The hotpot is a long-standing tradition in China with some recipes such as Mongolian mutton hotpot dating back more than a thousand years. Numbingly spicy Sichuan hotpot, on the other hand, comes from the Qing Dynasty, which ruled from the mid 17th century. In the old days there were probably practical purposes for eating hotpot. The Mongolians and northern Chinese kept themselves warm with the dish in winter, while ancient residents of Sichuan probably ate spicy hotpot for antimicrobial purposes. Despite today's modern conveniences such as indoor climate control and fridges, people remain addicted to hotpots. In fact, you can get hotpot throughout the year, including the hot summer months. After all, indoor venues in Hong Kong are freezing due to air-conditioning, so there is always a need to keep warm. Here are three renowned hotpot spots with three distinctive styles: Chung Chuk Lau (30 Leighton Road, Causeway Bay, 2577 4914) Serving the most famous mutton hotpot in town and frequented by many loyal customers for nearly 40 years, Chung Chuk Lau keeps things mostly the way they have been for decades, including the tradition of mixing your own dipping sauce. Customers get 12 ingredients to mix their own concoctions. These are sesame paste, sesame oil, fermented bean sauce, fish sauce, chilli oil, Chinese parsley, chive, vinegar, hua dieu rice wine, soy sauce, chopped scallion and sugar. The most traditional blend consists mainly of sesame paste, bean sauce, chive, scallion and parsley as a base, with the other ingredients added for taste. 'You can also have a waiter mix the base for you and then you add other condiments to suit your own taste,' managing director Ka-on Sung says. Mr Sung has been manager for 39 years and knows many customers by their first names. 'As far as the soup base goes, the lighter and clearer the better,' he says. 'That way the original flavour of the mutton is preserved.' The signature soup base is cooked with Chinese pickled vegetables and dried shrimps. Although this institution takes pride in upholding traditions, things have inevitably changed. The mutton, for instance, is now imported from New Zealand instead of the mainland. 'The meat from the thighs is the best, and [suppliers from New Zealand] always provide exactly what we want,' Sung says. Mongolian hotpot with beef is also popular. And for adventurous diners, the restaurant offers other choices such as pig's trachea ($62 for six), popular for its crunchy texture. Another famous dish is the Qingdao prawns ($60 each), which are at their fullest during the mating season in spring. The female prawns are particularly tasty when their bodies are filled with roe. The meat can be ordered by the cattie at $270 each or $27 a plate (about five slices). F. F. Hotpot (340 Jaffe Road, Wan Chai, 2838 9392) Some eateries stick with tradition, but places like F.F. Hotpot prefer to experiment with their recipes. There is a wide range of foods to choose from here and diners get to choose from an equally wide selection of soup bases. Many opt for a 'double pot', which serves up two soup bases in a casserole dish with two compartments. There are nine soup bases on the menu, plus the occasional promotional dishes. Besides the more common Chinese parsley with thousand-year egg broth, chicken and tofu broth and numbingly-hot soup Sichuan-style, there is tom yum kung, drunken chicken soup, and winter melon and freshwater crab broth. The best way to go is to get a double pot with a light, clear broth on one side and a spicy soup on the other, and cook delicate ingredients such as seafood in the former and hearty meats in the latter. A plate of the ubiquitous fatty beef is priced at $68, as is the more exotic Kurobuta (Japanese black hog). There are also cheaper options of sirloin beef and sliced mutton for $38 each. Trimmings such as vegetables and noodles are $18 a order. Seafood items including coral shellfish, Australian scallops and sea cucumbers are $58 each. F. F. is frequented by celebrities such as Eason Chan Yick-shun, Andy Hui Chi-on and Sammy Cheng Sau-man, who reportedly feast here after scooping up their various music awards. Lin Kee Hotpot (3/F Tern Plaza, 5 Cameron Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, 2721 8171; 3-4/F Pohon Building, 24-30 Percival Street, Causeway Bay, 2834 0998) Owned by film producer/director/actor Manfred Wong with investments from film stars such as Shu Qi and Ekin Cheng Yee-kin, Lin Kee Hotpot was the first to introduce the Taiwanese hotpot, which uses an aromatic soup made of chilli, wine-fermented glutinous rice, duck blood and Japanese scallion. Lin Kee's version is moderately hot, with a nice acidic undertone and a lingering aftertaste. This soup is perfect for cooking meats. The most popular item is the United States grade-A marbled beef, served alongside beef tripe and pork innards. If you are going to eat guts, this is the probably the best way to do it, since the spiciness of the soup camouflages the unpleasant taste. The tripe also absorbs much of the soup's seasonings and makes for a delicious bite. Another spicy recipe is the Sichuan soup base, famous for its potency. The main ingredient, Sichuan pepper, is notorious for its hotness and anaesthetising property. The soup is also characterised by the liberal use of star anise and prickly ash, which give the soup a strong aroma and gristly texture. At Lin Kee, this dish is somewhat toned down to cater to a wider audience. But if you are still not sure you can stand the heat, restaurant supervisor Gina Cheung recommends you have a dipping sauce of half black vinegar, half sesame oil and small helpings of soy sauce and chopped Japanese scallion standing by. The sauce helps to lessen the spiciness. Papaya juice, which helps sooth the burning sensation, is also served here. Lin Kee has an all-you-can-eat menu. Lunch is $48 a person (one guest eats for free in a group of five). There are two dinner sittings, from 5pm to 9.30pm ($88) and 9.30pm to 11pm ($68). Big groups and early birds who eat before 8pm get treated to discounts. Late supper is served from 11pm till 2am, at $58 a head. Prices vary between seasons and locations, and each table is given two hours to indulge.