Whether it’s bringing the cooking to the table, maintaining a steady even heat during braising or keeping a dish extra hot through a long meal, the guo (锅), or ‘cooking pot’, is an indispensable part of Chinese cuisine.
What’s more, they’re all incredibly warming! Here are the different types to look out for this cold season.
1. Fragrant pot
Mala xiang guo 麻辣香锅
This crowd-pleaser utilises the kitchen-sink approach to cuisine of ‘just throw everything in there’. Mala xiang guo, literally ‘spicy-numbing fragrant pot’, is a classic homestyle dish hailing from Chongqing in central China – a region famous for its love of chilli, numbing peppercorns and oil. And baby, this dish has all three in spades.
While a fiery sauce base simmers in a hot wok, ingredients are added in batches until the whole mélange is cooked through. Served either in the cooking vessel or a comically over-sized bowl, diners pick through slices of lotus root, fried pork belly, tofu skins and mushrooms.
2. ‘Returned to the pot’
Hui guo rou (回锅肉)
A staple of street-side, one-wok stalls and family-style back-street joints, hui guo rou is not, strictly speaking, a potted dish as much as it is named after the pot.
Literally ‘returned to the pot meat’, or ‘twicecooked pork’, slices of pork belly are braised and then wok-fried with onions, ginger, dried chillies, Sichuan peppercorns and plenty of freshly diced scallion. An oily affair best enjoyed over rice or chewy Shanxi style dao xiao mian (knifecut noodles).
3. Iron pot
Tie guo (铁锅)
This one might seem a bit obvious. It’s an iron pot, used to cook food. But fail to respect the humble tie guo and you’re missing out on a gloriously savoury, if blissfully simple, preparation. The shallow iron pot is used to slowly break down tough cuts of meat over a low steady heat or render the rich flavours latent in bones and connective tissue of meat and seafood.
4. Hot pot
Huo guo (火锅)
You can’t say ‘pot’ in Beijing without evoking visions of steaming cauldrons, rashers of thinly sliced mutton and fish balls cannon balling into fire engine-red oil. Hot pot is popular absolutely everywhere in China, but Beijing’s regional diversity can’t be beat. Firing on all cylinders of the Chinese cuisine holy trinity – a multi-course, highly social and invariably cheap meal – the practice of cooking slices of meat, seafood and veggies in broth and oil at the table is endearingly simple and ubiquitous in Beijing.
5. Clay pot
Sha guo (砂锅)
Earthenware ceramic features in many of China’s regional cuisines, partly due to how cheap and durable natural-fired pots are, but mostly due to how well they retain and defuse heat. In the land of dragon’s breath hobs and scorched woks, a low, even heat is no mean feat and a precious commodity – it’s integral when it comes to breaking down tough proteins and rendering flavour from connective tissue and bones.
6. Pot stickers
Guo tie (锅贴)
Dumplings are a near-perfect food as far as we’re concerned, and the guo tie, or ‘pot sticker’, is the best of the bunch. With a wheaten wrapping that encompasses the full range of textual variations – from their soft and chewy steamed top to the golden crunchy fried derrière – guo tie have it going on. The fillings are as diverse as you can imagine, but the classic pork and Chinese leekstuffed number remains king for a reason.
The old-school doily-looking layer that lines the bottom of the pot in fancier joints is a flourish that grants these humble fried dumplings a slightly more refined air.
7. Dry pot
Gan guo (干锅)
The dry pot is absolutely necessary for surviving those long banquet–style meals where the circular tables are planetary in size and that lazy Susan keeps spinning just fast enough for you to miss your favourite dish every time. Almost always served in a small chafing dish, gan guo actually needs some time to finish cooking at the table.
Sliced potatoes, lotus roots and tofu are some of the most common ingredients – just don’t forget to mix the sliced veggies on top with the slivered onions below. The gan guo cooks while you gorge on the choice victuals, but is ready and waiting to fill any remaining space towards the tail end of the meal. A side dish for