How to Survive a Chengdu Hotpot
One thing that locals in Chengdu love is hotpot. What they don't always understand though is that visitors to Chengdu have digestive systems that have never encountered such food.
This is not just about being brave and trying something new. Many travelers come to Chengdu, accept this strange and interesting thing, but pay for it later when their bodies remind them that they usually eat hamburgers and pizza.
Before You Eat
The real problem comes from the oil and spice. Unless you drink a few tablespoons of oil everyday your body won't be happy with hotpot in Chengdu. Just to be careful you'll probably want to get something to help with digestion. Many convenient stores sell high fiber cookies and pro-biotic yogurt. Eat or drink these things before your hotpot experience.
The Old Bait and Switch
So if someone invites you to hotpot perhaps this trick will save you from an overly taxed gall bladder.
Tell the person inviting you that you have tried hotpot, but a friend recommended Northern-style hotpot. It is still hotpot, but without as much of the spice and oil. This seems like the best win-win situation. But if you're hosts didn't tell you what was for dinner and you find yourself at a Sichuan-style hotpot then…
Avoid the oil and spice seasoning. You'll have options for “dipping sauce”: youdie (油碟), gandie (干碟), and maybe some others. Thefirst one, youdie, is oil. Literally, Chengdu people dip meat in oil and eat it. Even if it sounds good to you, your stomach won't think so.
The next one is gandie, which are just a few dried spices. For those who like something spicy this is the spiciest thing you'll find at hotpot. Your best bet is actually to avoid both of these or use as little as you can.
You'll be pulling food out from a boiling pot. It is really important to let things cook! Also take things out from the middle where the bubbles will push the oil aside, kind of like a cleaning off. This really helps to avoid too much oil and spice.
Most hotpot places nowadays also offer a pot with two flavor options (like a pot within a pot). Ask for qingtang (清汤), which is much less spicy. And another safe way to go is mushroom flavor. There are many wonderful exotic mushrooms in Sichuan cuisine that can't be found elsewhere.
One thing that people who are not used to hotpot feel strange about is the absence of any starch. You will probably feel like you could eat hotpot all day and never get full. This is because your body needs some bread or rice to give you a full feeling.
Usually Chinese people only ask for this at the end, but don't be afraid to ask for it up front. If you get rice at the beginning then the rice will absorb some of the oil and strong flavors. There is also a kind of bread you can ask for called feibing. Munch on that to help your body understand that you are actually having a meal.
You Don't Want to Know!
A lot of strange things might disappear into that boiling pot. See our hotpot menu. It is your choice what you eat, but sometimes you may not recognize what it is. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it is possible that if you knew what it was then you would feel disgusted and not want to eat anything. The mind is a really powerful thing, so what you don't know can't hurt you sometimes.
If you are really curious, then here are the less than appetizing things that you may be eating: organ meat, bowels, tripe, duck intestines, goose, brain, eel.
Recommended Hotpot Restaurants
- Chongqing Kongliang Shanyu Hotpot: 368-6 Qingjiang Road East (重庆孔亮鳝鱼 火锅 清江东店清江东路368-6号)
- Yulong Hotpot: 7 Yushuang Road (雨龙火锅大酒楼 玉双路7号)
- Huangcheng Laoma Hot Pot: 106 Qintai Road (皇城老妈火锅 武侯区琴台路106号)
Eat Local-Style with China Highlights
I updated this article on October 10, 2013
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