Clay Pots / Chậu đất sét

Clay Pots and Cooking
Flavors Captured in a Pot

Cooking Vietnamese, Southeast Asian dishes in clay pots

Clay Pots

You’ll see them in Asian markets, in a variety of sizes, often with metallic rings holding them together. Are these any good for cooking? [1]

Some people think so. As Charles Phan, owner of the Slanted Door restaurant in San Francisco, says, “We used them for cooking everything – cat fish, pork, shrimp, chicken, even sardines.” [2]

Again, in San Francisco, an entire restaurant on Chinatown’s Grant Avenue devoted its entire menu to clay pot cuisine, with a huge variety of types on order – meat, seafood and vegetarian varieties. [3]

Actually, clay pots are in use as a cooking utensil in a wide variety of countries around the world. The practice is ancient.You’ll find clay pot recipes in the cuisines of a number of European countries and also in Africa and Latin America.

Cooking with clay plots

Clay Pots

In the Pacific Rim, they are used in the cuisines of China, Japan, India and Southeast Asia

In Chinese, the pot used for such cooking is generally known as shaguo or “sand plot,” or baozi, a Cantonese word for “little pot.”  Clay pot dishes are sometimes labeled as hot pot dishes on English menus of Chinese restaurants.

But these should not be confused with true hot pot dishes, which are served in a  large metal chafing dish with a heat source and usually cooked at the table. These dishes are properly known in Chinese as huoguo “fire pot.”

Among the true sand pot dishes, a famous one is yu tou sha guo “fish head sand pot” which uses fish heads in a soupy broth.Hainan style chicken rice and a chicken dish with bitter melon are other famous dishes made made with this kind of pot.

Japanese cooking utensil donabe


In Japanese cooking the clay pot used for cooking is called a donabe or “earthen pot.” Donabe is just that, a lidded earthenware pot, which is normally used over a low flame for slow cooking.

This kind of pot is not submerged in water.  Donabe represent a whole category of Japanese cooking and are covered in a separate article of their own.

In Indian cooking, a traditional clay cooking pot is called a chatti and commonly used in the South to cook spicy hot fish curries.  A similar pot is also used in North India, in the Punjab for slow cooking of black lentils and mustard leaf.  In Sri Lanka clay pots are used to cook some fish, meat, rice and other dishes.

In Southeast Asia clay pot cooking may have reached its peak of popularity of dishes cooked with this piece of equipment.

In the Philippines, the traditional clay pot used for cooking is called a palayak.

In Vietnam, clay pots are used to stew or braise a wide range of foods. It is probably in Southeast Asia and parts of southern China that the clay pot has reached its highest and widest use.  Some examples of clay pots in Vietnamese cooking include Pork Clay Pot and Prawn Clay Pot.

To use a clay pot for the first time, the pot has to be cured first.  A standard way of doing this is to put the leftover water from rice cooking into a new pot and leaving it overnight.  The process is repeated for a week and helps cure and strengthen the pot and make it ready for use.

Another method of curing a clay pot is to submerge an unglazed pot for 15 to20 minutes to absorb water before cooking. The water is then discarded., filled with the food to be used and placed in the oven or over a low fire.

As the clay pot dish is cooked, the moisture in the pot is released as steam with the result that the ingredients being cooked are slowly braised in hot liquid and steam. This works to intensify the flavors.

The metallic rings on clay pots help to support the pot structurally and also aid in diffusing heat.

A typical recipe for this type of cooking would be Pork Clay Pot.

For further information:

[1] “Clay pot cooking,” article, Wikipedia, for details about the history and background of the cooking technique.
[2] Mark Bittman, “The Chef/Charles Phan: The Flavor of Vietname Captured in a Clay Pot,” New York Times
[3] Hong Kong Clay Pot City, San Francisco
[4] Momofuku clay pot sauce.
5] Asian clay pot recipes.


5 thoughts on “Clay Pots / Chậu đất sét

  1. Pingback: Charles Phan | Pacific Rim Gourmet

  2. Hi just wanted to give you a brief heads up and
    let you know a few of the images aren’t loading
    correctly. I’m not sure why but I think its a linking issue.
    I’ve tried it in two different internet browsers and both
    show the same outcome.

  3. Pingback: Pork Clay Pot / Nồi đất thịt lợn | Pacific Rim Gourmet

  4. Pingback: Prawns Clay Pot / Tôm nồi đất sét | Pacific Rim Gourmet

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