Diners eat from a huge hotpot at a festival in Chongqing. The four-day event attracted thousands of diners and enterprises. [PHOTO BY LIU CHAN/XINHUA]
Although there are many regional variations, the one from Chongqing differs from other styles with its numbing, spicy soup base and special meats and sauces.
All hotpot cuisine is basically the same. While the soup simmers over a flame, meat and vegetables are placed into the pot to cook, and diners can select the items when they are ready to eat.
But Chongqing hotpot has the strongest flavor, with beef tallow, large quantities of chili and Sichuan pepper. The three must-have varieties are ox stomach, duck intestine and large pig or ox artery.
Although there is no evidence of how the cuisine originated, many believe that hotpot emerged from porters' food in the late 19th century.
Chongqing is a port city on the Yangtze and Jialing rivers. In the late 19th century, animals from neighboring Sichuan, Guizhou and Yunnan provinces were shipped to the city by water.
Good meat was brought in and sold to the upper and middle classes. The internal organs, including the stomach and kidneys, were discarded or sold cheaply. Porters picked up or bought the organs and cooked them in a boiling pot with a spicy sauce and ate the food by the rivers.
According to Feng Tu Shi Zhi, a folklore magazine published in the 1940s, the first hotpot restaurant in the city was Ma Zheng Xing, owned by the Ma brothers.
Legend has it that the two brothers tasted the street food and were hooked. They saw a business opportunity and introduced hotpot in their restaurants in the 1930s.
In 1937, the Kuomintang government led by Chiang Kai-shek established Chongqing as the country's capital. The southwestern city went on to play a critical role in the Asian theater of World War II.
At the time, the city witnessed a sudden influx of government officials, bankers, businessmen, scholars, diplomats, writers and other professionals from other parts of the country.
Hotpot soon gained popularity among people from all around the world, with many of the newcomers to Chongqing loving the cuisine. Although they left the city after the war, they took their love of hotpot with them, and the cuisine's popularity spread.