The first time someone asked me if I wanted to eat steamboat, I giggled because I had a mental picture of Mark Twain trying to eat a paddle steamer on the mighty Mississippi, circa 1900.
However, steamboat—or hot pot, as it’s possibly more widely known—doesn’t have much to do with American novelists, rivers or even boats themselves. It’s a soup popular all over China and elsewhere in Asia, and is one of the number one best winter meals I’ve ever had. This do-it-yourself stew is both a meal and an activity: typically you order the soup base and then select from a huge list of ingredients to later cook up in the broth.
In Guizhou and Sichuan provinces, where hot pot restaurants often seem like the only meal deals around, the soup base is often shockingly spicy, with whole dried peppers floating around the tureen. In Inner Mongolia and elsewhere, the soup base is usually a calmer mutton or chicken broth. However, my favorite way to eat hot pot is to get a yin-yang shaped bowl of base, with one side spicy and one side not. That way, everyone at the table can enjoy it, whether they’re “afraid of spice” or not.
The soup pot is usually set into a special hole in the table, or on an electric hot plate in the middle of the table, and diners can control the temperature themselves, while adding extra ingredients like raw meats or fish, sliced potatoes and lotus roots, mushrooms of incredible variety, and green vegetables.
If you’re traveling in Europe this winter, however, the spices and steam of a hot pot won’t be as easy to attain to warm you up. But, when you’re taking a walking tour of your destination, you’ll be able to warm your hands up with a paper cone of freshly roasted chestnuts instead. Before potatoes, cereals and rice were widely farmed, chestnuts used to be a food staple. In some places in Europe, you can still find breads and dumplings made out of ground chestnuts, but on most of the continent you’re more likely to see chestnuts kept for a winter street snack.
Headed to Norway? If so, don’t forget to try some lamb’s head—salted, cooked and served with potatoes. Smalahove is a traditional Norwegian dish to eat in the dead of winter, particularly before Christmas. It’s said to be most authentic in Voss, which is a top destination for tourists looking to go skiing, snowboarding or (in the summer) do water sports. You might know Voss if you pay attention to Extreme Sports Week, held here each June. Whether you’re there for the sports or there for the sheep’s head, don’t forget to fortify yourself with another of Norway’s culinary traditions: a sparklingly clear shot of aquavit. Skål!
What other winter specialties do you enjoy eating?
Hi! I’m Beth. Thanks for visiting Everyday Travel Stories, a site that celebrates all of the glorious travel opportunities on our planet.