For many Asian families, hot pot is an unofficial Christmas tradition: a middle finger to winter's sub-zero temperatures and soggy Brussels sprouts.
In my house, it's not turkey that takes pride of place on the festive table, but seafood, an array of thinly sliced meats, and fresh veggies—all waiting to be plunged into simmering broth. Traditionally placed on a coal-heated steamboat, hot pot sees diners cook raw ingredients in a large communal bowl of stock. Popular components include blood jelly, offal, tofu, noodles, wontons, lotus root, fish balls, and leafy Asian greens—accompanied by sesame paste, chili soy sauce, and raw egg yolks.
Aside from the endless variations that come from switching ingredients and sauces, hot pot also differs from country to country. In Japan, it's shabu-shabu, Taiwan has its hot pot parties, Thailand: suki, and Hong Kong's da bin lo dish literally translates as "hitting the edge of the pot."
But all hot pots have one thing in common: the warm-and-fuzzy togetherness that comes from dipping stuff into one big bowl of steaming soup.
"Hot pot is such a unique way of eating," says Ellen Chan, manager of Suki, a Japanese hot pot restaurant in London's Chinatown. "There's no other communal dish that brings people together in the way that hot pot does. It's about sharing, cooking, and eating good food together with all your closest friends and family. It's no surprise that many Asian families tend to skip out the traditional Christmas turkey dinner altogether and opt for hot pot."
For many Asian families in the UK, hot pot also offers a tastier alternative to the West's stodge-laden Christmas offerings.
"Me and my family don't really like eating Christmas dinner," admits British-born Chinese student Adrian Wong. "Not only does it taste like liquid lard, it's just too much fuss, what with the hours of endless preparation, table setting, shopping—and that's not even including the cooking. You're better off having a hot pot where everything is laid out for you and everyone does their own thing."
Fah Sundravorakul, founder of the soon-to-be opened, hot pot-dedicated restaurant Shuang Shuang in London's Chinatown also sees hot pot as ideal Christmas catering.
"To us Asians, hot pot is like a Sunday roast or Christmas dinner, just much lighter," he says. "It's an ideal meal when the weather's getting colder but in Asia, hot pot is so popular that we have it in a heavily air conditioned room during summer too!"
Hot pot's popularity is spreading in East Asia and beyond. According to the China Cuisine Association, there are 26,300 hot pot eateries, hiring nearly 500,000 employees in the Chongqing region of China alone. In 2013, net profit from the dish in Chongqing was an estimated 15 billion yuan, with 400 metric tonnes of packed hotpot soup base exported to ten countries and regions across the globe, including the United States and Australia.
"Hot pot is fun, engaging, and can be a meal for everyone. There is no right or wrong way of eating a Chinese hot pot," adds Sundravorakul. "You can do it carefully—slowly building up a taste by creating a sequence of what you cook in the hot pot—or you can just randomly throw everything in."
The same cannot be said for turducken.
So, maybe it's time to ditch the stuffing mix, forget about roasting chestnuts, and celebrate Christmas with a big, soupy, Asian fondue free-for-all.
This article was originally published in December 2015.