re ready to go out of your comfort zone and try hot pot, here’s what I wish I knew before I went that first time:
- You can have a choice of broth to cook the ingredients in, and you can opt to split the pot into two broths. It makes the experience even more varied. But when they say that broth is spicy, they mean it.
- The ingredient list may overwhelm you. Ask your server for recommendations. We did, and found that our favorites were his recommendations: Thinly sliced beef and lamb, napa cabbage, black mushrooms, frozen tofu, and the house-made noodles.
- This is your chance to be adventurous and try some new things with little risk. You probably won’t like it all, but you’ll have plenty of other things to cook that you know you like.
- While your stock is simmering, you’ll go make your dipping sauce. You’ll use the sauce to add more flavor to what you’ve cooked. Ask for suggestions or just play around with ingredients you know you’ll like together. I have some recipes earlier in this post for you to try.
- Your server will bring ingredients out on several dishes. Ask if you’re not sure what anything is.
- Some vegetables take a while to cook (and some do double-duty of adding flavor to the broth), so you will want to add those to the pot first. Think of things like root vegetables, like potatoes or radishes.
- Meat is so thinly sliced that it does not take very long to cook. Don’t worry about undercooked meat. Shrimp also only takes abut a minute or two to cook.
- Watch for peppers in the spicy broth.
- Also, while the spicy broth was overwhelming for most things I cooked in it, I did think the tofu (frozen tofu, specifically) cooked really well in it and tasted better than cooking it in the regular broth.
Share some of your experience or hot pot tips in the comments, please!