Thursday, June 01, 2006

Hot Pot 101

1. Spice! I tried to write a different #1 and it was shot down by every tastebud in my mouth. One can say nothing about Sichuan's prized meal before one discusses spice. It is wonderful, and hot, and world famous. Eye watering? Yes. Heart burning? Sure. Meal-slowing? Only if that means you are slowing down in order to enjoy the tingle a little longer. Our larger pot was spiced with several fistfuls of whole dried peppers, pods, and seeds. Individual bowls housed several tablespoons of fresh diced garlic swimming in oil for one's personal consumption. My mouth did a jig. Kate and I were both surprised by our ability to enjoy/handle the spice - Sichuan is known throughout China as the haven of all things spicy. (people leave with blisters in their mouth) I'm wondering whether they toned down the spice for the foreigners...

2. Big Bowl. "Yes!" I think as I spy this table centerpiece, "Thanks to Senegal, if there is one thing I can do, and do well, it is: navigate a communal bowl." How wrong I am. The bowls I am used to are filled with rice and fish and family members' hands...not hot oil and skewers. Ow. Ok, so this bowl may require a bit more finesse. Heated with a gas flame below the table (careful with those knees!), this large metal bowl bubbles and spits, contributing to the conversation as the...

3. oil hops in and out of the bowl and onto our hands and elbows and shirts, skirts, and faces. (A feat that, again, sent our Chinese staff into hysterics...we must be very funny people.)

4. Vegetables and Meats and Dumplings, oh my! Peppers and runaway mushrooms float on top. Thin wooden skewers plunge cabbage, sweet potato, spinach, and dumplings into the sizzling oils. Gelatenous noodles mingle with long stemmed mushrooms at the bottom of the bowl, and require nimble deep-sea fishing techniques with chopsticks and slotted dippers in order to be reached.

The meal lasts over fourty minutes, with Kate and I on the edge of our seats throughout. Where did all the beef go? How did the mushrooms get tangled with the noodles? The sweet potato fell in! Ah! Oil everywhere! Perhaps hotpot is not always quite so eventful, but as a newcomer to this bowl of hot oil and peppers burning wrists and mouths, I can simply say that this was like fondue as an extreme sport. (and I thought rugby was tough.)