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Traditional hot pot brews with variety of styles and flavors


03-03-2017 19:49 BJT

(Source: CGTN)

Hot Pot is a traditional way of cooking meat and vegetables in steaming broth. It is common all over Asia and China, but among the world's favorites are in Sichuan -- Southwest China. Countless varieties of meats and vegetables, all cooked in a bubbling broth and shared by family and friends.
In the heart of Chengdu, this is a cool spot to eat hot pot. The street-side restaurant evokes a simpler time, of China in the 1980s when Hot Pot stands were among the first private businesses. This place is new but it's already got the thumbs up from our food critic guide, Wang Shiwu, better known by his fans as "Uncle 9."

Here, while the broth boils, you pick out your own meat and vegetables like in a grocery store, and you pay by the stick. Beef, chicken, tofu and vegetables and then cheaper cuts which are perfect for hot pot; pigs' lungs, ducks' tongue and other delicacies work well in the broth, and according to Uncle 9, harken back to the origins of hot pot in this region.

"A long time ago, Dock men were poor and their work was tiring. They needed some kind of food to refresh them," said Wang Shiwu, Sichuan food critic.

"This is how hot pot started. They retrieved animal organs that were floating on water from upstream of Yangtze River, and put them into a pot with dry peppers and other seasoning. They made it flavorful, spicy and juicy."

Hot pot has come a long way since its humble origins. There are so many varieties, so many different ingredients, but here in Sichuan's capital we go local. 

"People in Chengdu made a simpler version of hot pot and called it 'Mala tang.' Mala tang was called "handy skewer" because it was more convenient. Besides cayenne, Sichuan peppercorns and seasoning, it also uses ox oil and seed oil. Different oil could simulate different flavors. Chili bean sauce makes the color brighter," Wang Shiwu said.

It's spicy but so many flavors, too. Your tongue tingles, goes numb and then tingles again. The traditional way to eat hot pot in Chengdu includes a paste which you mix yourself from crushed peanuts, hot Sichuan peppers and broth. To cool down the spice, mix less pepper with the peanuts!

There are thousands of hot pot restaurants in Chengdu alone, but even though I could live on hot pot, Sichuan food has so much more to it. And Uncle 9 has only just begun to show us.

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