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  • Tuesday, January 09, 2007

    Hot Pot - Sichuan's Most Famous Dish

    Last night, Paul (one of our YMCA Branch Directors) invited me to join his family and the family of one of his daughter's classmates who are from America to have Sichuan Hotpot. We ate at a Chongqing Kongliang Restaurant in Chengdu which Paul said was one of the best places to have Hotpot. Since I didn't take pictures last night, the Hotpot picture above is from the Chongqing Kongliang web site and looks like what we had last evening. Among the ingredients we had were beef tail, duck tongue, beef, mushrooms, bean spouts, fish, lotus, winter squash, meat balls, dates, and other meats and vegetables. Surprisingly, it was not as spicy hot as I expected. The double wok shown above makes it possible for folks to put their meats and/or vegetables into boiling oil with lots or little spices. I enjoyed both the Hotpot and the conversation with Paul's family and their guests who are here for one year while the father does research in Chinese History on a Fulbright. The had previously lived in Chengdu for two years while teaching English at a language institute connected with Sichuan University.

    For those not familiar with Hot Pot, the following description is from Theodore Johnson's Sichuan English Guide (Tourism Education Press, 2003), pages 167-168:

    "Hotpot is the most famous and favorite dish in Sichuan. It is noted for its peppery and hot taste. Customers gather around a small pot heated with charcoal, electricity, or gas. Each pot is filled with a nutritious soup base. Around the wok are placed a dozen plates of paper-thin slices of raw meat and other ingredients. The customers pick up the raw ingredients and boil them in the soup base. Then they take them out of the wok, dip them in a little bowl of special sauce and eat them.
    "Hotpot supposedly originated in Chongqing city. In the 1920s, there were several oxen slaughterhouses located on the northern side of the Yangzhi River in Chongqing. The slaughterhouses often sold oxen entrails at a cheap price to vendors who owned stalls near the river ferry. The vendors cleaned the entrails and cut them into small pieces before putting them into pots of stew with hot pepper and other sauces. The vendors usually sold the stewed entrails soup to boatmen, laborers and peddlers. It was cheap and tasty.
    "However, the sliced oxen entrails in soup could only be eaten while it was hot. As weather changed and wind blew from the river, the soup soon became cool, and the cool entrails didn't taste good. So some boatmen set up a big wok full of hot, spiced oil. They skewed sliced entrails and at them hot. This new way of hotpot eating gradually spread far and wide in Sichuan province. Now it is very popular and can be found at every corner of the city. Many sidewalk hotpot operations and exquisite hotpot restaurants have been set up to meet the demand from the local people.
    "There are a great variety of hotpots. They include Yuanyang Hotpot, Four Tastes Hotpot, Yachang Hotpot and Fish Head Hotpot. Restaurant owners offer spicy hotpot at different levels based on customers' tastes so that friends and family with different tastes can huddle around the hotpot. One of the most popular hotpots is the Yuan yang Hotpot in Sichuan. The Yuanyang hotpot refers to the wok, which has been partitioned into two parts by a thin metal plate. One part is filled with traditional hot-spicy soup and the other with non-hot-spicy broth. This typical hotpot suits many customers at home and abroad. Whatever your tastes are and wherever you travel in Sichuan, you will find something you like to eat."

    NOTE: Theodore Johnson's Sichuan English Guide [Tourism Education Press, 2003; ISBN 7563711619] was written as a resource for Chinese tour guides to provide descriptions in English; but it is an excellent tour guide for anyone traveling in Sichuan.


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