(HER WORLD SINGAPORE) - Eating is both a natural and social affair, one which has its roots in gathering round a fire to partake of a shared meal.
This, perhaps, is the reason we find hot pot so satisfying. You plunge ingredients into a frothy, boiling broth and cook. You stir ingredients, fishing them out when they are done and spooning steaming soup into your bowls.
All the while, you are chatting, laughing about your day, about the food - sharing companionship and commiserating.
The best hot pot restaurants provide the opportunity for this sort of communal ritual, and many have expanded their basic soup bases and offer premium ingredients to diners. We suss out six places where you can gather friends and dive in to a hearty meal together.
1. Hai Di Lao
One of the pioneers of hot pot here, Hai Di Lao now has nine outlets, its newest being located at the recently reopened Century Square. With its roots stretching back to 1994, this Sichuan-styled hot pot is internationally renowned and offers up six different types of soup bases, including a laksa base, as well as chicken, mushroom and tomato.
Its variety of ingredients includes duck gizzards, crab, frog and clams. Famously, these outlets have long lines but offer services such as massages and manicures so that you can while away the minutes as you wait for a table. Prices start at $20 for a soup base. Do remember to look out for hidden costs for sauces ($4) as well.
Where: At various malls from Plaza Singapura to VivoCity and Bedok Mall
2. Beauty in the Pot
Opened by the Paradise Group, Beauty in the Pot is known for its nutrient-rich collagen soup (derived from shark's cartilage). It offers both meat-based collagen and vegetarian soup bases, and you are allowed to customise your spice level of Sichuan chili oil.
An extensive menu includes ingredients from the melt-in-your-mouth housemade fish tofu to ebiko prawn paste. This swanky joint even serves palate-cleanser shots after your meal. Prices start at $2 a piece for housemade fish tofu, while broths cost $20. Pay $25 for a duo soup pot if you cannot make a decision on one flavour.
Where: 03-08 OneKM and 05-15 The Centrepoint
3. JPOT Hot Pot
This Singapore-style hot pot restaurant serves soup bases with a distinctly local flair. Chilli crab, bak ku teh, fish head soup and laksa, along with tom yum, herbal and vegetarian broths are on offer.
Ingredients include live lobster, Iberico pork collar, wagyu beef as well as handmade items like spinach tofu. Prices for individual soup pots start at $4.80 for the vegetarian soup base to $23.80 for the chilli crab soup. But if you are on a cost-saving mission, visit JPot on weekdays, as the lunch set menu costs $16.80 a person. This includes a soup, a meat, rice or noodles, and a selected range of small delights, like crabstick and cheese tofu.
Where: 03-16 Tampines 1 and 01-53 VivoCity
4. Imperial Treasure Steamboat Restaurant
This one is so often on "best of" lists when it comes to hot pots that it needs no introduction.
Here, the soup is simmered for hours, resulting in a rich, tasty broth that comes in chicken or pork flavours. The signature is the Imperial Drunken Chicken Soup, brewed in Shaoxing rice wine and with herbs like wolfberries and ginseng. For ingredients, try the Four Treasure Ball Platter, a combination of cuttlefish, prawn, fish and pork balls. One of the best ways to indulge here is to get a set menu but be prepared - prices start at $108 for two people.
Where: 04-09/10 Ion Orchard
5. Upin Hot Pot
Upin is a relatively new hot pot venture started by folks formerly of Hai Di Lao. The mid-range eatery offers seven soup bases, but offers a Upin Three Soup Hotpot for those who want to try more than one.
Prices start at $16.80 a person for the weekday set lunch, which is on from 11am to 4pm (includes free-flow drinks as well as a free soup base for a minimum of two people).
Where: 03-87 Clarke Quay Central, 04-19 Orchardgateway and 01-02 West Coast Plaza
6. Spice World Hot Pot
Spice World Hot Pot is known for its mala soup that comes along with a teddy bear or Hello Kitty motif ($9.90), made of mala butter and which melts into the soup once it is placed in the pot. Only 10 Hello Kitty figurines and teddy bears are served each day, so request one upon reservation before heading to the outlet.
Spice World's flair for presentation does not stop there - it "dresses" a blonde, Barbie-like doll in wagyu beef slices ($38.90), harkening back to Lady Gaga's infamous meat dress at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2010. Prices start at S$22.90 for the Yinyang two-flavour broth.
Where: 01-06/07 Block B, Clarke Quay