Friday, January 9, 2015

Making Hot Pot in Chongqing

One of the places I check when I am researching a destination is Global Greeter Network, www.globalgreeternetwork.info. Greeters are volunteers who love their city so much they volunteer to give free two-hour tours. They take visitors to parks, shopping, or lesser known
neighborhoods. Greeters are not professional guides so Greeters do not take their guests to museums leaving that to professional guides. On our recent trip to China we signed up for a Greeter tour in Chongqing. We wanted to learn about hot pot. Hot Pot is thought to have originated in Mongolia one thousand years ago and is a signature dish of the Sichuan Province. 

Our guides, college students proficient in English, met us in the lobby of our hotel, the InterContinental, located on a pedestrian street lined with high-end shops. Our guides took us to a traditional food court on the lower level of a mall. There was a variety of food from grilled corn to dim sum and a hot pot area.  The hot pot table had a recessed area for the hot pot which was divided into spicy and mild broth – the ying
and yang of hot pot. The menu of items to cook in the hot pot was in Chinese so Nick, our guide, ordered for us. We preferred vegetables but Nick preferred the organ meats. With hot pot everyone gets to eat what they like because the items are served on a plate and diners dunk the items in the preferred broth. Wooden chopsticks work best for selecting items and cooking them. Selected items can be placed in the broth and retrieved when cooked or held in the broth with chopsticks until ready. One of the things I like about eating hot pot is that sharing the plated food and broths is a very socially interactive way of dining.

John and I learned how to eat hot pot but it was not until we were on board the Century Legend Yangtze cruise ship, www.centuryrivercruises.com, that we learned how to prepare hot pot. Chongqing is one of the ports used by Yangtze cruise ships. The cooking lesson was just one of the activities offered. Hot Pot is easy to make and can be created to please the palate of everyone from mild to tongue-numbing hot.  Divided electric hot pots are available but in lieu of that consider using a fondue pot or crockpots.  

Broth 
Mild 
6 cups of chicken or beef stock
¼ cup diced green onions
¼ tsp minced garlic
¼  tsp minced ginger
3 bay leaves

Spicy
To the above ingredients add and adjust amounts to desire hotness
1 tbsp minced dried chili pepper 
1 tbsp doubanjiang (spicy bean paste)
3 star anise

Suggested items to be cooked in broth
Thinly sliced beef and chicken (frozen meat and chicken is easier to slice)
Spinach
Zucchini cut in long, thin strips
Mushrooms of any variety
Spam (a favorite in Asia)

Place broth, onions, garlic, ginger and bay leaves in a pot, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes creating the mild broth. For a spicy broth pour off half of the mild broth, set aside until serving time. To the pot add chili pepper, doubanjiang and anise. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 20 minutes. The broths can be made ahead of time. Heat desired broths in a hot pot or in a crock pot. Place items to be cooked on individual plates. 

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