After arriving back in Chengdu last Tuesday (in a very bumpy nail biting flight) Phil mentioned he had an odd hankering for hot pot (if you have not yet heard of this delightful style of eating read here). Coming back in the middle of a week when most of our friends were working or out of the country we were stuck with a dilemma. You can’t really do two person hot pot. Hot pot is meant to be a feast of many different meats, tofu, vegetable and organs, with lots of beer and lots of banter. You probably could do a two person hot pot, and I’ve seen many ballsy locals even take on a solo hot pot. I just wouldn’t feel right with two people, I have hot pot principals. Plus it’s really wasteful.
So we went for the next best oily bubbling broth in the middle of the table meal – stick pot.
Stick pot or in Mandarin chuan chuan works a little differently than hot pot (for a complete categorization of Sichuan food read on here). Chuan chuan is hot pot where everything is served (and cooked) on bamboo sticks. You pay according to how many sticks are empty at the end of the meal. You can get pretty much anything on a stick in most establishments: all parts a cow or chicken, vegetables, bamboo, rice cakes, tofu in many shapes and forms, jiaozi and the list goes on. In some smaller chuan chuan places (like this one reviewed in a highly informative blog on food in Chengdu eatdrinkchengdu) you pick out your skewers from a rack of food and the servers cook your food in one communal bowl. In others, a bowl of chili oil filled with bamboo skewers that have already been soaking for an indeterminable amount of time gets set on your table and you pick and chose what you consume from those options. In the chuan chuan place we went to Tuesday night, the very famous Yulin Chuan Chuan Xiang it’s more about the bubbling broth, the slippery floors, the loud waitstaff and cooking the skewers yourself.
after (41 sticks!)
We actually had another reason for picking this specific Yulin (the foodie haven neighborhood that is across the road from our apartment) establishment, as it was recently featured on Andrew Zimmermen’s Travel Channel show, Bizarre Foods. Personally I would rather watch Anthony Bourdain rip a city a new one on No Reservations over Zimmerman putting the strange, obscure and sometimes outright disgusting in his mouth (Bourdain featured Chengdu too in his first episode on China), but Phil and I had a strange fascination with where Zimmerman would go to eat quintessential weird Sichuan.
What was more annoying than Zimmerman continuously referring to Chengdu people as the “Chengdunese” was watching him whine about how spicy the food here and how hard it was to eat. But overall he gave Yulin, among everything else in Chengdu, two gastronomical thumbs up. As he should in our very humble, very spicy opinion.