Similar to a hot oil fondue, steamboat is the Chinese descendent of the Mongolian hot-pot and is commonly eaten during Chinese New Year.

Usually a large, decorated, silver or gold dish of soup (often tom yam), it is placed in the middle of the table, where it is used to cook a myriad of meats, fishes and vegetables. Once the food is finished, glass noodles, or tung hoon, are added to the remaining soup (which has now taken on much of the flavour) and then eaten.

Much like fondue, there is a clash of utensils (soup ladels and chopsticks in this case, probably less dangerous than forks unless you're Takeshi Kitano) as everyone fights to grab the chunkiest pieces from the soup. This is perfectly normal, and is in fact the only way to eat when in the company of the insanely kiasu, or else you'll starve.

It is not uncommon to find the humble rice cooker being used instead of a fancy dish. It's far more practical anyway, and you don't have to worry about scratching it and then having Great Auntie Feng take away your hong bao/ang pow.

The humble steamboat was like the Internet of the late 1800s in America. Most steamboat traffic was conducted up and down the Mississippi River (like a Tier 1 backbone), delivering packages and people (packets) along the way.

Great American writer Samuel Clemens spent part of his life on steamboats in one capacity or another. Steamboat captains were reknowned for their ability to read a river, as the Mississippi had a habit of altering its topology without warning or much reason. Charts of the Mississippi were out of date at best, and often laughable at worst.

The commerce carried by the steamboat led to the ability for some to become incredibly rich. A famous steamboat destination was the town of Natchez, Mississippi, a long-time river city. There, at one point, of the 60 or so millionaires in the USA, Natchez was home to more than half.

Steam"boat` (?), n.

A boat or vessel propelled by steam power; -- generally used of river or coasting craft, as distinguished from ocean steamers.

 

© Webster 1913.

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