We adopted Amy via in Chongqing in early February 2004, and experienced all the chill and dampness we could tolerate. One of our greatest comforts was local hotpot cooking. I had heard the phrase 'hotpot' from time to time but never accurately placed it to a specific dish or cooking technique. It's essentially a spicy fondue, using an oily broth and virtually any mix of ingredients.
Hotpot probably carries similarities to American barbecue. While there are fiercely claimed origins, the arguments matter little, as the finished product, in any variation, is all that counts. Hotpot benefits from a better understood origin, and has now flourished across China with the panoply of flavor variations ala the diversity of BBQ.
Hot pot is said to have originated on the banks of the Yangtze in Chongqing, and was widely popularized in the early 20th century. Poor boatmen and fishermen scrounged the dregs of their catch, or whatever they could afford to buy (read offal), and boiled these scraps is in spicy Sichuan oil. Outdoor woks were used over open fires near the riverbanks that they plied.
This workingman's meal traversed the riverbanks and made it's way to the city of Chongqing and beyond, upgrading the contributing ingredients, but not leaving behind it roots of fiery red oil, spiced with many styles of local pepper. The result is a dish that carries the multi-layered and numbing spiciness of Sichuan, ideal for a damp, chilling day. Comparing the Sichuan spiciness to Mexican or Thai, one must think of a tingling sensation, that eventually overtakes the whole body, as opposed to a fiery burn that lives mostly on tongue and throat.
Culinary history lesson ends here. Today was one of the rare deeply chilling days in Houston. 33 degrees when we teed off this morning at 7:44. Yet, we're still thankful that we're not in Jersey or Chicago anymore, at least weatherwise. Blizzards are so much more enjoyable when you watch them two minutes at a time on TWC. Hotpot was a perfect conclusion to our cold day.
Hotpot can be built from scratch, and requires many authentic Sichuan ingredients. While I pretty much have all these ingredients, tonight I used a packaged hotpot mixture that I bought in a Chinese market. We obtained the same brand of hoptpot mix while in Chongqing, so it upped the credibility of this choice. I made a second hoptpot, mild, so that that Alex and Amy would be able to eat it too.
- 4-5 C organic or homemade chicken stock
- 1/4 C onion - chopped
- 2 chunks fresh ginger - 1" each
- 3-4 fresh tomato slices
- 3-4 scallions
- 1 T sesame oil
- 1 package prepared hotpot mix - 200g
- 4 C water
- 3-4 fresh tomato slices
Ingredients - cook in fondue fashion
- Thinly sliced lamb leg (partly freeze first, to slice paper thin with an electric slicer
- Chicken strips - 1/4" square, any length
- Peeled shrimp
- Squid rings
- Potato slices
- Tofu cubes (firm)
- Large mushroom wedges
In Beijing in 2005, Nora and I had hotpot with Nelson and Nancy Lie, their son Tom and a female friend Nora's age. Meat slices were lamb, and the broth was very mild. At the end of the meal, a chef arrived at our table carrying a white blob, similar to bread dough. He proceeded to whack small strips of this dough into our hotpot, using a cleaver-sized flat blade. As the strips warmed in our pot they plumped into the delicious noodles, deeply infused with flavor from the broth that held three or four trays of previously cooked lamb slices.