As guests trickled into Jenna Zhang and Irene Kim’s apartment in Astoria, Queens, on a recent Saturday evening, no one needed an explanation for the array of raw ingredients before them — the marbled sliced meats; fish tofu and rolled, fried skins; napa cabbage; plump pink rice cakes; and ramen noodles.
Electronic dance music hummed in the background, as friends reminisced, discussed plans and asked the all-important question: “How are you? It’s been so long.” They were gathering early for a Lunar New Year party, feasting on hot pot, a dish that young members of the Chinese diaspora, and increasingly Asian Americans at large, have embraced as celebratory.
In China, Lunar New Year, which begins on Saturday, is a time of intense travel and the only time of year many can make it home. For those living abroad, making a trip can be impossible, whether because of finances or time. And many people, less traditional than their parents, forgo the traditional homegoing altogether.
Wherever the holiday is celebrated, hot pot offers a chance for loved ones and chosen family alike to gather close over the same steaming bowl, lowering ingredients into the communal broth for all to grab, and assembling servings for one another. It’s both meal and act, fostering intimacy and nostalgia. (Hot pot is a staple of Chinese home cooking, a dinner shared among family members, with variations all over Asia.)