Dahu Chongqing Hotpot (大虎老火锅)
Chongqing hotpot is not for the faint of heart. Numbing Sichuan peppercorns and dried chilis swim in chili oil and beef tallow, coming together as a seriously spicy brew to cook your food in. It’s served hot — so hot that many places refuse to deliver because the oil will melt plastic. If you’re going here, do yourself a favor: get at least medium-spicy. Having ordered the lower level of spice once, it’s clear that the spice of the chilis is needed to cut the heaviness of the oil, and without it the hotpot is pretty lackluster.
For our bubbling cauldron of spicy oil, we chose lotus root (藕片 #309), gluten balls (面筋 #320), crunchy fried pork (现炸酥肉 #113), tofu skin (豆皮 #305), meatballs (香菜丸子 #217) and a side order of cold rice noodles and chilis (凉拌米豆腐 #401). Every table receives a free order of leafy greens as well. Don’t forget rice, as you’ll want to have something to tap excess oil off of your food before dipping it in your sauce.
A note: though we got gluten balls, you’ll generally want to avoid porous or absorbent ingredients — they suck up the oil and can land you with an overwhelming mouthful of it. If you do get something like that, cook it in the plain broth in the center.
I’ve (almost) never met a hotpot I didn’t like, but the dipping sauce is always the factor that elevates hotpot from good to amazing. With Chongqing hotpot, you’re provided the usual lajiao, garlic, cilantro, and green onions (serve yourself from a central table), and also given bottles of sesame oil and oyster sauce. It seems counter-intuitive to dip oily food in oil, but the dipping sauce adds a salty finish and pushes the flavor of the whole thing over the top.
The other favorite thing here are the meatballs. The first time we ordered them, we waited a while and finally asked the server why the meatballs hadn’t arrived. She pointed to a bowl of ground pork and herbs sitting on our table, and walked away. It turns out, they’re like DIY meatballs, where you use a spoon to scoop out fresh balls of ground pork dotted with cilantro, and fling them into the boiling oil. Tasty, for sure, but mainly just really fun to do.
Dahu Chongqing Hotpot is a chain. I’ve only ever tried the one in Huaguoyuan, so it’s the only one I can recommend. It can be found in E District, in a distinct concrete storefront marked “Traditional Hotpot.” It’s at the intersection of Songshan Lu and Songshan Nan Lu.
A final note: Chongqing hotpot is delicious, truly a wonderful meal. However, for many foreigners it can be pretty hard on the stomach. Really. Consider yourselves warned.