Sichuan Hot Pot

We enjoyed our first Sichuan hot pot experience last night. I’m so glad we went with someone who knew what they were doing. It would have been a little confusing otherwise.

Our host took us out for a wonderful meal of Sichuan-style hot pot yesterday that she called Chuan Chuan. We met up with a couple of her friends and their kids, ate some delicious food, and had a blast. As we were all non-Chinese, I can not promise we ate this meal correctly, but the servers didn’t seem too thrown off by our behavior, so I’m guessing we came pretty close. If you’d like to try it yourself, or if you’re ever invited to one of these restaurants, here’s a quick breakdown of how it went:

Step One: Select a Broth

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The choices we were given for broth was Spicy and Not Spicy. We went with half and half. The Spicy side was very flavorful and included some of Sichuan’s famous prickly ash. It looks like a little black peppercorn and creates an almost numbing sensation instead of heat. I can hardly stand food that has a lot of ground pepper, but I really enjoyed this broth. It didn’t burn, it was simply packed with flavor. The Not Spicy side had an almost fruitiness to it and was absolutely delightful.

You may notice the packets of oil on the left side of the picture. Those come in handy for Step Two.

Step Two: Prepare Dipping Bowl

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The only thing better than oily food, is oily food dipped in more oil. Although we shared the large broth pot as a group, we each received our own dipping bowl. I filled mine with garlic, green onions, and oyster sauce. We then squeezed the packets of oil into each of our bowls and mixed them all together. After a few minutes, the oil absorbs the flavors of the other ingredients, creating a custom-made tastiness for the food to come.

Step Three: Select Skewers

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Next up, each person grabs a metal tray and collects the food that they want to cook and eat. There were two fridges of vegetables and two of meats. Josh and I went with sliced potatoes, broccoli, lamb sausage, imitation crab, mushrooms, pumpkin, pork wrapped mushroom sprouts, and Not Bacon (it looked and tasted like bacon, but the server insisted that it was not bacon).

Each adult ordered a bottle of beer and bowl of rice (then seconds). We also had our dipping dishes that we prepared earlier and a cup of tea. Our tray (pictured above) was enough food for Josh and I along with two bowls of rice each. Next time, however, I think we will reduce the amount of rice and instead collect 10-25% more sticks of food.

Step Four: Cook and Eat

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With Josh’s past working at The Melting Pot, the rest of the evening was a little more familiar. We cooked our sticks in the broth, similar to fondue. We occasionally ate each other’s sticks of food, but that added to the fun and variety. It’s a part of the meal, being laid-back about who eats what and sharing as a group.

Once I felt like my stick was done cooking, I took it out and dunked it in my dipping bowl. From there, it either went directly into my mouth or used as a lathering brush for my rice, then into my mouth. With the two styles, I was able to eat yummy sticks of food AND a deliciously saucy bowl of rice.

Step Five: Pay

I can see how this meal could easily take up half of the day. The amount of time it takes to cook each stick encourages conversation and drinking. The two other parties with us were traveling early in the morning, so we left out the heavy drinking part, but the conversation flowed easily and we spent more than an hour enjoying the food and each other’s company.

There was a small charge for the bowl of broth, beers, and rice. The remainder of the cost was charged by the number of sticks we collected. Our host told us that she has never spent more than ¥40 eating there and this meal didn’t turn out any different. We only got a look at half of the bill, but our portion came out to about ¥30/$5 each.

A new dish is always near the top of our Fun List, but a new dish that requires a new approach is even more fun. We had an amazing time with some great people, and can’t wait to try some different variations!

Eating All of the Things – Yangshuo

Our adventure with food continues. We love to eat, and there is plenty of food to love here in China.

For breakfast, Josh collects two buns from our favorite steamer place down the road. The man that works at the shop is very enthusiastic to have some new foreign friends and has some of the best tasting buns we have ever had. Josh bags them up and brings them back to the hostel, where I meet him down in the common area with one cup of Americano coffee to split and our thermoses refilled with fresh hot water. Breakfast is small, but filling, and only costs $2 (the one cup of coffee eats up $1.60 of the cost of breakfast).

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We ate at the shop once, but the tiny table and stools that are common at shop fronts in China are just way too small for our big American bodies. Also, the bowl is full of the best soy milk we have ever had. Perfect temperature, texture, and sweetness. Yum!

Our favorite stop for lunch is a place we call “The Good Build Your Own”. At the front of the shop, there is a case of fresh vegetables and meats. We are given a bowl and some tongs, then left to our leisure. We fill our bowl with the ingredients we want, then hand it off to the cook, who asks us whether we want rice or noodles. There are four identical restaurants of this style all on the same block, but there is one in particular that always serves us a larger portion than the others, hence the word “Good” in the title. Depending on the amount of meat you put in the bowl, the price will vary between $2.30 and $2.60.

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This is a $2.30 bowl with rice. It has broccoli, mushrooms, carrots, and bacon.
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This is a $2.60 bowl because it includes pork AND and egg. It also has noodles, snap peas, carrots, and mushrooms.

For dinner, we usually enjoy a more traditional sit-down restaurant. We named our favorite place “Paper Lantern” because of the restaurant’s choice of lighting decorations. We haven’t ordered the same thing twice because everything has been delicious. My favorite has been the sweet and sour eggplant, but Josh’s favorite was the beef and potatoes. With one or two dishes and a big bowl of rice, we are usually charged about $6 for dinner.

At the sit-down restaurants in South China, it is common to wash your dishes before you eat. Most of the time, the dishes have already been professionally washed, packed, and sealed in wrap, but the tradition lives on.

Yesterday, we made a friend down in the common room and invited him out to join us for Yangshuo’s most popular dish, Beer Fish. We had a great time chatting with someone new and enjoyed a good meal with good company. The fish was delicious, but nothing to write home about (although I guess that is exactly what I am doing!). It came in a large, hot dish with a candle underneath to keep it warm. The tomatoes made it a little saucy and gave it an almost Spanish flavor.

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It didn’t taste anything like beer. We think it was a grilled carp, cut in half then served in the dish with oil, tomatoes, beef stock(?), garlic, bamboo shoots, and chives.

 

We only have a few days left in Yangshuo and I know I will miss all my favorite stops. But the only thing better than the food I like, is more food I like. Can’t wait to see what our next stop tastes like!