One of the popular foods, amongst Chinese and Ex-pats alike is 'hotpot'. Last night we went to 川味观 (Chuan Wei Guan) - an extremely popular restaurant in Hangzhou.
In case you don't know '川' in the title of any restaurant means that the style of food is from Sichuan (四川) province (probably better known by the spelling Szechuan). This typically means a very spicy style of food. Now, I've had something similar to hotpot in the UK before but there are some major differences.
First - arrival - you need to be there either at 5pm or after 7:30pm if you don't want to wait - the reason for this is that people here eat like clockwork. Lunch is around 11:30am, tea is around 5:30pm. For most westerners this works out just fine as typically no-one wants to go out to eat until about 8pm anyway. However, I was with my wife and the folks so, 5pm it was.
Second - The Pot - Filled with two soups - one bland, one very spicy. Legend has it that the soup is many years old, i.e. they top up the vat of soup every day with more ingredients. One can only hope it's not true.
Third - The Ingredients - you select your raw ingredients. My favourites are beef, lamb, chicken, spinach, mushrooms, potatoes, nian gao (rice things) - you get the picture.
Other popular ingredients (with the folks, not me personally) are shrimp (live - before they go in a pot of boiling chillis), congealed duck blood, cow stomach, pig brain and snails.
As yet untried ingredients include tendon, hand-picked fat and pizzle (which is exactly what you think it is). Highlight of yesterday there was also a plate of eel tails (with bloody stumps where once there used to be more eel) which lay uncooked on the table for a good 20 minutes at which point one of them started flapping about on the plate... Gack!
Oh, and they do non-hotpot dishes too. Here's one I've not tried...