This post is long overdue because one of the most iconic things here in Chongqing is its cuisine. Among its many local dishes, the one that most natives will say represents their city is Chongqing hotpot.
The picture above gives a great idea of what most hotpot meals are like. In the center is the boiling pot of broth and spices that give hotpot it's unique flavor and name. Like most Chongqing food, hotpot is very spicy and the longer the pot boil, the spicier it gets. You can order it non-spicy, but where's the fun in that? The locals say that the spicy food helps them sweat in the summer heat and stay cool. I've even heard Chongqing people say that they must eat hot pot at least once a week in order to survive the summer.
When you order hotpot, you get a giant menu full of different vegetables and meats. When the food arrives, it's uncooked and separated onto different plates. You then choose whatever uncooked food you want, and you put it into the boiling broth to cook it.
I've noticed that the locals always start by eating all the meat. They won't touch the vegetables until all the meat is done, even going so far as to bring the vegetables home, rather than waste space in their stomach. And the meat is not what you would expect in the United States. They do have strips of beef and slices of chicken and even hot dogs. But they also order duck intestines, cow stomach, chicken feet, coagulated blood, and a variety of other organs. If you keep an open mind and aren't too concerned with texture, I've found that the organs are actually my favorite part of hotpot. Plus, you only cook them for a few seconds and basically eat them raw. If anything, it's a very unique dining experience.
You have to be careful though. This dining experience can be a little rough on foreigners at first. Not only do the exotic food choices throw your body out of whack, but the spiciness alone is enough to upset your stomach. I suggest easing into this dish so that you can learn to enjoy it. You also must be sure to eat with a local who can show you the best dishes! I've only recently gotten to the point where I can go to a hotpot restaurant by myself and order, but it's become my favorite dining experience here in China! Happy eating!