David is a fan of spicy food, so naturally one of the first things he wanted to try was some Szechuan/Sichuan food (pronounced more like Sih-chwan our driver tells us). One of the most famous Sichuan dishes is a hot pot (Huǒguō 火锅). Our driver has a favorite hot pot restaurant and we decide we would try that this past weekend, why not? Jacky dropped us off outside the restaurant since it was raining and we went inside to get a number. A 2 6: good, we knew how to say this (A èr liù), so we would know when they called us for our table. So far so good. We were then handed a menu and a pencil before being directed to the waiting area. We opened the menu to find absolutely nothing written in either English or Pinyin, no problem, we just need to find the one item called “hot pot” and we are all set. We only find one or two items with the characters for hot pot and we become confused, aren’t there different kinds (we wonder to ourselves). Enter the google translator app and a reliable VPN, and every 3 minutes we are able to translate a few dishes because the internet is so slow. What the heck is a sambo pot? That was one of the translations. Needless to say we made no progress and were eventually shown to our table. At this point it is clear to us that a pot will be set in the middle of our table and heated up (good, they do have hot pots), but we are unable to communicate intelligibly with the waiter. He is understandably confused because we have checked only one box on the menu, and it is for a hot pot dish for 8 people. We would like beer too, we say, maybe a couple at this point…He calls over another waitress who speaks some English and she tries to help us. We agree the two person hot pot should be a sufficient size for us and we would also like to order the kabob looking things because people seem confused that we only want a hot pot to split between two people. The kabobs are duck she says. Perfect. Then she takes our menu and leaves.
At this point the people who were seated a few minutes after us already have their food showing up and among their food are decorative arrangements of raw meats. What on earth? Luckily, in between the first waiter who cannot understand us and the second one who speaks broken English, David had the thought to call our driver and ask if he can come in and help us figure out what all the confusion is about. Shortly after, Jacky entered and asked where our menu went. The waitress has is, we said, and he set off after her. Good thing too. It appears we were slightly confused about this whole concept…
To oversimplify, a hot pot is essentially a very spicy and oily version of fondue, and we had just ordered a pot with spices and oil, and a plate of duck gizzards. Excellent. Jacky went through the menu asking if we like this or that, ends up ordering us 5 plates of meat and 4 plates of vegetables, and something called sugar rice (which is amazing). He opts to join us for dinner although he declines to eat anything, so there is a lot of food for two people now. I think he felt responsible for sending us off on this adventure without much instruction. Clearly he has too much confidence in our abilities at this point. Also, we temporarily forgot the lesson we learned on our home finding trip, never let a Chinese person help you order food unless you want to eat so much meat you start sweating. Once our order was fixed, and we did not look like complete lunatics anymore, he took us off to find the sauces and assorted items to mix up into a dipping sauce.
The food arrived and we had everything from beef to lamb to some sort of combo lunch meat deal and something alternatively known as “prime minister balls” (a lamb/spice/veggie combo I think). We plowed our way through the meat and by the time we got to vegetables I could hardly eat anything. The vegetables were also a lot spicier for some reason, so that may have added to my aversion. There were also these strange peppers in the hot pot mix that I had just encountered (Sichian peppercorn I later learned) that made your lips go numb when you bit into them. David enjoyed the cooling sensation they provided while I absolutely did not like having my upper lip go numb and the VERY strong taste that accompanied it. Maybe I just got a bad one. We may never know. The place setting came complete with multiple kleenex and a wet wipe for when you finished. We both went through a few kleenex in the process. All in all this is David’s new favorite food experience, so I imagine we will be trying it again someday…Once my stomach recovers. We think I didn’t have enough rice/starch to counteract all the oil. Who knows. At least next time we will know how one goes about “Hot Potting.”