Wai Po Qiao Hot Pot, Chongqing
Yay! After last night's aborted attempt, we finally made it into the hot pot section of "Grandma's Bridge" today for lunch. There was definitely no Taiwanese sa cha sauce here, but interestingly, there wasn't any of that mainland peanut sauce either. Instead, individual cups of sesame oil were at the center of each place setting, with piles of minced garlic and MSG on the side for you to scoop in at your discretion. They used those floating sushi boats here as a conveyor belt for the food, which interestingly did not feature much tofu but did have things like an entire fish sitting on a little dish. The meat wasn't thinly sliced either (it was more like those cuts from The Tent at Clarke Quay), but all of this didn't really matter after having tasted the broth.
Unlike the edgeiness of Jin Huang, this broth seemed almost silky smooth and polished, all the while still having more character than the Whispering Man (and definitely more than that seemingly pre-fabricated stuff from Fondue King in Taiwan). Peppercorns were abundantly floating in it, but the beauty of it was that the broth itself didn't kill your tastebuds unless you explicitly popped one of those little suckers in your mouth. And the non-spicy broth in the center hardly had any taste of Chinese herbs, despite the presence of ginseng, wolfberries, dates, and some kind of root slices that I couldn't identify.
There was a fat clove of garlic in the red broth though, which became really nice and soft enough to eat at the end of it all, dragon breath issues aside. Nice one. I definitely appreciated the sophistication and refinement of this. The only gripe in all of it was how salty the broth was (it becomes very obvious if you cook noodles, which just soak it all up). Again, combine that with all of the oil in this bubbling cauldron, and you have a heart attack waiting to happen. But it was good to try this. It apparently is considered to be more of an upscale place, but the price was still a reasonable RMB 50 (US$6).
BTW, it seems that a common practice among mainland Chinese is to place your napkin diagonally on the table like so, anchored by the weight of a small dish, while the rest of the napkin dangles off the table into your lap. Does anyone know what the origin of this practice is? I've noticed some folks from Beijing doing the same thing at Western restaurants too, presumably because that's the protocol back in China, but I'm not sure why. Well, separately, do note the Snow Beer from Chongqing here in the photo too (another local beer to log). This one was much lighter in taste than that Chongqing Premium.