With more than 50,000 hotpot eateries, Chongqing is 'China's hotpot city' meaning the dish is not just a food, but a lifestyle
A wide variety of ingredients like duck intestine, mutton, beef and tofu can be cooked in Chongqing hotpot
If you ask me to name only one thing about my home town Chongqing, I would give you the answer without any hesitation: hotpot.
In this south-western megacity with 30 million people, hotpot is not just food but a lifestyle.
Going to a hotpot restaurant is a celebration of life. We always find a good reason to treat ourselves This pot of boiling spicy soup is a reflection of our memories about family, friends and lovers. In our life stories, something always happens in a hotpot restaurant.
Most Chongqing people start to eat this spicy cuisine from a young age. I first remember eating hotpot when I was eight. My parents would make it at home or take me to the hotpot restaurants at least once a week throughout the year.
I still keep this dining habit. Even when I lived away, in Beijing and Washington DC, I would try to find some Chongqing or Sichuan hotpot restaurants. And to my surprise, my countrymen have taken this food around the world.
Although there is no hard evidence as to where it originated, many believe that the Chongqing hotpot emerged from the porters' cuisine in the late 19th century.
Chongqing is a port city surrounded by the Yangtze and Jialing rivers. In the late 19th century, animals from Sichuan, Guizhou and Yunnan provinces were shipped by water. Good meat was shipped and sold to the upper and middle classes. The internal organs, including stomach and kidney, were discarded or sold cheaply. Porters picked up or bought the organs and cooked them in a boiling pot with spicy sauce and ate it by the water.
During World War II, when Chongqing became the wartime capital, this food gained popularity among people from all around the world.
Chongqing hotpot uses beef tallow, large quantities of chili and Sichuan pepper.
And the three must-have dishes are ox stomach, duck intestine and large artery of pig or ox.
Spice of life: Spicy hotpot in Chongqing originated in the 19th century
Going to a hotpot restaurant is a celebration of life. We will always find a good reason to treat ourselves: anniversaries, birthdays, promotions, farewells or welcomes.
It is a tradition for most Chongqing people that we will have hotpot before leaving the city or soon after arriving home.
Even when we are sad or worried, we will comfort ourselves with hotpot.
Two years ago, I experienced my first earthquake in Chongqing when a magnitude 7 quake hit nearby Sichuan province. Still in shock, I strongly felt I needed hotpot to calm down and immediately I drove my parents to a hotpot restaurant.
Since we love hotpot so much, the city is full of such restaurants. Chongqing was named “China's hotpot city” by the China Cuisine Association in 2007.
According to Chongqing Hotpot Association, there are more than 50,000 hotpot eateries with at least 3.5 million people working in this field.
But I highly doubt this figure and believe there are many more than that. Just outside my apartment building, there are five newly opened hotpot restaurants within 150 metres.
As the competition is so fierce, there are so many outstanding outlets in the city and we can never agree on which one is the best. Every one of us has his or her league table.
In Chongqing, I often go to a less-than-glamorous hotpot shop called “Big Dragon”, in an alley close to my parents’ home. It opened at least 20 years ago and it has never changed.
I have spent so many nights dining there with my friends. Those people may be gone away, but the “Big Dragon” is there and keeps all my memories. (source - china watch - telegraph)
More pictures of Chongqing's hotpot: