One of the things Chengdu is famous for is hot pot. To be honest, I’ve never been too crazy about hot pot. I dont know if I’ve just been going to the wrong places or if I’m ordering the wrong things, but I just have never been that blown away. But, being here, I knew I had to give it a go. I went to a place recommended in the guidebook, but of course, as always, confusion ensued when I got there and asked if this was the right place. It turns out that the restaurant changed ownership. Oh well.
I sit down and they put a menu in front of me with a zillion things in it. It’s not in English and there are no photos. Oh god… Am I going to have to translate this thing line by line? Luckily, the server was extremely helpful and patient with me. I asked her, via the app, to recommend some stuff, and we went back and forth, with her asking me questions and us both translating. At one point she asks “do you eat your own organs?”, lol. Clearly these translation apps are not so perfect, heh.
Eventually, my hot pot arrives. There is an inner circle with some mild broth and an outer circle that is loaded with chilis and bright red hot oil. They also give you a bowl where they make a dipping sauce for you with garlic, herbs, and oil. You cook things in the broth first, and then dip into the sauce after. She ordered me some pieces of meat, some super thin slices of beef (that came on a plate of dry ice), some tofu, and some greens.
She had asked me if I was ok with spicy and I had said yes. When I tried it though, it really wasn’t that hot… Maybe just a little spicy. I assumed that she had probably made it more mild for my Western taste. What I didn’t realize though, was that since the hot pot is over a flame, as the broth slowly boils off, it becomes more and more concentrated and spicy. After a little while, it was crazy hot!! Now, I can handle food that is pretty damn spicy, but holy shit, I literally had tears gushing from my eyes, I was sweating bullets, and my tongue was on fire. It was *intense*. In the end, I did like the hot pot for sure… though I still wouldn’t say that it is something I am super crazy about.
What’s interesting is that there are *so* many hot pot places here. Chengdu actually had the highest concentration of restaurants in the entire world! Yet, you walk the streets and it is Sichuan restaurant after Sichuan restaurant after hot pot after hot pot. Back home there would be a burger spot followed by burritos followed by Italian followed by Thai etc etc… Yet here there are zillions of restaurants and they all serve almost the same thing. How do they compete? How do they differentiate from each other?