It’s below 20 °C so it’s officially winter time in Hong Kong, which means it’s time to put on a down jacket and have hot pot. Hot pot, or da bin lo in Cantonese, is one of the most loved dining experiences/national pastimes in Hong Kong.
Enjoyed across Asia, Hong Kong hot pot is similar to huoguo in China, nabe in Japan, and jeongol in Korea.
Hot pot is flexible, sumptuous and affordable. It’s one of the best ways to bring together a table of friends—and it’s an effortless way to host a dinner party.
Here’s the ultimate guide on hot pot in Hong Kong:
What is hot pot?
Da bin lo (translated as “hot side pot”) usually consists of a boiling pot of broth in the centre of the table. The pot is accompanied by a vast selection of ingredients—from thinly sliced beef to chopped radish, from premade dumplings to fresh razor clams.
Diners, sitting around the bubbling pot, will go for their ingredients of choice, dip them into the broth with chopsticks or ladles, then eat them with customized sauces.
Although it’s something locals enjoy all year long, winter is the best time to hot pot (we use it as a noun and a verb).
How to hot pot: A step-by-step guide
Fresh ingredients and a selection of good broth bases are equally essential for a good bubbling meal.
Step 1: Soup base
The soup base takes time to heat up and boil at the table—so always order your soup base(s) first.
If you can’t decide, most restaurants offer yuen yeung pot—a pot with multiple compartments for different soup bases.
It’s especially handy if someone at the table has an allergy or can’t handle the spice.
Step 2: Ingredients
After ordering your soup base, move onto the ingredients.
Technically any ingredients you can think of can go into the pot. Hot pot places nowadays have come up with many bizarre but wonderful ingredients.
For example, “ice-cream tofu” is tofu so silky that melts in your mouth but doesn’t dissolve in the pot (how?!) and “crystal custard buns” consist of a sweet and salty egg yolk custard wrapped in semi-transparent mochi.
We categorized five main types of hot pot ingredients—and you should order a mix of them:
- Foods that barely need cooking: Meat is usually served in thin slices, which take typically less than a minute to cook. Greens like Chinese lettuce and tong ho (garland chrysanthemum). Tofu. Grass carp slices. Some seafood, like razor clams.
- Foods that take forever (or over three minutes) to cook: Chopped chicken. Chopped turnips (so that they can soak in all the broth and become extremely tender). Dumplings. Shrimp/fish/squid paste that you scoop into balls using a small wooden spoon and drop into the pot.
- Balls: Some of the most popular options include gong yuen (pork and mushroom balls), beef balls, squid balls and balls with molten cheese at the centre.
- Foods that you dip in the broth for the sake of hot pot, but not really: Crispy fish skins and deep-fried bean curd rolls. The trick is to dip it in the pot with your chopsticks for the least amount of time so that it carries some of the broth but stays crispy. DO NOT leave it in the broth.
- The afterthoughts: Mushrooms and noodles.
Step 3: Sauce
Mix your dipping sauce before the ingredients arrive.
The sauce options should contain condiments like soy sauce, satay sauce, sesame sauce and chili oil, as well as dried herbs and spices like chopped chilis, scallions, minced garlic and deep-fried garlic slices. Mix them in the small bowl provided.
Step 4: Dip away
A few tips for hot pot newbies:
1. Take a few sips of the soup before throwing in ingredients.
2. There are usually a few different sets of utensils:
- A pair of personal chopsticks
- A pair of chopsticks for you to dip food in the shared pot (do not use your personal chopsticks for this step!)
- A strainer (a net ladle with a little hook) for cooking food in the net or fishing lost food out of the pot
3. Pay attention to what’s in the pot before throwing in new ingredients. Ideally, food should be done cooking at around the same time. A new piece of raw chicken would mean that the soup and the cooked food in the pot are “contaminated”. Fellow diners will have to wait until the soup is bubbling to scoop their food out again.
4. It’s better to boil vegetables before the meat. Doing it vice versa means that the vegetables will be cooked in the fat and grease of the meat.
5. It’s all about timing: Some restaurants offer a guide on how many seconds each type of food should stay in the pot before it’s deemed overcooked.
Main types of hot pot and where to try them
Note: There is a map at the bottom of the article with all the hot pot restaurants mentioned.
The classic Hong Kong hot pot
Cantonese are known for their love of healthy soups (often spiced with traditional Chinese medicines and seasonal herbs), and that love is reflected in its hot pot culture. White pepper + pig stomach soup and fish maw chicken + dates soup are two popular broth bases.
Compared to hot pot in Taiwan or mainland China, Hong Kong’s hot pot menu usually offers a range of fresh seafood.
Try it at:
- Shing Kee Noodles in Lek Yuen Estate Market’s cooked food centre, Shatin. The semi-alfresco eatery is famous for its homemade wonton.
- Suppa is a new retro-themed restaurant that serves healthy-ish broth with old-school dishes and décor.
- Your neighbourhood Chinese restaurants.
Old-school, charcoal-fired hot pot
Instead of an electric hob or a portable gas stove, the simmering pot is cooked on a charcoal fire.
There are only a few restaurants that serve hot pot on charcoal fire these days. We aren’t sure how much it affects the taste of the broth, but it definitely is a more unique experience.
You can often order another charcoal pot for grilling seafood on the side in these restaurants, too.
Try it at:
- Hung Fook Seafood Four Seasons Hot Pot is featured in the movie Infernal Affairs 2 (the original Hong Kong movie series that was remade into The Departed).
Congee hot pot
To have congee hot pot, you only have to replace the broth with a big pot of congee (a type of rice porridge). You should choose fewer ingredients than usual. Instead, strategise your ordering according to the flavours of congee you want.
At the end of the meal, you will have the congee swimming in the residue juices and flavours from the ingredients.
Try it at
Sichuan mala hot pot
Spice lovers will prefer this Sichuan-style version. In addition to a lot of tongue-numbing spices in the red soup, Sichuanese hot pot usually begins with adding a slab of butter or tallow.
Wrap up the hot pot dinner with some chewy Sichuanese noodles made with sweet potato flour and pea flour.
Try it at:
Taiwanese hot pot
Taiwan-style hot pot has become one of Hong Kong’s favourite dining experiences.
Taiwanese hot pot is famous for making soup bases with Chinese herbal medicines. It also offers many unique ingredients and dishes such as duck-blood curds, deep-fried breadsticks and the silky ice-cream tofu (we mentioned above).
Try it at:
- Taiwanese Hot Pot and Hot Pot Land both have multiple locations. Taiwanese Hot Pot is slightly more affordable than Hot Pot Land.
Spicy chicken pot
The passion for spicy chicken pot in Hong Kong began a few winters ago and is still going strong.
Unlike other hot pot, you don’t get to dip ingredients into a bubbling broth.
Instead, ingredients inside a spicy chicken pot are prepared in the kitchen—with chopped chicken, cinnamon, anise and special chili sauce. The spicy sauce gets thicker and hotter as the pot heats up during the meal.
Most chicken pot places in Hong Kong also offer the option to continue the meal with a classic soup-base hot pot after you’ve finished the chicken. Some bring over a separate pot of broth while some add soup to the remaining sauce in the pot.
Try it at:
- Lung Gor is a popular and affordable chain restaurant for chicken pot and hot pot buffet.
- The Great Restaurant is another chain that is known for its Sichuan-style spicy chicken sauce. It’s a place where the broth is added to the finished pot for the second round of hot pot.
- Running Chicken offers chicken hot pot with a cheesy twist.
How to make your own hot pot at home
Finally, for true cheapos, consider hosting your own hot pot party at home. You can buy pre-packaged soup bases for hot pot in supermarkets. You can also buy a stock of your choice, add chopped vegetables and herbs to create your hot pot base.
Both supermarkets and frozen meat shop in wet markets usually stock a selection of balls and dishes for da bin lo.
Local butchers and fishmongers sell fresh ingredients that can be tailored for your needs (e.g. thinly sliced meat and minced fish paste).