Spicy Cuisine in Chongqing
The Chongqing hot pot and other Sichuan specialties
Sichuan cuisine is notable for its spiciness, since the dishes are traditionally seasoned with white pepper and Sichuan peppers, while more recently chili peppers introduced from the Americas are used. Typical vegetables used include garlic, Chinese cabbage, and bamboo shoots. Chicken, pork and fish are equally popular in the kitchens of city of Chongqing.
The food served in Chongqing is so spicy that travelers are recommended to acclimate themselves over the months before the trip. This can be done by starting to season one’s food three months prior with chopped-up, very spicy small, red chilies, and increasing the amount added over the course of three months by half a chili to three chilies per main meal. Then, one will feel at home enjoying the unique local specialties in Chongqing.
If you still simply can’t handle the spiciness, you can visit western-style restaurant chains such as McDonalds, KFC and Pizza Hut, where you’ll find more familiar fare. The larger hotels, such as the Marriott, frequently offer restaurants that serve western-style food. An excellent selection of different dishes from around the world can be found by visiting restaurants in the streets and districts of the city; these establishments specialize in a variety of cuisines, such as in Hongyadong. Here you can find not only local specialties from Chongqing, but also Cantonese cuisine, or even Mexican and Korean.
Dandan noodles (担担面, 擔擔麵, dàndànmiàn) are the local specialty noodle dish in Chongqing. The hot noodles are served in a very spicy sauce made from chili oil and pepper, together with spring onions and other vegetables. Often, the concoction is also enriched with minced pork.
Deep-fried, spicy Sichuan-style chicken
A very delicious delicacy is the deep-fried, spicy chicken (辣子鸡, 辣子雞, làzijī). In this dish, chicken pieces are deep-fried together with many chilies, and finished with Sichuan pepper. This pepper has a special flavor that is reminiscent of lemon, and the gives the dish a fresh note. Don’t be alarmed the quantity of chilies, because frying in hot oil reduces the spiciness.
Anyone who orders a dish with chicken should remember that the meat is maybe not deboned. The chicken pieces are often cut perpendicularly to the bone to enhance the flavor, so be careful when chewing the meat and spit out the bones into a small bone plate or dish that is provided for that purpose. One should generally proceed with caution, and not bite too heartily into the small pieces of meat.
In another chicken specialty that can be enjoyed in Chongqing, the meat is seared and served with slightly sweet bamboo shoots and about five quartered chilies. When sampling the many other local dishes, you will always encounter the main ingredient of Sichuan cuisine - the chili!
Chongqing hot pot
The best-known local specialty is the Chongqing hot pot (火锅, 火鍋, huǒguō), in which each guest cooks individually, putting small pieces of raw meat, fish and vegetables into a hot broth to poach. For social gatherings in Chongqing, a pot with two chambers (鸳鸯锅, 鴛鴦鍋, yuānyangguō) is often used. This contains a mild broth on one side, and a spicy broth traditionally made from pepper oil sauce and chilies on the other. The pot is placed in the middle of a table on a gas burner and heated, after which the guest boils the food according to taste. The spicy sauce is made from Sichuan pepper and chilies, and is written in Chinese using a combination of two characters, the first meaning "numbing" (麻, má) and the second meaning very spicy (辣, là). The Chongqing hot pot is thus also known as a "spicy pot" (麻辣锅, 麻辣鍋, málàguō). Other combinations of savory and sweet sauces are possible, but the locals often ignore the normal broth.
You can choose from a variety of items for cooking, depending on your whim. Strips of meat, meatballs, giblets and fish are on the menu, but also various types of vegetables that can be cooked in the hot, bubbling liquids for 1-2 minutes. The vegetables and meat strips can be held with chopsticks, and a sieve can be helpful for the meatballs. Once fully cooked, the pieces of meat can be dipped in a special sauce that is served in small bowls. You should stir the boiling liquids occasionally to keep the ingredients and spices from burning on the edges of the pot.
Eating with Chopsticks (external Link)