If in the West the hot pot is the new food trend, in China actually has very ancient origins. Since man has had a fire-resistant container in which to cook his food, through the simple and effective cooking technique of boiling, we can speak of hot pot, or rather huǒguō 火锅 ， literally a pot of fire, where huǒ 火 is fire and guō 锅 pot. A traditionally copper pot, placed in the center of the table, to be shared with friends and relatives, in which to cook fish, meat or vegetables completely immersed in boiling and mumbling broths, fed by a continuous flame while supplies last.
This is the pot of fire, don't call it Chinese fondue
Having ascertained that in China thehot pot takes the name of fire potwhy cripple this symbolic and intuitive name in an appellation that has no sense of existing in this context? Do you want to confuse ideas? We try to clarify and give the right names to things. The word fondue it has French origins and the donkey already falls here, then if we really wanted to denaturalise the clarity that underlies the writing and the Chinese language, we might as well call it Chinese fondue and no Chinese fondue, so at least we don't snobbish and talk like we eat, Italian. It goes without saying that we should then analyze the word "fondue" (Piedmontese dish consisting of a thick cream obtained by melting fontina cheese in a bain-marie, mixed with cream and egg yolks) says the Treccani dictionary. And here comes another inconsistency since in the fire pot there is no presence of cheeseindeed it is known that in China cheese does not exist and is not consumed, they only eat tofu. And if they drink milk, it is soy or from other cereals or legumes, but it certainly does not contain lactose, a bomb of active ferments ready to explode in the stomachs of the Chinese, not used to it. If we want to make the picky ones the fondue involves the cooking technique in a bain marie, and only later, to keep the fondue constantly creamy, the cauqelon (the pot used for the fondue) is placed on a special iron structure with a candle lit at the bottom, but nothing to do with the living flame of the fire that burns under the copper pot and in the hearts of the Chinese when they think of the huǒguō 火锅.
The republic of the pot
«He is eighty-six years old, she eighty-five. He is her old husband, and she is his old wife. For a lifetime he has been behind her and her character, to her who takes care of the house and to her whims, who combines her clothes and on New Year's Eve she polishes the four valuables they have at home: a pair of bowls, two pairs of silver chopsticks and a copper fire pot …
They like the fire pot, which then brought them together. In the fifties of the last century, when they were young, they went to Donglaishun restaurant on weekends. At the time, there was the "republic of the pot", to the delight of young people of marriageable age, male and female. In practice, people shared the pot, including broth, without knowing each other. Inside it was divided into small sectors, a bit like today's offices. Each had his own, where he dipped the mutton and the ordered dishes. The cost of the broth and the table was divided according to the number of people. Practical and economic …
The "republic of the pot" created a festive atmosphere of harmony and conviviality …
(Adapted from Huoguo, Tie Ning – The fire pot, translation Silvia Pozzi).
My republic of the pot I lived it in the autumn-winter between 2016 and 2017, the semester in which I lived the most beautiful experience of my life, in China of course. In southern China, in Guìyáng 贵阳 (capital of the province of Guizhou), precisely in the district of Huāxī 花溪 区 ， just outside the dormitory. Here I was able to experience the real China, the rural one, of the farmers with their panniers on their shoulders and the street vendors, with a cart to be rescued at the passage of bulky vehicles and to be towed home. China of small yuan restaurants and self-share fire pot. Self because everyone is given a tray on which to place the desired dishes, in this way quantity and quality are before your eyes, just like in a self service. But super share as the choice of broth is made in common agreement with the companions of the pot (usually two types, one of meat Ròu tāng 肉汤 and one of vegetables 蔬菜 汤 Shūcài tāng).
There is no limit to sharing, the friends around the huoguo can also be 5 or 6, but be careful not to overdo the invitations otherwise you may find yourself juggling with battles of chopsticks at the last trick.
A real treasure hunt, a bit like finding a needle in a haystack, or rather the Chinese "like fishing a needle in the sea" jiù xiàng zài hǎilǐ lāo zhēn yīyàng 就像 在 海里 捞 针 一样. So be careful not to dip all the spoils of your trays in one go and to cook the ingredients a few at a time to facilitate the operation catch the gruel. Certainly it is not a dish for those who are beginners with chopsticks, but you can always count on the shrewd friends who will be happy to recover some piece of meat, fish or vegetables, to accompany an inexpensive pebble of white rice bái mǐfàn白 米饭.
That's how I met some of the first Chinese friends on campus, sharing a traditional fire pot. I still remember my first huoguo, it was one evening in late October and it was still not too cold in Guiyang. So the restaurants just outside the dormitory still offered the dinner under the stars option, with colored plastic stools and tables equipped to host Spartan Hot Pots. From that evening onwards when the numbness of the cold crept into the bones, it was enough to take courage go down 7 floors of the dormitory and do not think about returning (another 7 flights of stairs without a lift to do), for a comfortable warm dinner this and more. The broth that bubbled, the smoke that rose and that like a fog bank did not allow you to see beyond the fumera the friend in front of you. The fogged glasses, and the tongue burnt with heat, this for me is the taste of China, this is the pot of fire.
Where to eat the fire pot in Milan
Starting from the beating heart of the Milanese chinatown, we populate two addresses in the Paolo Sarpi area:
Little Lamb (two rooms, one in Paolo Sarpi 8 and the other in via Bernina 43, Maciachini area) entirely dedicated to the traditional Chinese hot pot, with tables equipped to host steaming pots of fire. Disposable placemat menu on which to tick your choices, 10 different broths and a selection of meats, fish, vegetables, mushrooms, tofu, meatballs, skewers, rice, spaghetti and sauces.
168 Chinese Township (viale Jenner 29, Maciachini area) majestic restaurant structured in several rooms, one of which is entirely dedicated to the hot pot. Technological order with tablet, 8 broths on the list and a large variety of fish, meat, offal, tofu, vegetables, rice and pasta to accompany and dip in the broths.
Ba Hot Pot (viale Certosa 32) here the pot of fire is the protagonist of the scene, several broths to choose from and numerous alternatives of meat, fish and vegetables and some more risky proposals such as duck black pudding.
Carnivore Union (two rooms, one in via Padova 26 and the other in viale Nazario Sauro 5) perhaps one of the first restaurants to offer the hot pot in Milan, the first address in via Padova has tables set up for the fire pot, while the one in the Zara area has free tables on which to place spartan electric hotplates for the hot pot, a more practical but certainly less suggestive solution. As for the choice of delicious broths and many delicacies, in addition to the classic slices of meat, fish and vegetables, skewers, ravioli, pickled vegetables, udon, fried rice and for the most daring dishes such as lamb kidney and beef tendon.