Some have claimed that the Asian hot pot tradition had its origins in the region of Mongolia, even before the rise of the Mongols, although there is little historical evidence to support this. A much more popular claim of origin is from Sichuan province of China.
The Mongolian hot pot tradition originated from northern nomadic tribes. The Mongolian version of the steaming feast has been called the father of all Chinese hot pot. The Chinese hot pot boasts a history of more than 1000 years. Both the preparation method and the required equipment are unknown in the cuisine of Mongolia of today. Due to the complexity and specialization of the utensils and the method of eating it, hot pot cooking is much better suited to a sedentary culture. A nomadic household will avoid such highly specialized tools, to save volume and weight during migration.
Hot pot cooking seems to have spread to northern China during the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-906). In time, regional variations developed with different ingredients such as seafood. By the Qing Dynasty, the hot pot became popular throughout most of China. Today in many modern homes, particularly in the big cities, the traditional coal-heated steamboat or hot pot has been replaced by electric or gas versions.
Because steamboat and hot pot styles change so much from region to region, many different ingredients are used. While not strictly traditional, it is fun to experiment with ingredients and sauces according to one's own tastes.
Frozen meat is sliced deli-thin to prepare it for hot pot cooking. Slicing frozen meat this way causes it to roll up during cooking, and it is often presented as such. Meats used include lamb, beef, chicken, and others. The cooking pot is often sunk into the table and fueled by propane, or alternatively is above the table and fueled by a portable butane gas stove or hot coals. Meat or vegetables are loaded individually into the hot cooking broth by chopsticks, and cooking time is brief. Meat often only takes 15 to 30 seconds to cook.
There are often disagreements between different styles of hot pot enthusiasts. Some like to place items into the hot pot at a relaxed, leisurely pace, enjoying the cooking process, while others prefer to throw everything in at once and wait for the hotpot to return to a boil.
A hotpot cooking
Traditional Chengdu divided hotpot
In Beijing (Peking), hot pot is eaten year-round. Typical Beijing hot pot is eaten indoors during the winter. Different kinds of hot pot can be found in Beijing - typically, more modern eateries offer the sectioned bowl with differently flavored broths in each section. More traditional or older establishments serve a fragrant, but mild, broth in the hot pot, which is a large brass vessel heated by burning coals in a central chimney. Broth is boiled in a deep, donut-shaped bowl surrounding the chimney.
One of the most famous variations is the Sichuan or Szechuan "má là" (traditional Chinese: 麻辣 — "numb and spicy") hot pot, to which a special spice known as huā jiāo (traditional Chinese: 花椒 — "flower pepper" or Sichuan Pepper) is added. It creates a sensation on the tongue that is both spicy and burns and numbs slightly, almost like carbonated beverages. It was usual to use a variety of different meats as well as sliced mutton fillet. A Sichuan hotpotis markedly different from the types eaten in other parts of China. Quite often the differences lie in the meats used, the type of soup base, and the sauces and condiments used to flavor the meat. The cities of Chengdu and Chongqing are also famous for their different kinds of huǒ guō. "Sì Chuān huǒ guō" could be used to distinguish from simply "huǒ guō" in cases when people refer to the "Northern Style Hot Pot" in China. "Shuān yáng ròu", Chinese: 涮羊肉 (instant-boiled lamb) could be viewed as representative of this kind of food, which does not focus on the soup base.
In Xishuangbanna, Yunnan Province in southwestern China near the border with Myanmar, the broth is often divided into a yin and yang shape - a bubbling, fiery red chilli broth on one side, and a cooler white chicken broth on the other.
A Cantonese variation includes mixing a raw egg with the condiments to reduce the amount of 'heat' absorbed by the food, thereby reducing the likelihood of a sore throat after the steamboat meal, according to Chinese herbalist theories.
In Thailand, hotpot is called "sukiyaki", although it is quite different from Japanese-style sukiyaki. A sauce, often mixed with broth from the hot pot, is based on tofu, sesame seed oil, chilis, and garlic.
In Vietnam, a hot pot is called lẩu, and the sour soup called canh chua is often cooked in hot pot style (called lẩu canh chua). The generic term for a salted fish hot pot is lẩu mắm. Some famous Vietnamese hot pots include: lẩu cá kèo, lẩu dê- goat hot pot, lẩu bông bí, lẩu cua tía tô, lẩu lươn chua me, lẩu cá trê om mẻ, lẩu vịt nấu sấu, lẩu măng chua, lẩu hải sản, and lẩu nấu chao.