While dippers vary based on location and seasonality, there are a few items that you’ll likely always see at hot pot, like bok choy, Chinese lettuce or napa cabbage, sweet potato and lotus root, says Leung. “Other vegetarian ingredients might include enoki mushrooms, also known as golden needle mushrooms, various types of tofu and bean curd skin.” For the carnivores at the table, she recommends thinly sliced meats and fish, shrimp and other seafood, as well as prepared fish, shrimp, beef or pork balls. Finally, you have your starchy ingredients, like rice cakes, noodles and dumplings.
Popular meats include rib eye, pork belly or lamb shoulder. Shellfish and seafood can include head-on shrimp, squid, mussels, scallops, clams and hunks of fresh fish. There’s also no limit on veggies here, so go wild with mushrooms, kabocha squash, potatoes and TBH, whatever wilted greens or produce you have on hand. Tofu (Mike of I Am A Food Blog is partial to mini tofu puffs), fish balls, any type of dumpling (like jiaozi, wonton or shumai), rice cakes (the bagged, sliced kind are best) and noodles (take your pick of udon, lo mein, ramen or shirataki) are all fair game as well. The Woks of Life recommends having three to five items in each category, those being veggies, meat/seafood, starches and tofu/bean curd. The TLDR? “There are no essential ingredients—the only thing that’s essential is variety!”
One more note: Ho advises cooking your ingredients at a gradual speed. No matter how tempting it’ll be to scarf them all down, you’ll want to pace yourself as the broth naturally fluctuates in temperature as ingredients are added and removed. (“You don’t want to dip frozen chicken into merely warm broth—allow it to get ripping hot again because you want everything to be cooked well,” she explains.) You also want to be mindful of different ingredients’ cooking times; for instance, tough root vegetables and mushrooms will take longer to cook than paper-thin shards of meat.