Chongqing and its adjacent Sichuan Province are hot pot grandmasters. Here, specially designed tables are fitted with a sunken hot pot receptacle that houses an ornate steel pot. The pot is then often subdivided into at least two (sometimes nine-plus) different broth regions, with the fiery hot mala variety – usually a beef stock that grunts with tonnes of chillies and Sichuan peppercorns – a must-order. Patrons then order plates of raw ingredients off the menu, concoct themselves a custom sauce from the DIY sauce station, and get to business.
Cartoon pop art covers the walls at David’s, a cute modern flourish that plays well against the otherwise lantern- and lattice-heavy Sichuan-kitsch design. We order a partitioned pot – one side mushroom broth, one side medium spicy mala broth – rolled pork belly, silken tofu strands, beef balls and a variety of vegetables, and we do so by scanning a QR code unique to our table through giant Chinese social media app WeChat. The soup is delivered to the table in a plastic cryovac bag, emptied into the pot and combined with a giant heart-shaped mould of oil to create the mala broth – a deeply bovine base that coats all comers with the inimitable lip-quivering hum of the Sichuan peppercorn, and whose rich aroma tends to cling to idle outerwear. Fortunately, David’s has a human-sized deodorising machine that rids you of your stench at the touch of a button as you leave. It may not be the cheapest hot pot in town but the depth of the spicy mala broth is worth it.