The Chopstick Mistake You Should Never Make When Eating Hot Pot

Hot pot is an eating experience unlike any other: A shared pot of seasoned soup or broth bubbles away at the center of the table as an army of meats, veggies, seafood, and noodles surround the boiling liquid. Using a pile of shared utensils, diners dunk the raw sides into the broth and cook them to their liking, after which they are scooped back onto individual plates and devoured with the help of condiments and toppings. But sharing food at a restaurant has its etiquette, particularly when it comes to the use of utensils.

Because you essentially cook your own food in hot pots before eating them, keeping raw meats and seafood separate from cooked food is essential to minimizing cross-contamination. As such, it's important to keep the chopsticks used to handle these ingredients separate. Besides, no one wants to see the chopsticks used for eating being double-dipped!

Most hot pot restaurants will give diners two sets of chopsticks that are distinguished by light and dark colors. The darker ones are usually meant for picking up and cooking raw sides, as well as for touching anything that's meant to be shared by the whole table. On the flip side, the lighter ones are meant for personal use and eating.

The do's and don'ts of using chopsticks

Using chopsticks incorrectly when eating hot pot can be both a health risk and a social blunder. Double-dipping them into shared broth aside, there are several chopstick etiquette mistakes that you could be making. For instance, when you're resting a pair of chopsticks while the food cooks, never leave them standing upright in a bowl. Doing so is reminiscent of the vertical incense sticks that are offered to the deceased. Passing food around with chopsticks is another distasteful reminder of death, as it is associated with the tradition of passing bones of the cremated at funerals. If you'd like to share food from the hot pot with your neighbor, scoop it out into a plate or bowl and then pass that on.

Another faux pax is being fidgety with the sticks. Never play around with them while you wait for the food to cook and refrain from tapping or spinning them. Pointing chopsticks at people while you talk to them is as good as flipping them off, as is tipping your index finger to someone while you hold the sticks. And when all the broth is done, the sides polished off, and the delightful meal is over, don't cross chopsticks on the plate. Instead, place them parallel next to the plate or rest them in their stands.

More etiquette rules for enjoying a shared hot pot

Hot pots require diners to team up. Together you decide on the spice level of the shared broth (not everyone craves the pain of spice), the proteins, veggies, and sides that you want, and the order in which to cook these things. Safe to say, there's some decorum and etiquette that should be followed. For example, the biggest mistake is to dump all the ingredients into the boiling broth all at once. Instead, hot pots are meant to be enjoyed at a leisurely pace over lengthy conversations, so there's no need to rush. Add the sides to the broth in small quantities, cooking only what you want to eat at the time. Make sure to leave enough space in the liquid for it to boil and churn so that it cooks the ingredients properly.

The order in which you add the sides to the broth matters too. For instance, greens and certain vegetables tend to take the longest to cook so they are added to the broth earlier on. On the flip side, things like noodles and meats will cook in a jiffy, so a few seconds in the simmering liquid is all they need. Although hot pot is very much a communal experience, be wary of adding things to the pot and cooking them on anyone's behalf. Unless you know your fellow diners well, everyone can have a different preference for when and how they want to cook things.