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Enjoy a taste of Yangtze life

Updated: 2018-05-30

By Li Yingxue, China Daily

A new restaurant brings the authentic taste of Chongqing hotpot directly from the banks of the Yangtze to the melting pot of Beijing. Li Yingxue reports.

Originally the common repast of poor boatmen along the Yangtze River, spicy Chongqing hotpot has since become the fare of foodies across China, with many restaurants including their own interpretation of the dish on their menus.

Fortunately for hotpot hunters in Beijing, Zhensanguan Chongqing Hotpot has brought the original taste of the Yangtze wharf to the melting pot of Sanlitun with the opening of its flagship venue. So what makes it so "authentic"? The restaurant flies all of the necessary condiments and fresh ingredients from Chongqing every other day to ensure that hungry Beijingers are getting the real deal.

Even down to the decor: the restaurant looks just like the ones you would find on the riverside, with a rustic wooden bench and a wall of glass jars each housing different traditional Chinese medicine items.

"Those are just some of the things we use to make the hotpot," explains Qi Ying, Zhensanguan's chef. "But that's not all of them. We use more than 60 ingredients in total."

According to Qi, each ingredient has its own function, such as licorice for detoxifying, and angelica dahurica for moistening the intestines.

"The dose for each ingredient is fixed. If you add more or less, the flavor would be different, and it took us more than a year to study that formula. After repeated trials, we finally got it just right."

The peppers Zhensanguan uses all come from Chongqing. Most are from the Shizhu Tujia autonomous county, while the Sichuan peppers are from Maoxian county. "We only use the fresh Sichuan peppers and cut the seeds when cooking so that there is no bitterness," Qi says.

The first part of the cooking process takes place nearly 2,000 kilometers away, where the seasoning for the dish is fried by chefs in Chongqing, who use a shovel and a large pot to cook it. The seasoning will stay a week in Chongqing before being flown to Beijing, giving the glutinous rice more time to continue fermenting, adding even more sweetness to the flavor.

It is then fried again during the Beijing part of the preparation to stimulate the fragrance of the hotpot.

"First, we melt the beef tallow in the pot and then add peppers before lowering the heat," he explains. "As the tallow turns red, we add a thick broad-bean sauce," Qi continues, "before boiling the sauce for one hour, when we add all of the traditional Chinese ingredients, seasonings and fermented glutinous rice."

The whole process takes about three to four hours and, according to Qi, the difference between Chongqing hotpot and Chengdu hotpot is the spicy flavor. Chongqing hotpot is milder, thanks to the fermented glutinous rice softening the piquancy.

Once all that is done, adding further authenticity to the dish is the eponymous pot itself.

Traditionally, it is served in a pot divided into nine sections. The square in the middle is the hottest part of the pot and it is where ingredients such as ox tripe, duck intestines and vegetables - things that need to be boiled quickly - are cooked, while sections around are where ingredients that need a little extra time to cook are boiled, such as duck blood and pig brains.

Buffalo tripe is one of Zhensanguan's signature ingredients. So is pork shoulder, which requires longer cooking to become tender - about 20 minutes for a 1-centimeter-thick piece.

Black tofu is also a must-try. Homemade with one portion of soybeans, two portions of black beans and one portion of glutinous rice, it tastes softer and smoother than normal tofu.

According to Qi, there are 13 different dipping sauces for the hotpot, but the most popular one is sesame oil with minced garlic, oyster sauce and coriander.

"You could also try canola oil with seasoning salt, which is also a Chongqing sauce," he adds. "The oil could lower the spiciness to protect your stomach."

The restaurant also serves other ingredients from Chongqing, such as needle mushrooms and nostoc commune - also known as star jelly, or facai - which cannot be found in Beijing.

While Zhensanguan prides itself on offering the most authentic Chongqing dining experience that can be enjoyed without having to contend with planes, trains or automobiles, the restaurant has made a few concessions to the demands of its Beijing clientele, explains restaurant manager, Cao Hongling.

According to Cao, besides sliced lamb and beef, Zhensanguan also provides different degrees of spiciness to suit the different palettes of Beijing's foodies, noting that "in Chongqing, we only serve one flavor - the hottest one."

There is also one more thing that Cao thinks that Beijing hotpot aficionados will enjoy - taking the hassle out of deciding what to wear for an evening of eating hotpot with pals.

People usually have to carefully consider their wardrobe choices, especially when it comes to that favorite wool sweater, because the smell of the food sticks to clothes and hair, sometimes well into the next day. This is apparently not a problem at Zhensanguan.

Cao says that because all the ingredients in the hotpot are natural, without any chemical substances or preservatives, enjoying a hotpot with friends will leave no olfactory trace of your evening meal on your favorite threads.

Contact the writer at liyingxue@chinadaily.com.cn

If you go

11:30 am-1:30 am, inside north gate of Beijing Workers' Stadium, Gongrentiyuchang Bei Road. 010-6551-9678.

 

Enjoy a taste of Yangtze life

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