- Posted April 9, 2012 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
My favorite Chinese meal
Chongqing: China's Hottest Pot
Despite the fact that we had just experienced a 40°C day, Helen still insisted on taking me for hotpot. Though common all over China, the traditional hotpot in Chongqing is renowned as the nation’s hottest. I was too tired to be apprehensive and too ignorant to be scared. I should have been both.
We entered the restaurant and were seated at a wooden table with a circular recess in the centre. A gas stove was placed inside and a large caldron of water, oils and spices was set above its flame. Somewhat sadistically, a generous handful of dried chillies were added to the pot by our waitress. The dark, tumultus liquid engulfed these offerings into its seething boil.
I ordered a beer as Helen perused the menu (as it was all in Chinese I was of little use anyway). My body greeted my first mouthful of cold Chinese lager, the heat from the stove itself was already causing some discomfort. It was nothing as to what was to follow.
After a pause to enjoy our drinks, our waitress began assembling the assortment of dishes to be cooked in the hotpot. While I’d been struggling with the rising heat in the restaurant, Helen had diligently included a range of local delights in our order: Offal; Slabs of Sheep’s blood (cut thick like a pâté); Chicken’s feet and Pig’s brain. Each dish was upended into the swirling liquid along with some vegetables, egg and thin, rice noodles.
After a couple of minutes I began to search the cauldron with my feeble pair of chopsticks. I found some chicken’s feet, blood slabs and some cabbage in the broth and chewed victoriously. The chilli seemed innocuous at first but it soon began to mount.
After polishing-off some baby mushrooms and slurping up some sheep’s brain (it’s the only way, trust me), I realised I was beginning to sweat. Thinking nothing of it, I pushed on. Another gulp of beer and I returned to fish-out some wonderfully poached egg and a tangle of noodles.
Then it hit me. My mouth was suddenly dry and I was now sweating profusely. My tongue was numb inside the furnace of my mouth, my lips felt like they were being repeatedly stabbed or riddled with barbs. I grabbed for my beer but that only made it worse. I was defeated by the hotpot. I briefly forgot where I was and thought I was going to throw up, a lot. All I could do was let the heat wave pass. I sat and drank cold tea that the waitress - the only one to sense my distress - had brought.
“Are you OK?” Asked a concerned Helen. I noticed she wasn't in the least bit of discomfort.
“It’s really hot.” I replied. It was as if I was learning to speak for the first time.
After half an hour to cool off - and many cups of life-giving tea later - I approached the pot with the caution and respect it deserved and slowly finished my meal.
I left the restaurant satisfied, not just by the excellent food, but by the process itself. It was a meal that taught me a lesson and an experience that had to be earned to be enjoyed. Only in China!
BY ADAM AMIR SMITH
(www.adamamirsmith.com for more stories, galleries and film from around the world)