By Elaine Pang , eChinacities.com

Much like a witch’s cauldron, the bubbling red-hot brew of the famous Chongqing hotpot (火锅) permeates the air with a heady, spicy aroma. A medley of spices, mainly chilli and prickly ash (a numbing spice), in liquid beef fat ensures that anything boiled in this potent concoction is a fiery assault on the taste buds. Chongqing locals often consume hotpot two to three times a week without having to worry about a growing waistline – probably because the large quantities of chilli in the hotpot makes the fat virtually indigestible. If you are living in or plan on visiting Chongqing, you must try hotpot; there is simply no other dish that is as representative of Chongqing’s spicy cuisine and spicier people.

Hotpot – the Ultimate Chongqing Culinary Experience
Photo: txxwy

How to Eat Hotpot

Hot both in terms of spiciness and temperature, Chongqing hotpot is certainly not for the faint-hearted. Fortunately, the faint-hearted can opt for a yuanyangguo (鸳鸯锅), a pot divided yin-yang-style with both spicy and clear soups. After choosing your soup base, tick off the order sheet for a variety of ingredients to cook in your hotpot – veggies, meat, internal organs and river fish. To bring down the heat, restaurants typically offer local beer, peanut milk and herbal tea. After the fire is turned off, sample local desserts like fried pumpkin cakes (南瓜饼) and bowls of mini dumplings with fermented glutinous rice (小汤圆) to satiate your sweet tooth.

For the uninitiated, here’s some advice before dipping into Chongqing’s most famous culinary offering:

  1. Dip everything from the hotpot into the bowl of oil provided – ingesting oil may sound counter-intuitive, but it washes away the chilli oil from the hotpot and cools down the food to palate-friendly temperatures
  2. Chopsticks are best way to get cooked food out without bringing excess oil and spices with it
  3. For those not too confident of their chopstick skills, individual pots and hotpots with multiple compartments make it easier to find that needle in the haystack.
  4. Cook green veggies and mushrooms in clear soup as these tend to soak up massive amounts of oil
  5. Meat lovers are advised to opt for frozen machine-shaved meat (the kind that curls into rolls after being cut) over tenderized meat
  6. For foods that cook quickly, like meat and duck intestines, it is worth holding on to them while cooking in order to fish them out as soon as they are done
  7. Should you chose to eat hotpot in summer, don’t be surprised to see men starting to take their shirts off at the table next to you as they consume this blisteringly-hot dish

Where to eat Hotpot

Now that you have been forewarned, here’s a list of hotpot restaurants to get started with:

1) Daduizhang Zhiqing Huoguo 大队长知青火锅View In Map
Mao’s spirit is definitely alive and well in China, as evidenced by this Mao-inspired hotpot restaurant. Many restaurants of this chain preserve the Chongqing of a bygone era with wooden furnishings and hard benches in some outlets, while other locations are of the more upscale, generic variety. In the less upmarket outlets, waitresses can even be persuaded to perform a patriotic dance while waving Red Books in their hands.

Add: 261 Daduizhang Zhiqing Huoguo, Changbin Lu, Yuzhong District, Chongqing
地址:重庆渝中区长滨路261 号大队长知青火锅
Tel: 023 6393 5588

2)  Jiyi Lao Huoguo 记忆老火锅 View In Map
Literally "Memories Old Hotpot", this restaurant provides a trip down memory lane with waitresses donning 1930s-styled costumes. Its proximity to the Chongqing University in Shapingba District ensures that its authentic cuisine is served up at value-for-money prices to cater to the college crowd.

Add: Jiyi Lao Huoguo, Shapingba Zhenjie, Shapingba District, Chongqing (near Trustmart)
地址: 重庆沙坪坝区沙坪坝正街(近好又多超市)  记忆老火锅
Tel: 023 6540 6268
Opening hours: 10:00-22:00

3)  Qinma Hotpot 秦妈火锅 View In Map
With 24 branches all over Chongqing, Qinma is a safe bet that locals recommend. Branches are mostly newly renovated with the decoration veering towards the posh. This chain takes hygiene seriously, opening the soup base packaging right at your table and allows you to choose condiments in a buffet setting.

Add: Qinma Hotpot (Nanping Branch), 3F Bldg 1, Haitangxiaoyue Area, Nanbin Lu Hai, Nan’an District, Chongqing     
地址: 南岸区南滨路海棠晓月小区1号楼3楼 (南坪店)  秦妈火锅
Tel: 023 8902 3129
Opening hours: 11:00-23:00

4)  Xiao Tian’E Huoguo (小天鹅火锅)View In Map
Another one of the bigger establishments with 14 branches, this is one of the first to offer a buffet of condiments, where you can customize your dip. Other innovations include being among the first to guarantee that the soup is not recycled, for offering the option of individual pots and for offering soup bases with differing degrees of spiciness. Should you wish to recreate the experience in the comfort of your own home, purchase their pre-packaged soup bases.

Add: Xiao Tian’E Huoguo, 4F Hongya Dong Scenic Area, 88 Jiabin Lu, Yuzhong District, Chongqing
地址: 重庆渝中区嘉滨路88号洪崖洞风景区4楼(近沧白路) 小天鹅火锅
Tel: 023 6303 9901                                        
Opening hours: 11:00-22:00

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