Jun 13, 2012

Red Ink Run: Sichuan hot pot is the bomb

The nineteen hour overnight train from Guilin to Chongqing had been a multisensory experience. My new collection of horsefly bites, angry red welts, braided around my legs and itched like mad. The squat toilet next door gave off extravagant wafts, which roamed the hard-sleeper carriage hassling its occupants like a drunk. Opened windows, thanks to no air conditioning, brought the amplified shrieks of the tunnels through which we passed. After a near-sleepless night we were happy to leave the train. But Chongqing greeted us with only grunge and grime.

Formerly the capital of the province of Sichuan -- until 1997 when it separated into its own municipality -- Chongqin has only five million inhabitants. That's relatively small by Chinese standards but surrounding villages and towns total 32 million. That day it seemed everyone was contributing to the city’s air, which was like lukewarm gruel. I believe cleanliness is akin to smelting. The clean you is extracted when the impurities are either burnt off in the extreme heat or washed away with water. This was to be a layover day so the possibility of a shower did not exist. So Marty and I tried another option. We made our way to Dongtingxian Huoguo, a Sichuan restaurant appropriately located in a former bomb shelter. We were greeted at the entrance, by a lady in a red Chinese Shenyi (the classic full body garment) and shown our way through the low roofed corridor to our seat. Our order was taken -- we asked for “zhong la” (medium hot) broth, as with Sichuan food the heat scale is always ratcheted up a few notches. We ordered the ingredients to cook in the broth -- lamb strips, beef strips, mushrooms, greens, cabbage and strange egg sheets (something lost in translation). We had gotten the attention of a few of the staff who stood together in the intersection of the two corridors, watching us. "Do you have the feeling our masculinity is being assessed here?" I asked. Marty eyed the entirely female staff. "Yes. Yes I do," he replied. Our waiter returned with individual bowls full of yellow oil, a dish of salt and a bowl of minced garlic, which we mixed together. And now the main event, a large steel hemisphere quartered with dividers was placed on the gas stove inset in our table.

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2 thoughts on “Red Ink Run: Sichuan hot pot is the bomb

  1. kakadu

    Very descriptive. Sounds like there could have been dog, snail and anything that does and doesn’t move in that mix. How would you know? You certainly couldn’t taste it. Is that why there is so much heat? Good pictures.

  2. arthur.hanlon

    Sichuan / Szechuan food is supposed to be the hottest in the world, but I can vouch for chillis in Vietnam being able to blow your head off. I think they’re called birdseye chillies (ot) and here in Hanoi I carefully scrape out the seeds of one tiny specimen and chop it finely into stirfries or broths, making sure to keep the flesh away from skin as much as possible.

    Of course, the locals eat them in large numbers. Along with dog, snail and frog.

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