The hallucinogenic Sichuan Hotpot that is hotter than anything you’ve ever tried!

A regional dish reputed to be one of the spiciest in the world, the famous Sichuan hot pot was something we had to try. Call it naivety or just youthful enthusiasm, but we totally bit off more than we could chew here. With the spiciness giving one of us nightmares and making the other one cry this was a cultural experience of eye watering qualities! The Sichuan hot pot Chengdu is famous for most definitely lived up to its fierce reputation! 

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A regional delicacy: The famous Sichuan hot pot that will blow your head off!

The Sichuan hotpot is a specialty to this region of China. I already associated the provincial name with spicy food after years of growing up eating Chinese food at home in England, but I honestly had no idea just how spicy they actually like it here! We had heard rumours off other travellers of the famous Sichuan hot pot and knew it was something we had to try!  The Sichuan hot pot Chengdu is famous for was just another reason to visit this wonderful city! 

A simmering stew that sits in a metal bowl in the middle of the table above an open flame it is meant to be shared. The bubbling liquid is a deep red and filled with chillies and the famous Sichuan pepper corn. Several ingredient including vegetables and thinly sliced meats are served raw and cooked inside the hotpot whilst at the table. The dish is hot in both temperature and spice, leading no confusion to the source of the highly accurate name!

Having existed for over 1000 years the famous Sichuan hot pot is a provincial institute and almost every day the hundreds of Hotpot restaurants in Chengdu can be made out by the lines outside them. The locals love the “numb and spicy” hotpot and have clearly come accustomed to its effects! The Sichuan hot pot Chengdu is know for is the most extreme and feared! 

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How to eat it!

Eating the famous Sichuan hot pot is an interactive cooking experince, which, if you ignore the inferno that quickly engulfs your entire body, is quite fun!!! Ordering your hotpot you get to customised almost every part of it. Adding extra spices and flavourings to your pot really makes your dish unique.

Then you order your main ingredient from a long lists available. Even for us veggies there were plenty of choices from tofu to yams, mushrooms and potatoes. For the more adventurous you can choose from either regular meets or Chinese specialties including sheep intestines, cows stomachs, pigs noses, duck feet, rabbit heads and chicken feet! Hmm, I think I’ll stick to the veg! We knew the Sichuan hot pot Chengdu is world renowned for was going to be intense! 

Now here comes the fun part, you get to cook the food yourself to your own liking. You can just throw the ingredients into the stew or for quicker cooking ones just dip them in for a few seconds until done as you like. Then you dip it again into a mixture of herbs, garlic and more hot sauce…ouch! This is what makes the famous Sichuan hot pot just so infamous! 

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Variations of the Sichuan hot pot Chengdu is famous for

Luckily not all hot pots are quite as hot as the one we enjoyed/ suffered! We just missed out on the hostel hotpot which was supposedly made to be a little less spicy. The more local places, which we visited, are more likely to increase the heat for the hardened Sichuan citizens!

Often however the middle of the pot is a non spicy section of water. This saved us as little and provides a much milder alternative to the burning cauldron which surrounds it! Something we didn’t know about the Sichuan hot pot Chengdu is known for and came as a welcome break from the heat! 

There are also different flavours available of the famous Sichuan hot pot from different establishments: Sweet, salty or sour, although, once the numbing effect takes place I am not sure you will notice the difference!

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Our intense hotpot that ended in crying and nightmares!

In each province or city we have visited we have been keen to try the local dishes. An important part of understanding each very different area of China is its food. Now the dumplings we had lived off were fewer and further between we were keen to try the famous Sichuan hot pot, a somewhat intimidating dish.

Intending to join in the Hotpot party at the hostel to get a dish slightly more tailored to western pallets we missed out due to our late train. Disappointed and on our last night we ventured out to find somewhere to try one. Of course, we didn’t have to wander far and the place we did eventually settle for seemed popular with the locals. The night before at an earlier hour we had seen people queuing around the block!

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Luckily our server noticed our predicament and showed us exactly how everything worked. Talking us through the menu he showed us the vegetables on offer and how to order them. He even showed us how to mix the spicy garlic dipping sauce together. Being surrounded by locals enjoying this social meal it was also nice to observe how they went about tucking in!

As the sizzling pot arrived the smell instantly burnt our nostrils, now we knew we were in for an experience! Boiling the thinly sliced potato to a red and crisp state of apparent perfection we tucked in! Straight away the chilling hit the back of our throats, causing us to cough and our eyes water. We looked around at the piles of veg that surrounded us and knew we had a battle on our hands!

After a while we got more accustomed to the burning heat and even began to enjoy the flavours coming through. But it seemed we peaked a little too early as the tingling in our lips began and the sweat began to pour. The heat of the famous Sichuan hot pot was becoming evident! 

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With less than half of all the veg we ordered uneaten we were beaten, down trodden and frankly a mess! Stripped off of almost all our layers we could hardly talk our lips were so numb and our faces swollen!

It was at this point, as the melting mass sat firing away in our stomachs that Shorty’s eyes began to water! We carried on eating as much as we could but had decided against dipping back into what could only be described at a pot of hell and instead into the salvation of the clear middle section. Even now just the heat from the water was too much for our abused lips!

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Another plate from someone else’s meal.

Later that evening whilst back in the hostel, having admitted defeat after only eating around half our food and drinking an entire river of water, I started having nightmares. The spices, pepper corns and chillies where still weaving their magic on me in the early hours as our room mate came in and I sprang up thinking we were being attacked! Quite the experience and even more reason that the Sichuan hot pot Chengdu is known for is to be feared! 

Also, funnily enough back home in the North West of England we have our very own “Lancashire hotpot”. This rather more bland affair was a childhood staples at the Grandparents house and consists of a broth of veg and meat topped with layers of thinly sliced potatoes!

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Where to try the famous Sichuan hot pot! 

Get yourself over to the wonderful city of Chengdu! Famous for its Pandas and the close by Leshan Giant Buddha it is the epicentre for the Hotpot! In the city there are hundreds of Hotpot places selling different variations, prices and levels of spiciness. You could also stay at the Lazy Bones hostel and join in their Hotpot parties each week!

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Nicola Hilditch-Short

Nic is one half of the Roaming Renegades, a passionate traveller, climber, adventurer, photographer and artist who has a B.A in Fine Art and M.A in Design & Art Direction.
  • I feel your pain. Many, many years ago, we went to a restaurant in London. Sichuan was on the menu. My husband and I, who love really hot food, hooked in. To this day, some 19 years later, we still talk about “that meal”. It was heat like no other, and (hallucinations aside) we experienced everything you did. Good on you for getting halfway through it all.

    • I really thought with a love of spicy food I could handle it, but my god, it was so much hotter than I imagined! We gave it a good go at least!

  • WOW I MUST TRY THIS now. I really love Sichuan and I like spicy – though not too spicy but always up for the challenge! Thanks for the post 🙂

    • Ha ha, good luck! This is the hottest thing I’ve ever tried! It’s good fun though!

  • Emily Louisa

    Quite an experience then! Well done for getting halfway through. I don’t think I could have had more than a couple of bites! I don’t think I’ll be rushing to try a Sichuan hot pot!

    • Yes, I am not sure if I would have it again myself, maybe a toned down version! ha