Huǒ guō or hot pot, is to Kunming, China what deep dish pizza is to Chicago. It’s a combination between a meal and a game of Truth or Dare. In this sizzling broth of your choice, diners choose what food to cook at their table, and the weirder, the better. It’s not simple bread cubes or broccoli crowns that you’d dip into a fondue, but things like cubes of duck blood, cow stomach, and other animal innards that I vaguely remember from biology class.
If you dare to try it, go with a pro or 吃货 (chī huò), the Chinese word for foodie.
Our sizzling bowl had three varieties: one was a mushroom base, the second lemon grass, and the third which could only be described as liquid fire.
Tables allow customers to turn up the heat and cook cellophane noodles, sheets of kelp, shrimp slide, wood ear mushrooms, and something that could only be described as alien genitalia. Sorry folks, no picture. Instead, here’s a photo of a young couple who is actually talking to each other instead of staring at their phones.
That’s the best part of the hot pot. You are supposed to play with your food! Sorry, Miss Manners.
Along with cooking your own meal, guests create their own dipping sauces at a bar similar to the salad trough at Big Boy before Covid Days. My sauce was a mix of tahini, chives, soy sauce, peanuts, sesame oil, garlic and other other things more daring than Ranch dressing and Bacon bits.
Here is a chef slicing beef as thin as onion paper.
The meal was treat. The only edible that I gave the stink eye to was the something I refer to as Chinese SPAM. The chunks of frozen duck blood shrivel up and taste like liver.
As for the close encounters of the alien kind? It was actually a filleted duck gizzard that ended up discretely in my napkin. It chewed like an eraser.
But warning: be sure to let meat cook long enough before you pull out a slice of lotus root or sliver of yam. You don’t want to bring a parasite home in your doggie bag.
Like meals everywhere else, the best part of a hot pot is the company.
These two 吃货 (chī huò) are Diana and Zoe, my fearless fire-eating co-workers. The only thing they won’t dare to eat is licorice flavored jelly beans.