Chengdu is now the Provincial capital of Sichuan. Chongqing used to be the capital and was capital of China during much of the Second World War. It was made a municipality back in 1997 and is therefore a completely separate entity now. The rivalry between the two cities knows no bounds.
If you really want to upset the locals, start a discussion about the origins of the most famous dish from this area – Sichuan Hot Pot. Both cities lay their claims.
Chongqing probably has the upper hand. Its beef intestine hot pot is recorded as a popular food sold by street vendors – a favourite of the hard-working boat trackers. These strong folk pulled ship upriver – several hundred to a team when pulling ocean-going ships – in the days of sail. That dates the dish back a bit.
“And what is hot pot?”, you ask
Sichuan Hot Pot is a boiling pot of broth placed centrally on a table. A whole range of ingredients are then brought to the table and the diners cook these themselves. The broth can be a plain stock or a fiery hot, meaty soup. Many restaurants offer a pot that is split into two halves so that you can have both at the same time.
It is the Chilli Oil that makes a hotpot spicy so, if you don’t like a lot of heat, try not to get too much oil when you scoop out the food..
Sichuan Hot Pot is a great social dish and rightly popular during the cold months – or to ward off dampness in the air. Drink the broth as well as eating the contents. It gets to become a very tasty and wholesome soup.
Typically, you will either order ingredients off a list (and I’ve never seen a list in English – so you’ll need some help here) or by gathering them from shelves. I like the latter system as everyone can get involved. Each ingredient is put on sticks such that each stick has the same value. This makes totaling the bill very easy.
Meats need to be stored in the cool and are not put up on display. These are always ordered off a list. Make sure that you leave chicken and pork to cook for a sufficient length of time.
I love quails eggs and all the different kinds of mushrooms. Potato, taro and lotus root come out deliciously infused with all the other flavours. Even tofu, not one of my favourites, can get to be pretty good. Try the crispy tofu skin – and only cook it for a few seconds. Personally I’m not a big fan of boiled chicken -though it does make the best broth.
It is best to avoid mixing fish or seafood with red meats. You should also only put green vegetables into the pot after the meats are finished and after everyone has enjoyed the broth. Although the vegetables become tastier from being made in a broth, they deliver bitter tasting chemicals and ruin that broth for the other other foods.
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