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Fire in the belly

By Wu Ni | Shanghai Star | Updated: 2014-11-14 10:49

Fire in the belly

[Photo provided to shanghai star]


In Chongqing and Sichuan province in the southwest, hot pot is popular all year round. In the past, the boatmen of the Yangtze River would rest by the docks at night, where they frequently started a fire to warm themselves.

It was only natural to place a pot on top of the fire to start dinner. The Chongqing basin is notoriously damp and humid, and the boatmen would add lots of Sichuan peppercorns and red peppers to chase away the chills. Sichuan peppercorns are known as the Chinese prickly ash, or huajiao, and it is a strong spice that burns and numbs the taste buds.

Traditional Chinese medicine believes it can alleviate joint and muscle pain, including arthritis, a common problem in the region, especially for the boatmen who had to spend half their lives soaked to the skin.

Today, the boatmen are mostly gone, but their legacy lives on in the spicy Sichuan hotpot, arguablely the most popular style of hotpot cooking in all of China.

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