Hotpot dinner in Chengdu

The cuisine of the southern Chinese province of Sichuan is well known for its chilli peppers. In the regional capital of Chengdu, chillies are not only thrown into the wok but also into hotpots: fondue pots filled with broth, in which everyone cooks their own food. Placed on restaurant tables, a hotpot dinner is the height of sociability.

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Enjoying the food loudly

Because hotpot meals take time to prepare and everyone is busy choosing their own ingredients, hotpot restaurants usually have a vibrant atmosphere. Families not only share a table but also the fondue pots and bowls of ingredients. Waiters continuously bring further tasty morsels, while the diners chat away and drink tea. People who are happy with the food and company are not shy about showing it. In China, slurping and talking with your mouth full is seen as a sign of enjoyment. To outsiders it may seem as if there is a complete chaos, but that is a misconception. To avoid food poisoning, different chopsticks are used for raw and cooked ingredients. Another nice custom is that when all the food is finished, the remaining broth in the pot is shared out between everyone. Be careful though as all those hot peppers have had time to stew for the whole evening!

A blend of ingredients go into the hotpot

A blend of ingredients go into the hotpot

The secret ingredient

Hotpot restaurants still have chefs even though the diners cook their own food. They supply the basic ingredient - a tasty broth which includes sugar, vinegar and herbs as well as chilli peppers. Each restaurant has its own recipe. The simmering pot with spicy broth in the centre of the table is surrounded by raw ingredients: typical choices include slices of meat, beansprouts, mushrooms, baby sweetcorn, eggs, tofu and leaf vegetables. To add additional flavour, the Chinese also enjoy various dipping sauces. Soya sauce, sesame sauce and vinegar are mixed to taste with garlic, sugar, salt and the inevitable red peppers.

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