My column, Eating Niagara, runs every second Wednesday in the St. Catharines Standard, Niagara Falls Review and Welland Tribune.
I don’t remember much about the food from my days in journalism school in Regina 17 years ago.
Still, there were watershed moments for an aspiring food writer. It’s where I figured out how to use chopsticks while eating a bowl of slippery rice noodles at one of two Vietnamese restaurants in town.
It’s also where I was introduced to Chinese hot pot, a soupy affair hosted by a classmate missing the familiar tastes of her home in Vancouver.
A handful of us gathered around a steaming communal cauldron in the centre of her dining room table. It was filled with a clear broth and flanked by plates loaded with fish balls, shrimp balls, sliced meats, Chinese greens and noodles that we would each cook in the soup.
After a short primer on how to enjoy Chinese hot pot — cook the meat first, veggies second, noodles last — I used my newly minted chopstick skills to drag paper-thin meat slices through hot broth. We dropped in meatballs that bobbed in boiling liquid, then dunked greens, yanking them before they went limp.
There was this magical symbiosis happening as the broth flavoured everything cooked in it, but then took on a depth and richness from the food it boiled. We drank it at the end.
Everything was anointed with aromatic, salty, spicy dipping sauce before we devoured it.
To this kid of German immigrants, it was like meeting fondue’s more worldly and well-heeled cousin. It was as much a social affair as dinner, and it was a good two hours before we finally put down our chopsticks.
Until recently, that was my only hot pot experience. My statistics have improved now that St. Catharines is home to two all-you-can-eat hot pot restaurants, which opened in the summer.
Here’s everything you need to know about them and how to eat hot pot.