Boiling Over – Hot Pot And Its Popularity

What is hot pot?

Hot pot, sometimes called suki, steamboat or Chinese fondue, is basically an actual pot of soup that is kept hot on the table during dining.  Food is cooked in the simmering water based soup, and usually consists of thin sliced meat, seafood, and literally any vegetable that you can think of.

Its history actually originates in China more than 1,000 years ago in the Zhou dynasty but went through many refinements over the centuries to become what we are familiar with today.

Most Asian cultures have a version, including Japan, Korea, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Thailand.  They are all very different from one another.  I have likely tried more than 20 different soup broths, with hundreds of different of ingredients to cook inside.  The options and flavors really are endless.

The most famous hot pot is likely Thai.  It was brought to Bangkok, Thailand in 1957 by a restaurant called COCA using a catchy Japanese name “Sukiyaki”.  This Hong Kong Cantonese dish, fused and blended with Thai proved to be a massive hit and expanded throughout Thailand and then to the rest of the world.  Arguably, outside China, the Thai hot pot version has become far more famous than its Chinese heritage.

Why is hot pot so popular?

While traditionally used during the winter months to make sure the food stayed hot at the table, it is now enjoyed for a wide variety of other reasons all year long, particularly in Asia.  When I first visited Thailand and had my first hot pot experience many years ago, I thought it was a bit odd to sit around a steaming soup when it was 40C outside.  However, after enjoyed the fantastic food, and enjoying a unique group dining experience with my friends I was addicted and remain so down to this day.  Some of the reasons it is so popular are:

  • Hot pot is a social event. It is not just about the food, but provides “something to do” with your family, friends, or colleagues during an extended meal.  This gives opportunity for social interaction and adds an “entertainment” element to the lunch or dinner
  • The menu is customizable from the soup broth, to the dipping sauce, to the proteins, vegetables, and noodles you eat. This allows everyone at the table regardless of their preferences to be satisfied
  • As the food is cooked at the table, normally by your group, it is always hot and cooked to your preference. This might not sound that important, but if you have ever been at one of those extended business lunches, romantic dinners, or family gatherings and ended up eating your food cold you know what I mean.  Hot pot food is always hot and fresh
  • Soup is typically considered both healthy and dietary. Meats, seafood, and vegetables cooked fresh in a water based broth are delicious, filling, low fat, and healthy

Styles of Hot pot:

There are quite a number of key defining features that separate hot pot concepts from each other.  First, of course, is the country of origin.  China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, and many other countries all have different versions, quite unique to their culture and heritage.  The most well-known, and my personal favorite is still the Thai or Cantonese/Thai version as my favorite broth is the Tom Yum one, and I like the dipping sauces the best.

The other major defining element is buffet or not buffet.  Many brands are set up as a buffet, you pay one flat fee and you go up to the buffet line and get your ingredients to cook.  Some brands mix with some foods on a buffet line, while some foods you order from a server and they bring to the table, but still typically at a single price.  There are some advantages to this as you can eat all you want and try many different items.

I still prefer the a la carte ordering hot pot restaurants though.  I like the advantage of having a lighter lunch for less price, avoiding the crowds and mess of buffet lines, and the higher food quality these provide.  Food quality is always better as the kitchen receives your custom order and prepares and presents each as an order.  Restaurants know people eat more at buffets, so they have no choice but to provide cheaper quality less expensive meats, seafood, vegetables, and noodles to their guests.  I will take quality over quantity every time.  I also find I leave feeling full but not uncomfortable.

Summary:

So, if you haven’t ever tried a Cantonese hot pot or Thai hot pot, look around your area and give it a try. I think you will find it an amazing experience that you will return for regularly.  If you are an investor looking to bring a new international brand to your city, you should consider a hot pot restaurant, especially if the local selection isn’t saturated.  As a franchise consultant, we see a lot of different food franchise concepts, but I think that the casual dining space with group dining is one of the winners.  Not all food and beverage franchises will work in Asia, but hot pot will.  And in ASEAN or SE Asia where the industry is well developed, there is huge potential.

You can find one that is available for many countries here:

COCA® RESTAURANT – VF Franchise Consulting

If Hot pot just isn’t your thing, here are many QSR, Fast casual, and premium restaurant brands that are actively seeking expansion in Asia.  To see some available in your country, check out our website:

Franchise Opportunities – VF Franchise Consulting

Robert Beausoleil is a franchise broker and has been visiting Asia for 25 years, and has lived in Vietnam for more than 12 years.  He works as the Director of Business Development and Franchise Operations for VF Franchise Consulting.  He has extensive experience in franchising, both for franchisors and franchisees.  You may contact him at [email protected] or on LinkedIn @ linkedin.com/in/robert-beausoleil-6a0027b1

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