The best known of these regional varieties is undoubtedly that of Sichuan or Chongqing, immediately recognizable for its superficial layer of red peppers and a broth that includes a cornucopia of spices such as bay leaf, cloves. and cinnamon. Due to the location of Chongqing Port at the confluence of the Yangtze and Jialing rivers, it regularly received cargoes of cattle from neighboring Sichuan, Guizhou and Yunnan provinces; While the more select cuts of meat were sold to the upper and middle classes, the offal was often consumed by the working class, who preferred to cook them in a richly flavored soup to mask the taste of sub-standard organs.
Chongqing also claims to host the first registered hotpot restaurant, Ma Zheng Xing, which according to folk magazine Feng Tu Shi Zhi was opened in the 1930s by two brothers who tasted the city’s hotpot and then became addicted. Today, Chongqing is the self-proclaimed hotpot capital of China, with locals regularly resorting to the adage that one in five restaurants in the city serves hotpots.
Today, the types of hotpot are as varied as the ingredients that go into its bubbling broth. Aside from the fiery Sichuan style, other important regional varieties include Yunnan and Guizhou, which tend to have more acidic flavors; Guangdong, which favors seafood in a milder broth and a dip with spring onion, ginger, peanut oil and soy sauce; and Beijing, which preserves the Mongolian beloved sheep and uses a volcano-shaped copper pot above a charcoal stove. And then there are the hotpot varieties outside of China, which include Japan. shabu-shabu, Korean budae jjigae, From Cambodia yao darling, Vietnamese cù lao, and more.
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For a dish that has continued to transform throughout its history, the hotpot has adapted remarkably well to 21st century dining habits – and no other brand is more representative of the hotpot’s future than Haidilao. . Founded by former factory worker Zhang Yong in Jiayang, Sichuan in 1994, the hotpot restaurant chain is overall the most visible player in the global market, employing more than 60,000 workers at 935 locations across worldwide and making more than 11.7 billion yuan (1.8 USD) in 2020. In 2018, Haidilao made an initial public offering on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, raising $ 1 billion Americans.
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Its success has been largely attributed to its unrestricted customer service – despite the long wait times, customers are treated to free drinks, snacks, board games, and even manicures while in line. However, reports that a Vancouver outlet hosts up to 60 surveillance cameras to monitor customer behavior have fueled fears of the chain’s links to the Chinese government’s controversial and far-reaching social credit system.
Despite the hotpot’s obscure origins and its ever-changing present, there’s no denying that this unique democratic form of social eating – where everyone is both the cook and the consumer – has never been so popular. Whether your next hot meal involves robot waiters or meat-robed Barbie dolls, it will have something in common with these battle-hardened Mongols huddled in a windy steppe centuries ago – a primordial pleasure derived from sharing a hot meal around a bubbling pot of hearty broth with like-minded people by your side.
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