Walking through Chengdu when it is time for dinner, you will smell the special aroma of hotpot. People enjoy the warmth brought by hotpot in winter and love the feeling of having hotpot while being drenched with sweat in summer. Hotpot is a lifestyle in any seasons. Locals show special passion for hotpot and some even have hotpot every month or every week. If one goes without having hotpot for quite a long time, he or she may feel that something has been missed. After returning to Chengdu from other cities, the first priority is to rush into a hotpot restaurant to quench cravings for hotpot. Various types of food can be put into hotpot such as meat, seafood, vegetables, soybean products. We can say it embodies the happiness and satisfaction of Chengdu lifestyle.
There is no need to worry about spiciness and ingredients when having Chengdu hotpot. If spiciness is your concern, a double-flavor hotpot is available, with one part offering red chili soup and the other serving clear and refreshing soup. It seems that such a concept is in line with the balance of Yin and Yang according to Chinese philosophy. For ingredients, it totally depends on your preference for food. You may try some common food or those you have never tried before. The only question is: Your stomach is not large enough for the food.
For non-locals, if it is the first time for you to have hotpot, you are recommended to dine in a restaurant that stages local folk custom performance. That will be an impressive experience.
What does Chengdu hotpot look like?
The pot of Chengdu hotpot is different from mutton hotpot in Northern China. It is relatively flat and wide. Pure red chili pot(spicy) or clear soup pot(not spicy) has no partion in the center. For double-flavor pot, it is divided into two parts or with a smaller pot in the center, which offers two flavors at the same time.
What can be found on the menu of a hotpot restaurant?
Normally, a menu is a page of sheet, listing various of pots and soup, food, snacks, wines and soft drinks. Customers tick what they want to order and then hand it to a waiter or waitress.
Hotpot seasoning: "Red chili pot" or at least a double-flavor pot should be the first choice if you want to try hotpot. For red chili pot, there are multiple choices for you, such as mild to medium and very spicy as well as rapeseed oil and beef tallow flavors. Beef tallow flavor is more traditional and the reddish yellow solid grease which you often find in the pot is the beef tallow. Chili pepper has already been integrated into the grease, so the taste is pure, mellow and spicy. For rapeseed oil flavor, a large amount of Chinese prickly ash and chili pepper are put into the rape seed oil. The taste is less stimulating.
Dipping sauce: An authentic dipping sauce of Chengdu hotpot needs blending oil and sesame oil, caraway, scallion and mashed garlic. Besides, oyster sauce, spicy sauce and vinegar are also recommended in order to create rich texture.
Food: It is said that, in a hotpot restaurant, the food served on a table can help you to tell whether those customers are locals or not. If customers ordered many streaky beef and meatballs, then they are non-locals; if ox tripe, duck intestines, pig brain, animals' kidney and other types of offal are ordered, then these are local customers. It works most of the time. The reason is that riverside workers who once boiled ox tripe in red chili soup first created Sichuan and Chongqing hotpot. After being boiled in red chili soup, the texture of ox tripe is enriched and it brings you more pleasant experience compared with other meat.
Time needed for boiling (approximate time frame)
Fried pork and pork luncheon meat: Ready to eat and the time needed for boiling depending on personal preference
Sliced lotus root: 1 to 3 mins
Animals' aorta: 2 to 3 mins
Kelp and Wax gourd 5 mins
Multi-strand beef offal 5 mins
Oyster mushroom 6 mins
Sliced meat, Beef ball, Duck's blood 10 mins
Eel 15 mins
Data about hotpot
According to the 2015 statistics of Chengdu local media, 93% non-locals choose to have hotpot for their first meal in Chengdu and 67% non-locals will still have hotpot just before their departure from Chengdu.
In 2013, David Cameron visited Chengdu and tried hotpot. He ordered 2 pieces of caraway meatballs.
In 2014, US First Lady Michelle Obama had hotpot during her stay in Chengdu. She showed preference for Australian streaky beef.
Foodies in Chengdu have hotpot 1.4 times per week on average and some even have hotpot 4 times a week.
Chengdu people spent CNY 12 billion on hotpot in one year. 4 persons are mostly likely to have hotpot together. However, there were still 3,000 people having hotpot alone.
"Top Four Meat Dishes" for hotpot: Tripe, beef, duck intestines and multi-strand beef offal.
"Top Four Vegetable Dishes" for hotpot: Potato, lotus root, broad bean noodles, thin sheets of bean curd.
Multiple forms of hotpot
There are many simplified forms of hotpot. For instance, Malatang, meaning spicy and hot, is also jokingly translated as "hot, hot, hot". Actually, such a translation sums up the essence of hotpot and simplified forms of hotpot. Sichuan people have different perspectives about Malatang. Some hold that Malatang refers to Chuanchuanxiang. It means that vegetables and meat on bamboo sticks get boiled in red chili soup and then the bill is paid based on the number of bamboo sticks. For some, they think that Malatang means "Maocai" or instant spicy hotpot. A spoon-shaped bamboo basket stuffed with vegetables and meat is viewed as one serving. Bills are based on the number of servings. Besides, there is also Lengguo Chuanchuan(contrary to hotpot). Food on bamboo sticks is boiled by chefs and then served. These are simplified forms of hotpot, which are quite common for Chengdu people.