Sunday, December 30, 2007

Hot Pot, Hot Pot...

Survivor: China was the first season of Survivor that I actually watched more than one episode of, only because there was a DVR handy. (The delay on this post is proof of this fact.) In particular, one scene towards the end of the season caught my eye. As TV Grapevine puts it:

"Although Denise, Todd and Courtney seemed blown away by the sight of the Great Wall they spent their entire time complaining about the food they were provided [from the reward challenge]. It was a Chinese Hot Pot which none of the three knew anything about."

A brief definition: hot pot consists of a pot of steaming hot broth (usually chicken, although another meat base can be used). Various vegetables, thinly-sliced meat or seafood are placed by the pot, and it is the eater's job to put into the pot what he or she wants to eat at that time (by using individual mesh baskets with handles). When the food is fully cooked, the eater takes it out and eats it, after dipping it in a sauce - like a fondue, basically. The pot is kept hot throughout the meal, either by a gas/electric stove built into the table, or more commonly, a hot plate. It's also known as the onomatopoeic term "shabu-shabu," for the swishing sound the meat makes when cooked in the soup.

The variations on how people do hot pot are astounding. Some people cook with chicken broth, others splash a dash of chili sauce before boiling. Someone might make an all-seafood hot pot, while the next week, he or she might skip the scallops. Fried tofu? Soft tofu? It depends.

Then the matter of sauce expands hot pot possibilities, as people mix according to their individual tastes. Most Chinese families use a satay sauce - made out of brine shrimp - coupled with some soy sauce (to make the sauce more fluid), and then they add other garnishes, like cilantro. Some people add raw egg to their sauce for thickness as well (it's apparently better than hollandaise sauce). And one person I know adds a teaspoon of sugar to his sauce to "neutralize" the salty part, per his family tradition. Meanwhile, Japanese shabu-style restaurants (like Shabu-Zen, a new Boston favorite of mine) use a lighter, sweeter - almost vinegary - sort of soy sauce or even a peanut sauce. One adds chopped garlic, onions or hot pepper to this base at his or own discretion.

It's these regional differences that interest me the most. Sometimes, when I visit family friends for hot pot, I'm momentarily shocked that they don't put spinach in like we do at home. But ultimately, good soup is good soup. Case-in-point: not only is hot pot one of my favorite meals, it was my dinner tonight.

And so that's what peeved me about this segment of Survivor (if you'd like to look it up, it's episode 12: "Hello, I'm Still a Person"). The hot pot was part of the reward, so clearly it wasn't disgusting, not to mention too daunting to learn - in fact, there was a lot on the table, and it looked pretty good to me. What bothered me was that the Survivors were disgruntled about it and complained all the way to the Tribal Council.

It's fine to not take risks or to refuse something- admittedly, I like trying out "weird-looking" fruits more than I like more physically-trying feats. But in my opinion, it's another thing to complain about how other cultures do food (although cannibalism is another story). And honestly, hot pot is about boiling - not eating bugs or slugs or random pieces of cardboard, and it's fairly easy to do. Food flexibility shouldn't be too much of an issue...especially if you're a Survivor.


Hank R. said...

Survivor: China? That's not even extreme. Send them back to Africa and let their encampment be surrounded by lions again. Now that's something to survive.

Also, this reminds me of this restaurant on Main Street, "Pu Pu Hot Pot". What a terrible name. Just think about it.

Pu. Pu. Hot. Pot.

Me said...

I also saw Pu Pu Hot Pot and thought it was HILARIOUS. What makes it Pu Pu? Hm.