Crazy about hotpot
Last Updated: 2014-02-06 10:31 |
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Spicy hotpot in Chongqing, originated in the 19th century, has enjoyed increasing popularity among diners at home and abroad. Photos Provided to China Daily

It's a cuisine popular all over China, but Chongqing businessman Nie Ganru loves hotpot more than most. He tells Luo Wangshu and Tan Yingzi why he wants to tell the world about his favorite meal.

When Prime Minister of the United Kingdom David Cameron visited China in December, in among the appointments on his busy schedule was one that was in stark contrast to the politician's serious meetings and briefings: "Eat spicy hotpot". Cameron is not the only world leader with a taste for the popular cuisine. United States politician Henry Kissinger wrote about eating hotpot with the former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in his memoirs. Kuomintang leader Chiang Kai-shek treated Mao Zedong to spicy hotpot during his historic visit to Chongqing in 1945.

Now all these hotpot stories have been collated and displayed in a museum dedicated to hotpot cuisine. Located in Chongqing, it is the first hotpot museum in the country.

Hotpot is popular in Chongqing. While the soup is simmering over a flame, meat and vegetables are placed into the pot to cook, and diners can pick out the items when they are ready to eat. Chongqing hotpot is famous for its spicy taste.

The hotpot museum, with more than 600 pots and other items on display, opened in December, 2013.

A 37-meter-tall hotpot graces the exterior of the six-story private museum, located in the city's southeast.

On its first floor, the large hotpot-shaped building features modern hotpots, an explanation of what a hotpot is, and displays examples of pots from all over the world, including a paper-pot from Japan and an iron pot from Germany.

The second floor covers the Chongqing hotpot and related art works. It also documents the origins of spicy hotpot.

This floor also demonstrates how the spicy hotpot went from being street food to a nationally celebrated dish during the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (1937-45).

The third floor exhibits valuable pots and also highlights the history of hotpot, with particular emphasis on Chinese hotpot culture. The most prized collections are located on this floor, including a pot used in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), when Emperor Qianlong hosted a banquet for 1,000 elderly people, and a tri-colored glazed pot of the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907).

The fourth and fifth floors are yet to open, but there are plans to open a high-end hotpot restaurant there.

Nie Ganru, 70, a hotpot fan and businessman, is the owner of the museum.

The energetic man has a passion for hotpot and has collected pots for more than 30 years.

"Every pot has a story," he says.

One of his most prized items is the tri-colored glazed pot of the Tang Dynasty, worth about 1.8 million yuan ($300,000). He bought it in Chengdu in 1998 for only 180 yuan.

"I was very lucky on that one," he recalls. "Some of my collection was easily acquired, I was sometimes lucky to find things on the street. And some were only acquired with much time and money. I flew all over the country for some pots, negotiating with the sellers to persuade them to sell the pot to me," he says, adding that whenever he travels to a new city, he will go to the grocery store to study pots.


Sitting around a simmering pot and enjoying the freshly cooked food is part of daily life for most Chongqing people.(Source: China Daily)

Nie's lifelong dream has been to establish a hotpot museum to record hotpot stories, display his collection and promote hotpot culture.

Now, in the year of his 70th birthday, the museum has finally opened.

"Enterprises will decay. No business lasts forever. However, culture is eternal. The museum is what I will leave for my successors," he says.

Nie runs a hotpot business that includes chain restaurants and ingredient factories. He quit his job at a State-owned enterprise in the 1990s to start a small hotpot restaurant with six tables. That small restaurant grew into a successful business.

"I benefited from hotpot, now it is time to give something back," Nie says.

Although there is no hard evidence as to where the birthplace of spicy hotpot is, Nie, as the director of the Chong-qing Hotpot Research Center, believes Chongqing hotpot originated from the porters' cuisine in late 19th century.

Chongqing is a port city along the Yangtze River. In the late 19th century, live animals from Sichuan, Guizhou and Yunnan provinces were shipped by water, killed, sold or preserved in Chongqing's port. Good meat was shipped and sold to the upper and middle classes. The internal organs, including stomach and kidney, were discarded or sold cheaply. Porters picked up or bought the organs and cooked them in a boiling pot with spicy sauce and ate it by the water.

Two brothers with the last name Ma happened to taste the street dish and were hooked. They saw a business opportunity and introduced the dish into their restaurants in the 1930s.

Nie believes the first hotpot restaurant is Ma Zheng Xing, owned by the Ma brothers.

A pot from Ma Zheng Xing Restaurant is located on the third floor of the museum.

Novelist and scholar Li Jieren (1891-1962), native of Sichuan province, agreed with Nie, and stated that the origin of spicy hotpot was Chongqing in his magazine, Feng Tu Shi Zhi, an important folklore magazine in the 1940s.

In the magazine, Li also writes about the evolution of spicy hotpot. When Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang government established Chong-qing as China's capital in 1937, the city attracted many new residents who fell in love with spicy local dish.

According to Li's article, many elites were hotpot fans.

Dai Li, the head of Chiang's military intelligence service, was a fan of hotpot and always hosted hotpot feasts for financial tycoons.

Although these people left Chongqing after the war, they took their love of hotpot with them and the cuisine's popularity spread.

Expatriates in Chongqing also like hotpot.

Tina Redshaw, the British consul general in Chongqing, says she loves spicy hotpot. She told a media conference in December that she was impressed that Chongqing had so many hotpot restaurants.

"Although I eat at different hotpot restaurants every day, I cannot eat at all the hotpot restaurants in only two years," she says.

Kossi A. Vanessa from Benin in West Africa, has studied in Chongqing for five years. She says if she leaves Chongqing after graduation, hotpot is what she will miss the most about the city.

"I will definitely miss it, though I cannot really eat super spicy food, but the hotpot is a delicious memory of the city," the 26-year-old says.

Chongqing hotpot is very versatile and does not always have to be spicy. The dish can be adapted to many flavors to suit diner's tastes.

Nie believes Chongqing hotpot will go further if the city promotes hotpot culture and expands the image of the brand.

Chongqing hotpot is a big name across the country, even the world. However, Chongqing businessmen lack awareness of how to improve the brand of the cuisine, Nie says.

"I am obsessed with hotpot culture," Nie says. "I want to do something to let people know more about Chongqing hotpot."

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