Steamboat, Hot Pot, Shabu Shabu: Like Fondue, But Better

I am not a huge fan of fondue restaurants. It's fun to eat a lot of gooey cheese once in a while, but I don't want to have to actually cook my food over a hot rock, or in a pot of cheese, or in a bowl of broth. I generally think that if I go out to eat, the food should be cooked for me. That's the whole point of going out, right?

But when it comes to eating with friends, steamboat and its fondue-like process can be a ton of fun. Take a look at a steamboat meal we just shared with some good friends.

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Steamboat is also known as hot pot, or shabu shabu. It's a meal where you heat a big bowl of broth until it's boiling, then float various goodies in it to cook. Everyone takes a turn putting in a handful or this or that, then you scoop out the cooked food and eat it with plenty of hot sauce.

The steamboat itself is a big divided pot that sits on a tabletop gas burner. My friend heated broth on the stove then poured it into the pot. (It's divided so that you can use two different sorts of broth in one meal, or keep spicy food divided from un-spicy food.)

We had piles and piles of good things on the table, waiting to be cooked. There were pea shoots, watercress, shiitake mushrooms (so meaty and delicious!), chopped beef, fish balls, meatballs of ground beef, tofu and fish cakes, creamy tofu, egg dumplings, cabbage dumplings, squid pieces, and fresh ocean shrimp.

Over the course of several hours we took turns putting in different foods. The beef would take a little longer to cook; the pea shoots would take a few seconds. We mixed up little bowls of hot Chinese sauce, with plenty of Sichuan pepper in it apparently, sesame oil, and soy sauce, for dipping.

The broth in the hot pot makes everything so tasty and savory; it gets rich and condensed as it boils away on the top of the table, and we would sip small amounts of it too, with noodles.

Overall, this was an absolutely fantastic meal to have with friends. Doing the cooking all together and eating out of the same pot feels both primitive and connecting. Plus you eat food that is hot! And slowly cooking food, eating it as it comes out, and having a long, leisurely meal filled with chatter and conversation is one of the best ways I can think of to spend an evening.

Have you ever had steamboat?

Related: Good Question: Tips for Fondue Party?

(Images: Faith Durand)

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