Still Eating Hot Pot? Try Mutton Pot!
As the day of dongzhi (winter solstice, December 22, 2019) nears, Chengdu folks have begun to look for mutton. Consuming mutton soup is one of the traditional customs in the city, as the umami-filled soup coupled with mutton, sheep's offals and a raft of other ingredients warm up the body and soul like no other, eventually evolving into a habit or even ceremonial necessity. This edition of Chengdu Helper will help you arrange yourself a Chengdu-esque mutton pot.
Since the mutton pot is a relatively mild kind of soup pot, condiments are not as varied as that of spicy Sichuan hot pot. However, those that like to mix and match will still find themselves full of options: Shall I add some fermented bean curd? Go conservative or liberal with the pepper? These all define the ultimate flavor. Since the mutton soup itself is full of umami, most Chengdu folks usually prepare two bowls, with one for condiments and the other for consuming the soup. Take a bite of the superbly succulent mutton and awesomely juicy offals, sip on a steaming warm bowl of soup, rid the chills from your spine and revel in this unique feature that distinguished the mutton pot from traditional spicy Sichuan hot pot (anyone have the stomach to drink the red soup from Sichuan hot pot?)
Common condiments used for mutton soup
Sichuan pepper powder, pepper, chili pepper powder and fermented bean curd (with a touch of spring onion, coriander, small "xiaomi" chili pepper, green chili pepper and others, if you like)
For those that have not yet had the chance to try out mutton pot, please memorize every single word in this paragraph. The main meats in mutton pot are divided into three categories: Sheep's blood, mutton and sheep's offal (sheep's offal refers to the innards of sheeps that have been thoroughly cleaned, cooked and sliced, which are then cooked in the mutton pot). Some mutton pot restaurants classify dishes as per sizes like large, medium and small, but the model at the majority of mutton pot shops is to determine the quantity of meat desired by weight. Generally speaking, a good rule of thumb is to order half jin(i.e. roughly 500g) of mutton and half jin of offal per person, and another half jin of sheep's blood per two diners, but of course the amount to be ordered and consumed is up to you.
Other than the ingredients to be thrown and cooked in the pot, quite a number of mutton pot eateries also offer other kinds of delicacies like stir-fried dishes, which could encompass a wide array of ingredients including but not limited to mutton and sheep's offal. If you have any dietary requirements, make sure you ask the waiter to clarify what specific ingredients are used in your target dishes. Some common offerings include steamed mutton with sticky rice powder coating, flash-fried sheep's offal, grilled/fried lamb ribs, flash-fried sheep's stomach and mutton sausage, and ordering one of two of these plus a mutton pot would be sufficient to feed three to four.
Mutton and sheep's offal to be cooked in the soup pot are normally charged by weight, and current market prices fluctuate around RMB100/jin, while other dishes are usually priced by serving.
Veggies and Others
Some vegetables commonly found in mutton pot restaurants include Chinese yam, pea sprouts, daikon and winter gourd, just boil them as you see fit. Particularly recommended is the pea sprouts, which Chengdu locals refer to as wan dou dian er, arguably the spiritual leader of vegetables on every table, especially suited as a "dessert" near the end of the meal. If you are still hungry, some staples usually ordered are rice, mutton dumplings and plain guokui flatbreads, use these to mop up the remaining mutton soup and put on some weight to brace yourself against the winter months. In the event that there is soup leftover, feel free to ask for a plastic tub and bring it home for your next meal, whether that be instant noodle, another pot of mutton, simmered soup or whatever floats your boat.
Mutton pot restaurants are dime a dozen in Chengdu, with areas like Sanguantang and Xiaoguanmiao boasting higher concentrations. A telltale sign of a stellar mutton pot joint is a display of cut mutton hanging outside, which usually means that the meats served are probably freshly cut mutton and not the frozen stuff. In addition, another crucial criteria in judging the quality of such restaurant is whether or not the gamey taste of mutton has been adequately removed. Below are several relatively well-known, tried-and-true mutton pot eateries around town:
Xiao Xian Xian (Sanguantang)
Xiao Xian Xian has been around Chengdu for more than two decades. The mutton here is not very gamey and the milky white soup is exploding with savoriness, thus making Xiao Xian Xian a top spot for soup lovers, but marks are deducted for the less-than-fresh pea sprouts. Furthermore, since dongzhi is just around the corner, be ready for long queues both for the restaurant and for parking spaces.
Add.: No.16-60-61, Sanguantang Street, Chengdu
Business hours: 24 hours
Qin Chuan Hao
A true household name, Qin Chuan Hao boasts a century of history and was inducted as a Chengdu Municipal Intangible Cultural Heritage. Other than mutton, there is a variety of non-mutton dishes available from the menu like garlic prawns, braised pig's trotters and rabbit with fresh chili peppers.
Add.: No.22 West Shuangfeng Road, Chengdu
Business hours: 07:30-22:00
Authentic Old Seven's Mutton Pot of Jianyang
This mutton pot restaurant is opened all year round, so come here any time you want. Another major highlight of this store is that the owner seems to be immune to coldness, more or less wearing sleeveless or light tops throughout the year, but don't be fooled, the shop is pretty chilly in winter, so either dress up or choose a different restaurant.
Add.: No.28-26-28, South Zhixin Street, Chengdu City
Business hours: 24 hours