Illustration by Anastasiia Zubareva

The Art of Chinese Hot Pot in Abu Dhabi

While the cuisine may have originated from another region and it may belong to another culture, the ingredients of hot pot on your plate are truly yours.

Dec 11, 2016

As you walk through the doors of Little Lamb, a Chinese hot pot restaurant in the Tourist Club Area, an aroma of flavors fills the air. There is the sound of laughter coming from one corner and a mix of dialects coming from another. Your field of vision is filled with movement, chopsticks from pots to plates, clouds of steam wafting away from bowls of soup and the waiters in their red and white T-shirts hurrying between tables. Everything in the restaurant is bustling with energy — you can almost taste it.
I found myself at Little Lamb for the first time as a freshman, trying to balance an overwhelming first semester full of academic deadlines, meetings and social events with an occasional off-campus trip. For someone who always preferred eating her meals in peace and quiet, going for hot pot with a bunch of people was a daunting task at first. That first hot pot outing, however, gave me enough reasons to keep going back.
In eating hot pot for the first time, and in Abu Dhabi of all places, I learned to pay more attention to my food — to appreciate the art of cooking — and I found some hidden sides to my taste palate. There are many variations of hot pot that can be found in other Asian countries like Japan, Korea and Thailand. Hot pot is widely known, not simply as a dish in itself, but more as a style of cooking. At Little Lamb, you sit around a pot of boiling soup that consists of oil, water and different spices on an electric stove and begin dropping a variety of meats, vegetables and noodles into it. You then wait for them to absorb the flavor of the broth and cook. Typically, the boiling pot consists of two separate sections of broth: on one side, a spicy blend of garlic and chili sauce, and on the other, a milder blend of herbs flavored with dates. In traditional forms of Chinese hot pot, the soup is usually prepared days in advance, but most restaurants like Little Lamb serve it fresh.
The first step in building your hot pot is to create a dipping sauce of your choice. Ingredients include flavors fit for every palate: oyster sauce, sesame sauce, minced garlic, cilantro, soy sauce, green onions, fermented tofu sauce and peanut shavings. The process of having to mix so many ingredients together –– some that you may not even have heard of before –– can come across as an overwhelming task for a first-time hot-potter, but you can eventually master the art of making the ultimate dipping sauce through a method of trial and error.
During the meal, the diner must be aware of the time, because the delivery of ingredients into the pot needs to be based on how long it takes to cook each ingredient; while discs of potato can take up to five minutes to cook, slices of beef take a fraction of that time. While the soup heats up, diners should begin cooking the vegetables. Once the vegetables begin to simmer, noodles are next in line. Thin slices of raw meat and leafy greens should be added last.
Hot pot gives you a certain freedom that you cannot find in many other cuisines. With each ingredient you pick up and each sauce you dip into, you are crafting your own dish. While the cuisine may have originated from another region and belong to another culture, the ingredients of hot pot on your plate are truly yours.
More than anything else, the art and craft of the hot pot experience boils down to patience and involvement. It is about exploring, creating and figuring things out as you go. The very act of passing around plates of ingredients and dipping them into the same pot of boiling soup creates a bond among people. The hot pot creates a system of sharing and helping, and it fosters a sense of togetherness among diners. Indeed, the magic of the age-old hot pot is bringing people closer together.
Sneha Gyawali is a contributing writer. Email her at
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