Food and Drinks

Chinese county in Anhui claims it’s the ‘hometown of hotpot’ ... controversy quickly boils over

China’s other hotpot capitals are not to be dethroned by a little-known upstart

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 September, 2018, 11:27am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 September, 2018, 9:30pm

A county in China’s southeastern Anhui province has unilaterally declared itself the “hometown of hotpot”, claiming ownership of an iconic Chinese dish that has many versions around the nation.

This self-awarded title was approved on August 28 as part of a seemingly innocuous initiative by the county’s industry and commerce committee to increase tourism in the region, according to local media.

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But the move ignited debate on Chinese social media this week, with many questioning why this area had a right to stake any claim to the millennia-old dish, where meats and vegetables are eaten from a simmering pot of spiced and flavoured broth.

“The people of Sichuan protest,” one internet user wrote, calling out dissent from the southwestern province whose genre of numbingly spicy flavours has crossed provincial and national borders to gain global renown, championed by independent restaurants and global chains like HaiDiLao.

Citizens of Sichuan’s capital, Chengdu, and neighbouring municipality Chongqing spoke out to reply.

“No other cities have hotpot like Chengdu’s,” said Duoyi Xu, who works in real estate. “It’s unique with our Sichuan spice, and no other cities have so many kinds of unique ingredients to add in.”

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Foodies debate about how great the difference is between the hotpots of Chengdu and Chongqing, but Chongqingers maintain that theirs is both world-renowned and ancient – they even have a museum underlining that point.

“Maybe Anhui has its own hotpot, but for Chongqing people, if there’s no thick butter, no tonnes of hot pepper, no small green numbing peppers, no bean paste, chilli oil, aniseed, and other spices, then it’s not hotpot,” Chongqing native Sylvia Liu said.

Liu feels that hotpot is intertwined with Chongqing’s history and psyche, and repeats an adage that the spicy-numbing qualities specific to Chongqing hotpot enable its people to maintain health in their humid valley city.

“We say, ‘if something can’t be done over one hotpot, then let’s have another one,’” she said. “And ‘to eat hotpot is not just to eat hotpot, but to live.’”

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Designer Zhou Tong, who lives in Chongqing, said that while people may not know where the dish originated, the source of its most popular version was clear.

“Many places have their own characteristics, and there are so many different kinds of hotpot, “ Zhou said. “But surely Chongqing’s is the most famous in China.”

But when it comes to the Anhui hotpot debate, one of the issues at the heart of the matter is the definition of “hotpot” itself.

Mian Lugui, a university student who hails from Guangde, the hotpot hometown in question, said he was an ardent fan of the traditional dish, which incorporates local vegetables and a heavily flavoured broth.

“The simplest pot is pork stewed with radish. It’s simple, but incredibly delicious, especially in winter,” he said.

But observing the controversy, he questions whether his beloved dish is technically a hotpot. Mian said he would characterise it more as a pot-cooked dish because he saw the boiling of the broth more as a form of preparation than crucial to how it was eaten.

“It’s important for us to promote and develop our hometown,” Mian said. “But those words ‘hotpot hometown’ remain up for debate.”