Saturday, May 25, 2013

Bite me: Chongqing Bowl of Fire

When I told my Shanghai teachers that I was moving to Chongqing, they warned me of the two things: beautiful women and spicy food. I know right...they sound pretty harmless, just another cultural memoir.Two years later and I've grown a stronger heart and a stomach of steel. In Chongqing, every meal contains chill pepper seeds that have been ground to bring out the latent flavor. And just when you thought that pepper only burns, turns out there is the numbing kind called Chinese prickly ash  or 花椒 (huajiao) which literally means flower pepper. Like it's impossible to pick a beautiful rose without being pricked, this pepper brings both intense flavor and sensation. My first time, I thought my teeth were trying out some new Jamaica dancehall moves. However, I have actually grown accustomed to it and I find that my food is bland without it.

That been said, these peppers also form the foundation of the main dish of Chongqing-Hot Pot. A well seasoned soup is used as the base to cook vegetables and meats of all kinds. Even steamed buns 馒头 (mantou) and dumplings饺子(jiaozi) are added to the mix. It's said that many years ago (and I really do mean many) when the economic struggle was real for many citizens of the city, collecting scraps of food from the ‘overly' fortunate was the creative spirit that birthed this wonderful meal. If you are truly a Chongqing ren, you and your friends or family will gather around a Hot Pot at least 4 times a week.

Below, I feature my take on Hot Pot with my classmates using a pre-packed soup mix. It's main ingredients are beef tallow, chili pepper, prickly ash pepper, salt and *side eye* mono-sodium glutamate. A truly homemade version will be made up of whatever you can find in your kitchen, so don't hesitate to try this dish in your spare time.

Chongqing Bowl of Fire

1 pack Hot Pot soup seasoning (can be used with 4 L water)
Lettuce, any kind will do
Irish potatoes
Sweet potatoes
Enoki mushrooms
Ham sausage

1. Preparing the vegetables and meat
To quicken cooking time, deboned fish, meat, potatoes  should be thinly and evenly sliced. Separate lettuce leaves and mushrooms.

2. Preparing soup
Pour package contents into hot water and bring to a boil. 

3. Time to cook
The absolute best thing about Hot Pot is that you eat as you cook, 一边做一边吃。Place meat in soup and eat when cooked. As typical with most Chinese meals, vegetables and noodles/rice are served last, or when the meat runs out. In my case, my classmates and I packed it all together for a fun meal with friends.
Serve with peanut or almond milk.