锡林郭勒 内蒙古 Xilingol League, Inner Mongolia
口蘑, a type of wild white mushroom that grows on the grasslands of Inner Mongolia. It’s one of the most expensive mushrooms in China. Dried white mushrooms can fetch 2,000 yuan per kg
小鸡炖蘑菇 stewed chicken with mushroom
The best quality white mushrooms will go on a date, at Zhangjiakou City in Hebei Province, 400 km south of Xilingol League.
They are waiting for 冬笋. The winter bamboo shoots come from 2000 kilometres away, south of the Yangtze River.
Wild white mushrooms and winter bamboo shoots together lead to the creation of 烩南北, a dish with over 300 years of history. Its name literally translates into “South and North, Cooked Together”.
金阳县 四川凉山州 Jinyang County, Sichuan Province
花椒 Sichuan peppers are native to China. They are responsible for creating the 麻 in 麻辣味 (“numb” in “numb and spicy” flavour)
石柱县 重庆 Shizhu County, Chongqing
朝天椒 “sky-pointing peppers” originated from South America. Some of the hottest peppers can score 500,000 on the Scoville scale, 50 times hotter than cayenne pepper, and 500 times hotter than jalapeño.
Sichuan peppers and sky-pointing peppers meet up in a hot pot at Chongqing, a magical 4D city.
Here, no matter how hot it gets, the hotpot restaurants are always filled to capacity.
Together, the peppers form the foundation of 火锅底料 hot pot seasoning.
They’re joined by butter fat, which brings out the aroma, chilli bean sauce and fermented soybeans, which thicken the sauce and add body to it, and diced ginger, which adds another dimension to the spiciness.
Hot pot seasoning has spread to many other places, leading to local adaptations.
北京 涮肉火锅 Beijing mutton hot pot. The star of the show is paper-thin slices of tender mutton.
云南 菌子火锅 Yunnan mushroom hot pot. One word to sum up its taste: umami.
潮汕 牛肉火锅 Chaoshan beef hot pot. Meat lovers’ favourite.
But the passion for hot pot remains unrivalled in Chongqing.
There are over 20,000 hot pot restaurants in Chongqing. 1 in 30 Chongqing residents work in hot pot and related industries.
Must-have dishes for a Chongqing hot pot includes 黄喉 (“yellow throat”), taken from the aorta of cows or pigs.
When I was a kid, I thought this was called “empress”, because the pronunciation of 黄喉 in Chinese sounds the same as empress. It felt weird dipping the “empress” in hot pot . . .
毛肚 “hairy stomach” bee tripe, taken from the omasum.
After the right amount of time of cooking, beef tripe tastes crunchy, smooth, and the large surface area has absorbed a fair amount of chili oil in the pot.
When you cook the beef tripe, you have to hold onto it with your chopsticks and never let it go. Otherwise you’d be doing the work for someone else.
鸭肠 duck intestine
胗花 duck or chicken gizzards
耗儿鱼 Bluefin leatherjacket
午餐肉 luncheon meat, kids’ favourite.
Peppers and meat assemble in the boiling pot, creating a distinctive and unforgettable aroma. You can smell a hot pot from 50 metres away.
开封 Kaifeng, Henan Province was the capital of the Northern Song Dynasty
杭州Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province was the capital of the Southern Song Dynasty
Near the end of the Northern Song Dynasty, the defeated imperial armies were forced to retreat, brining Kaifeng dishes to Hangzhou.
西湖醋鱼 West Lake fish in vinegar gravy
A famous Hangzhou dish, uses a grass carp that’s slice into two halves, and marinated with soy sauce, sugar, starch, cooking wine, and vinegar.
West Lake fish shares a great deal of similarities with a Kaifeng dish.
鲤鱼培面 baked noodles with sweet-and-sour carp
Common carp is fried, then marinated with sugar, starch, ginger, cooking wine, and vinegar.
The distinguishing feature of the Kaifeng dish is the addition of 龙须面 (“dragon’s beard noodles”).
Fish is not the only dish Kaifeng and Hangzhou have in common.
开封灌汤包 Kaifeng soup buns
杭州小笼包 Hangzhou soup buns
Hangzhou has its own creation as well.
片儿川 noodles with pork, bamboo shoots, and Chinese mustard green
The assimilation of different dishes is not just for northern and southern Chinese cities.
上海 Shanghai–Paris of the East
In the year 1843, Shanghai was opened up to international trade as one of the treaty ports. European and American merchants brought their native dishes to this city.
罗宋汤 Borscht is a common soup in Eastern Europe and usually includes beetroots. Shanghainese modified the sweet and sour soup to make it lighter, less sour, and sweeter.
炸猪排 Deep fried pork cutlet is another dish that’s been nativised.
The pork cutlet is tenderised with a meat hammer, then wrapped in egg yolk, flour, and bread crumbs, and deep-fried.
Shanghainese eat the pork cutlet dipped in Worchester sauce, which originated from England.
A similar sauce is used in Guangdong Province, but instead of pork cutlet, the Cantonese people use it when they eat spring rolls and steamed beef balls.
博尔通古 新疆沙湾县 Bo’ertonggu, Xinjiang
纳仁 stewed mutton with noodles
安集海 新疆沙湾县 Anjihai, Xinjiang
Twenty varieties of peppers are grown on over 2,600 hectares of land.
One of the most classic Xinjiang dishes is 大盘鸡 (“big-plate chicken”), or sautéed spicy chicken with potatoes and noodles.
The dish includes Sichuan peppercorns, potatoes from Gansu Province, and noodles from Shaanxi.
石河子 新疆 Shihezi, Xinjiang
For a pioneer generation of Shanghainese who were part of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, Shihezi, 4,000 km away from Shanghai, is their second home.
烤包子 baked samosas with lamb filling
架子肉 meat roasted on a skewer
马肠子 smoked horse intestine
拉条子 Laghman noodles
台湾眷村 Military dependents’ village, Taiwan
The retreat of the Kuomintang in 1949 led to the settlement of mainlanders in Taiwan.
They’ve brought their hometown dishes across the Strait.
牛肉面 noodles with braised beef.
Made with beef shank, ginger, spring onions, fermented soybean, and chilli bean sauce.
A special version of the noodles is 二两面, which uses Sichuan peppercorns.
One story is that beef noodles were brought here by Sichuan soldiers.
四川自贡 Zigong, Sichuan Province
Inside this salt production mill that’s also home to the world’s first 1,000-metre-deep well, workers make braised beef with chilli bean sauce, dried chilli, Sichuan peppercorn, and radish.
Sichuan dishes are not the only cuisine that made it across the Strait.
象山县 浙江 Xiangshan, Zhejiang Province
壳菜 boiled mussel meat
This dish was brought over to Fugang Harbour when fishermen of Xiangshan evacuated to Taiwan.
When your stomach’s already full but there’s still food on the table: