Fire on all cylinders: This is how your hot pots should be served

By Giang Vu, Thanh Nien News

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Hot pots with burning charcoal in the middle at Dan Ich restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City. Photos: Giang Vu

As steamy hot pots find their way from curbside joints into more fancy restaurants, they seem to have lost a bit of the fire within. 
Traditionally, Vietnamese cook and serve this popular dish using a special pot with a tube right in the middle, where charcoal is burnt into strong flames. Many call this an "islet" hot pot, as the fire appears to float on top of the soup. 
When gas and modern fuel products started to be used widely, replacing charcoal in cooking, this hot pot style faded away, especially in big cities. 
But one restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City’s Chinatown has refused to change. 
The hot pots served at Dan Ich are amazing to look at. The pot is not put on fire, but fire is put into it.
Air will be blown from below from time to time to keep the coal in the central tube burning, cooking the broth and all other ingredients.

A man at Dan Ich restaurant guards hot pots as air is pumped in to burn the charcoal at the center.

The restaurant, at the corner of Nguyen Trai and Chau Van Liem streets in District 5, has been serving charcoal-burning hot pots for 40 years.
Its sign says fish hot pots, but there are all kinds of seafood and vegetables on demand.

Shrimp and pork among various ingredients in a Dan Ich hot pot.

Owners of Dan Ich said hot pot is a dish for community spirit as it is something a lot of people can share and eat together.
The restaurant has been busy serving the Lunar New Year festival the past days, the time of gatherings and reunions according to both Vietnamese and Chinese culture.
It is open from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m., charging between VND170,000-300,000 (US$8-15) a pot.
  

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