We were really looking forward to trying what we were told was a regional specialty – Sichuan Hot Pot. We were told it was spicy, delicious, and fun. What we weren’t told is that it was going to give us food poisoning.
The hostel recommended a popular local restaurant and gave us directions. It was a large, hygienic looking place [at least for China] and was clearly popular with the locals. There was no English spoken and no English menu. There was one menu with a few handwritten translations that were completely illegible. They did understand my request to have a look at the options, and were happy to take us into the kitchen to show us what they had.
They opened drawers full of varying types of mostly unidentifiable meat products, and we selected some thinly sliced beef, some beef meatballs and chicken feet [for John]. We chose some vegetables [green stuff, cabbage and potato slices – for some reason they refused to give me pumpkin] and headed back to our table.
They brought over a square metal pot with two separate sections – the outside filled with a reddish spicy, oily liquid and the inside with a non-spicy whitish broth. They also brought over plates of our chosen food items. The plates were significantly larger than we had expected.
We must have looked slightly confused, as one of the waitresses took pity on us and came over to cook our food for us. Everyone else was seemingly capable of cooking their own. She started with the meat, using chopsticks to put two-thirds of the meats in the spicy soupy stuff and the rest into the broth. While these were boiling away she filled some bowls with some kind of oily liquid sauce that may have been sesame oil. She made it clear that we should add freshly chopped garlic and coriander, as well as chilli paste to taste. We heaped it all in.
Soon enough the beef slices were ready and, deftly, she pulled them out and placed them in our bowls. We actually had another empty bowl and weren’t entirely sure what to do with it, and as we were basically putting the meat directly in oil decided to dip it in that and then place it in the other bowl to eat. Not sure if this was the right thing to do, but she didn’t correct us [which doesn’t necessarily mean a thing].
The meatballs were soon cooked and she broken them all in half to check before dumping them in our bowls. She started adding the potato slices at this point. The chicken feet were still simmering away and looking decidedly revolting. We kept eating what she placed in our bowls.
The chicken feet were soon ready and I made it clear that they were ALL for John. She definitely understood this, but then whenever I wasn’t looking she sneakily placed a chicken foot into my bowl. At John’s insistence I took a bite [a very, very small bite] and this confirmed my visual judgement that they were disgusting.
The vegetables were soon in the pot and just as quickly being plonked into our bowls. Eventually we had to play more charades to explain that we couldn’t possibly eat any more without exploding, and got the bill.
Mostly, Sichuan hot-pot was rather delicious. What followed, however wasn’t. You’ll be relieved that there are no photos documenting the aftermath.
The entire next day was written off and we were glad that our Yangtze tour didn’t start until the following day. By about 5pm we realised that we really needed to leave the hostel and buy food for the boat trip, and managed to make it to Carrefour, about fifteen minutes walk from the hostel. The boat cruise didn’t include any food and given the state of our stomachs at the time we were a little hesitant to try the food for sale on board.
We weren’t looking forward to getting up early the next morning, as we’d been up and down all the night before and hadn’t had the most enjoyable day. We were very, very glad we had a private room with our own bathroom!
Luckily for me it only really lasted about a day and a half. John was not so lucky, struggling his way through most of our Yangtze cruise.
We were a little relieved to hear from everyone we met who tried hot-pot in Chengdu that they also got rather sick from it. This even included two Chinese nationals, so it seems that no one is immune from the destructive powers of Sichuan Hot Pot.
And you know what? It wasn’t even all that spicy after all.