Did you know that there are over six hundred varieties of edible mushrooms in Yunnan, China? Well, you do now, and I’m challenging myself to try them all. This time of year, mushrooms are sprouting everywhere, and so are seasonal mushroom hot pot restaurants. My friend brought me to a seasonal restaurant, that is actually a MINI car dealership (notice the logo on the wall in the background).
I guess August isn’t a good time to sell cars.
But August is prime season for mushrooms in Yunnan, the damp weather bringing out their earthy taste.
Even though the rain was coming down in buckets (we’re talking water pressure better than my shower), the place was packed. You could barely hear conversation as the monsoon season rains splattered on the Quonset hut roofing.
Well, what is a hot pot? Uh…the short answer is that it’s the Chinese version of a fondue, where bowls overflow with a bubbly broth and ravenous guests simmer assorted edibles to their liking.
While the broth base of most Chinese hot pots is spicy hot, the typical mushroom hot pot broth has a chicken stock base. It’s also bubbling with dates and something I call red raisins, a popular flavoring for tea. Notice the blue canister of gas at the table in the background. Each table comes with one, where guests control the flame. And yes, smoking is still allowed.
There are no chopsticks at the table; the servers give you a timer instead, just to make sure that you don’t die from eating a slightly poisonous, undercooked mushroom. You are often warned, “If you see short little men, go to emergency room –quick, quick!”
Once the time dings, your chopsticks will arrive.
The friend who brought me to this mushroom emporium is also the same friend who brought me to Dr. Pokey last week, the Traditional Chinese Medicine specialist who did a little needle work on my acupuncture points. Maybe she is trying to kill me.
The seating is pink plastic stools and the decor not exactly what you’d find in a Michelin star restaurant. Along with the mushrooms, you can select an assortment of veggies to add, just over a buck for a silver tray that you select from a refrigerator case.
Notice the men dipping into the bowls in the background. That isn’t a salad bar, but a sauce bar. At hot pot restaurants, you’ll find a selection of spices, oils, and everyone’s favorite MSG, ready to mix together to your liking. You can see my friend’s sauce bowl in the right corner of this picture, next to the timer.
So, did I end up going to the hospital with a bad case of little green men?
Just a craving for more.
Mushroom hot pot season in Yunnan usually ends the first week in September. The sun returns and car dealerships go back to selling cars.