China has a wide a wide variety of hotpot cuisines, coastal to inland, mild to red hot. The most famous is Sichuan or Chongqing style hotpot, brimming with chili oil, whole peppers, and the numbing sichuan peppercorns. We have also enjoyed various Guangdong style hotpots in Shenzhen, based on a mild seafood broth or rice congee for cooking morsels in. But Yunnan offers a flavorful and whimsical hotpot, based on the prized mushrooms of the region. We enjoyed a delightful hotpot meal of this type in Lijiang, at 石锅渔 (shi guo yu) restaurant, near the south gate of the old town.
We sat down to a table with a stone pot (石锅) embedded in the table, which was quickly sanitized with a blast of steam. Our fuwuyuan added a broth with chicken pieces and a parade of mushrooms. Many mushrooms were named in Chinese by likening them to animal parts: sheep tripe mushroom (羊肚菌), cow liver mushroom (牛肝菌), but still bore the reassuring (to this vegetarian) character of fungus (菌 jun). And then there were the truffles. Maybe a pint of whole black truffles (黑松露 hei song lu) were added to the simmering soup. On top our waitress placed a woven conical lid, like an elfin hat, to contain the flavours brewing inside, and set a timer for twenty minutes. This cooking implement is actually one of the Eighteen Oddities of Yunnan, a traditional list of the quirks of this colorful province.
Twenty minutes later, the straw lid was removed, and we tucked into the nutritious pot, dipping the mushrooms and chicken bits into a sauce of fresh ginger, ground peanuts, cilantro and green onion. The broth poured over a steamed rice pilaf was washed down with cold Dali beer, conjuring happiness on many levels.