Next stop on our China adventure was Chongqing! After navigating the massive airport and riding a bus for forty minutes, Mom and I arrived at Chongqing City Proper, home to more than 8.5 million residents. Given that it was noon time, our group was given 1.5 hours to roam the streets and grab a bite to eat. While others on our tour beelined for the closest Starbucks/ KFC / McDonalds, my mission was set on discovering a local hot pot restaurant. A quick search on the web brought us to the steps of an authentic hot pot joint. After a bit of difficulty ordering (due to our lacking Chinese skills), we were met at the table with ferociously boiling soup, a mixed plate of veggies, slices of raw beef, and long strands of vermicelli noodles. In addition to the food we ordered, we had access to a make-your-own sauce bar at the back of the restaurant and a variety of even more side dishes.
Overall, the meal was delicious and fulfilled my desire to “eat hot pot in Chongqing” ✔. The mushroom broth was full of so many different shrooms that it had wonderful flavor. As a plus, we were also able to try the restaurant’s signature super-spicy-chili-broth since the waiter got confused with our order. It took only the smallest spoonful of the chili broth for me to understand true Chongqing spice- it was extremely spicy. So spicy in fact, that my mouth instantly went numb, my sinuses started to run, and I couldn’t help coughing to try and clear my throat. I must have looked like such a lame foreigner to all the locals calming eating their midday meal. To add to the experience, at one point the bubbling soup splattered into my eye for yet another burning sensation. Slight discomforts aside, I was super glad have been able to eat the famous regional dish.
Post meal and back with our tour guide, we were briefed on the history of hot pot and how Chongqing was one of the birthplaces for the dish- specifically, the intensely spicy variation that I had tried earlier that day. As the story goes, the heavily spiced flavor and overwhelming use of numbing Sichuan peppercorns in the broth was intended to both mask the bad/ bland taste of aging meats, and provide people with a hearty warmness during cold days.
Possibly the most amazing thing about the entire meal was that the total bill came out to 101 RMB, or about $14 for 2 people. In the US, I was used to paying $25-40 per person for a hot pot meal. For it’s incredibly superior flavor, reasonable price, and authentic atmosphere, our China hot pot experience couldn’t be beat.