An American in Chengdu

Hot pot | October 3, 2009

“Have you eaten hot pot?” several people have asked me since I came to Chengdu. Admitting you haven’t had hot pot in Chengdu is like admitting that you haven’t had Guinness when you’re in Ireland, so confessing to this gap in my gustatory experience inevitably led to promises to introduce me to hot pot sometime soon. Today Cecilia made good on that promise, taking me and two of her cousins to a hot pot restaurant.

I’d heard different stories about whether vegetarian hot pot even existed, or whether the broth in the pot always contained some meat essence. And I was a bit concerned that something that involves fishing morsels out of a boiling vat of spiciness would be too much for my American palate. But Cecilia assured me that both kinds of broth she’d ordered were vegetarian, and the smaller one wasn’t spicy at all.

As the broth bubbled in the middle of the table the girls checked the toppings we wanted off on a list, sushi-style. “I didn’t know which vegetables you would like, so I ordered almost all of the vegetables,” Cecilia explained. Indeed, when our food came it wouldn’t all fit on the small three-shelved cart, but overflowed onto the table as well. There were at least three different kinds of mushrooms, multiple forms of tofu, lotus root, cucumbers, enormous rice noodles, quail eggs, fish, and endive leaves. There were things I can’t name in English or Chinese. The girls would put a few plates’ worth of raw ingredients into the pots, wait a few minutes, and then they’d be ready to fish out (with chopsticks and/or the slotted spoon) and plunk into our own small bowls of broth to absorb more flavor and cool down before being eaten.

The broth before anything is added

The broth before anything is added

The first piece of tofu that finally made it to my mouth was indescribably flavorful. The crucial ingredient, I think, was the tiny green berry-like things you see floating in the red broth. They’re Sichuan pepper, and they lend a fresh, citrus-y taste to the broth, in addition to being spicy in a way that makes one’s lips tingle pleasantly. It’s likely that the reason I’d never tasted anything like it before coming here is that it was banned by the U.S. government for nearly 40 years. A spice! Banned! Allegedly because it carries plant germs. Here’s a tip for any investigative science reporters reading this blog: follow the money. I’m guessing it leads directly from the bland food lobby to USDA.

My own bowl, the stopping-over point between the pot and my mouth. Next to it are a bowl of garlic and one of cilantro, added to one's own bowl for flavor. The endives in the foreground, cross-bridge noodles in the middle ground, and quail eggs in the background are destined for the pots.

My own bowl, the stopping-over point between the pot and my mouth. Next to it are a bowl of garlic and one of cilantro, added to one's own bowl for flavor. The endives in the foreground, cross-bridge noodles in the middle ground, and quail eggs in the background are destined for the pots.

Advertisements

Posted in Uncategorized
Tags:

3 Comments »

  1. When I visit you, we’re going to eat this every day. Or at least once every two days.

    Comment by Helen — October 10, 2009 @ 8:49 pm

  2. Yay! When we do, I’ll tell everyone your name is Chun Hua.

    Comment by americaninchengdu — October 10, 2009 @ 9:31 pm

  3. Yummy nummy!

    Comment by Ming — October 13, 2009 @ 4:58 pm


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

    About me

    I've come to Sichuan in search of adventure, fluency in Chinese, and awesome vegetarian food. I have to concede that the baby pandas are very cute.
%d bloggers like this: