Sichuan – the infamous hot pot

Last night after we got back from Leshan, we decided to jump right into a must-do on our list, which was having the infamous hot pot in Chengdu. We went to one of the many branches of Lao Ma Tou and ordered some lamb, beef, vegetables, and mushrooms, along with the spicy hot pot. While reviewing the menu on our server’s mobile phone (since we didn’t have WeChat), I went over the different hot pot options. All the prices were the same across the hot pots for the same sizes, but the main difference seemed to be that some options offered a plain broth pot plus a spicy hot pot, while the others offered just the spicy hot pot. I told Chris that we might want to consider the dual option, but he insisted, “Yeah, but we came here for the spicy one, so let’s just get that.” I hesitated when he said this, unsure of exactly how hot this would be, but I thought.. oh, what the heck. Let’s just get the spicy pot!

The server came by to double check on the order after retrieving her phone, and she looked at both of us and gestured to me, speaking in Chinese. “Are you sure you want this spicy pot? It’s really, really hot,” she said to me, skeptically.

“Yes, we’re sure. We like spicy,” I said to her, smiling.

Our server didn’t believe me and nodded over to Chris. “Is he going to be able to handle it?”

“Yes, we’ll be good! Thanks!” I said back.

Huge mistake. And she certainly ended up calling my bluff. The food was so hot and spicy after just the first few bites of dipping in to cook some basic celtus leaves, beef, and lamb, that we were downing soy milk faster than we ever imagined. And the more that red hot pot bubbled and gurgled, the spicier and more ferocious the broth became. I alternated between water and soy milk. I was definitely hitting my heat limit. And Chris finally got to a point where he was sweating so much that he said that he couldn’t eat anymore unless we got a hot water pot to cook the rest of the meat and vegetables.

I sheepishly asked the server if we could get a plain broth pot, and she smiled knowingly at me, remembering our previous exchange, and said she’d take care of it. She ended up bringing over not a plain broth pot, but instead multiple bowls of boiling hot water. I didn’t fully understand why she did this, so we both started adding raw meat to the hot water and eating it. She came by and chuckled a little bit when she saw what we were doing. She then demonstrated to me that she wanted us to add the food to the spicy pot to cook, and then to dunk and soak them in the hot water to remove the excess spice and peppers. “You don’t want to get your stomach sick; don’t just add the meat to the hot water!” she said. She was so empathetic to how ridiculous and overly confident we originally were.

In the end, we survived. We didn’t eat as much of our food as we would have liked since our taste buds got scorched, even after our server brought over the hot water to help us. But we certainly had a memorable Chengdu hot pot experience. And just in case, we both took antacids before going to sleep.

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