The chafing dish is a favorite with the northern Chinese, especially in winter. The main ingredient for this dish is usually mutton; however, beef, fish or prawn may also be used. It is eaten with vermicelli, fresh vegetables and sometimes dumplings.
The Chinese hot pot is different from the Western chafing dish in that its soup container is built around (instead of over) its jellylike heater. It is usually made of copper or brass, but may also be available in aluminum and burnt clay. It is called "Mongolian pot" by some Westerners perhaps because of its association with mutton from Inner Mongolia.
The preparation of the chafing dish is simple: first, water (preferably boiling water) is poured into the container and then burning charcoal is filled into the heater from the top of the small chimney. When the water is brought to the boil again, the meat or fish slices may be put in, little by little, by the diners themselves. After a while they may be taken out with chopsticks and, before eating, dipped in a sauce prepared in advance.
The meat for this dish must be from the tender parts of the animal. Take mutton, the commonly used meat, for example. From a sheep of over twenty kilograms, only six to seven kilograms are fit to be eaten this way. Each kilogram is cut into at least 120 slices. They must be paper-thin in order to be cooked instantly in the boiling water and remain tender when taken out.
Along with the mutton slices, fresh vegetable and vermicelli are put into the pot, to be boiled and eaten. The dumplings, if any, usually come last.