You may have heard of Chinese New Year and think it’s a little bit like New Year’s Eve in Western traditions. However, Chinese New Year is a little different. First, it lasts for two weeks—this year (2022) it begins on February 1st and runs until February 15th. It’s also called Lunar New Year because the actual celebration dates are determined by the phases of the moon. Chinese New Year is also known as Spring Festival, because the coldest and darkest days of winter are behind us and the festival heralds the warming, lengthening days of the coming spring.
Chinese New Year also marks the transition from one zodiac animal to the next, which is a cycle of astrological animal signs associated with certain characteristics that repeat every 12 years. This year, the New Year’s festival marks the year of the tiger. People born in 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010 and 2022 fall under the tiger sign. Tiger people are purported to be brave, confident, independent, unpredictable and loyal protective friends.
To celebrate Chinese New Year, I have a tradition of celebrating with a group of friends that include BodaHealth colleague Vanessa Tam, another Vancouver TCM colleague, Fion Chou and other friends who are not acupuncture practitioners, but love to get together for this unique holiday. To celebrate, we gather for dinner and make Chinese Hot Pot, which is an ancient and traditional Chinese dish that involves a large pot, broth, lots of ingredients and dipping sauces. It’s super fun, because once all the preparation is done, we’re actually making the meal ourselves at the dinner table, which is not only delicious but a great way to interact through a shared meal.
In general, Chinese Hot Pot is made by starting with homemade broth. We usually use one that’s chicken or seafood-based. However, you can make a pork or beef bone broth or one that’s vegetable-based, too. Some pans used for Hot Pot have dividers so that you can have more than one kind of broth for dipping. Since the broth is homemade and full of nutritious ingredients and vegetables Chinese Hot Pot is a really healthy meal, too!
While the broth is simmering over low heat, you put all the cleaned veggies, meats and sauces on the table. Each person takes whatever ingredients they want and adds it into the pot. We wait a few minutes and then take out what’s ready and dip it in sauce and enjoy! What keeps this meal interesting is that the flavor of the broth changes throughout, depending on the ingredients that have been added to the pot—even though they’ve been taken out and eaten. Let me just say that I love a ton of mushrooms, especially as they cook, because they add such a great flavor to the broth.
Making a Chinese Hot Pot is pretty easy, but there are a couple of items you need to make it happen. Here’s a list:
- A pot. A round and stainless steel pot is the best, and shouldn’t be too high on the sides, so you can easily put food in and take it out at the table. While some pots have a divider for more than one type of broth, it’s not necessary.
- A heat source. We use a hot pot set that has a built-in electrical element. However, any heat source can work, including a portable electric burner (like a hot plate) or a tabletop gas burner.
- When eating hot pot, long wooden chopsticks are the best—not plastic that can melt or metal that can get too hot.
- Metal wire ladles. These make it easy to lower food into the broth and to fish the food out when it’s cooked. While wire ladles are a good thing to have, they aren’t absolutely necessary. You can also use a set of long chopsticks or a slotted spoon in a pinch.
- Lots of small sauce bowls. Each person needs one so they can mix their dipping sauces.
- Beyond standard chicken, pork or vegetable, you can get creative. You can make a great tasting tomato-based broth, port bone base, spicy pork base, spicy Sichuan or herbal chicken base (adding Chinese herbs like Gou Qi Zi – go ji berries, Huang Qi – astragalus root or Sheng Jiang, which is fresh ginger). Yum!
- Cut up vegetables. This can include Napa cabbage, baby Bok Choy, watercress, spinach, various mushrooms (I like Enoki, Shiitake, Straw and King Oyster) and taro (Fion’s favourite). As the vegetables cook, they add flavor to the broth.
- You can use thinly shaved beef, pork, lamb shoulder, fresh shrimp, fish or seafood balls, shrimp tofu, deep fried tofu. These also add flavor to the broth as they cook. We buy these ingredients at the TNT grocery store in Vancouver.
- Noodles! Rice noodles, glass noodles or hot pot rice cakes (which are a kind of thick noodle). You can also use dumplings, such as potato or vegetable dumplings. We get also our noodles from TNT.
- Dipping Sauces. It’s good to have a variety, such as Chinese BBQ sauce, soy sauce, black vinegar, and sesame oil or paste. Also, extras, such as minced garlic, fresh ginger, chopped scallions, cilantro and peanuts top of the meal.
I always look forward to celebrating the Chinese New Year. I love gathering with friends and having a Chinese Hot Pot. Not only is it healthy, but it’s a fun tradition. For me and the friends I share it with, it’s more than a meal—it’s an experience!
Dr. Jeda Boughton is a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Registered Acupuncturist in Vancouver. She is also a Registered Herbologist and the founder of BodaHealth.