That's China - - 城市漫步 - Text by / Mansi Modi

If John Den­ver was in China singing, “You fill up my senses…” I bet he would be sit­ting around a hotpot ta­ble, rel­ish­ing the gush of herbal aro­mas. And if you - a vis­i­tor, a for­eigner, a first timer - would be at the hotpot ta­ble, I bet you’d want to close your eyes, pull up your chin, re­lax your shoul­ders and bask in the fra­grance that’s im­pos­si­ble to miss. I know that’s what I did when I popped my hotpot cherry. It was a cold win­ter even­ing. I had been in China only two days and I had noth­ing much to do. Shiv­er­ing in­doors (given the poor heat­ing sys­tems here), fam­ished and crav­ing some­thing fiery and hot to bal­ance my body tem­per­a­ture, my hus­band sug­gested that we go for some tra­di­tional Sichuan food:‘ the hotpot’. To me, a hotpot sounded more like a clay pot with rice, veg­eta­bles and meat cooked with Chi­nese flavours. Umm… okay, I thought, not par­tic­u­larly ex­cit­ing but at least it was go­ing to be ‘hot’ - and that was the most im­por­tant thing at that point. Al­though the restau­rant was si­t­u­ated on the 2nd floor I could smell the aroma as soon as we got out of the taxi upon ar­rival (no ex­ag­ger­a­tion here). And boy, did it smell heav­enly! I wanted to rush up­stairs, partly be­cause it was so cold out­side and partly be­cause the fra­grance was so invit­ing. So that’s ex­actly what I did.The restau­rant was pretty fancy look­ing (a tad too gaudy for my taste) and we even had an es­cort show us to our ta­ble and make sure we were seated com­fort­ably.The first thing I no­ticed when sit­ting down was a large round per­fo­ra­tion in the cen­tre of the ta­ble, com­plete with a gas stove be­low. This cre­ated quite a bit of sus­pense. Next we were handed two over-sized menus with over­sized pic­tures on them. There were dif­fer­ent types of pots to choose from; red and white ‘half’ n’ half ’pots; pots filled with white soup and huge pork bones; pots with mut­ton chops - and so on. I ob­vi­ously had no idea what to or­der, so I let my part­ner do all the work see­ing as though he had al­ready lived in China for three years. When our pot ar­rived, a huge one, it was clear that we would be eat­ing some larg­erthan-life kind of food here.The pot had a par­ti­tion and one side was filled with a red hot spicy soup (la de) full of chilies and Chi­nese spices and the other side was filled with a white non-spicy (bu la de) soup, gar­nished with gar­lic, spring onion, ginger and some weird look­ing roots that ac­tu­ally smelt very good in­deed.To go along with the hotpot we had some raw veg­eta­bles, meat, tofu and rice-cakes. I was a lit­tle dis­ap­pointed when I re­alised we had to cook for our­selves, as I was too hun­gry to pos­sess any kind of pa­tience, but cook I did and, aside from a par­tially burnt tongue (due to pe­ri­odic lapses in pa­tience), the whole ex­pe­ri­ence was pretty re­ward­ing. Very re­ward­ing in fact. So re­ward­ing that I begged and pleaded with my hus­band to take me back for the next four evenings in a row! If I were asked to de­scribe hotpot in two words, it would be “gastric aro­mather­apy” as it’s a real treat for all five of your senses - and your tummy too. It’s a win-win food with only a few small cons I can think of - you have a high chance of re­turn­ing home with a burnt tongue; and no mat­ter how much you eat, you’ll prob­a­bly be hun­gry again in two hours. So my ad­vice is this: go slow; go late; and hit the sacks as soon as you get home. At least that works for me!

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