nixi eats


When one thinks of Tibetan food, what often comes to mind is piles of barley draped neatly over racks pointing high up into the sky, and yaks grazing in grassy plains. However, the Tibetan cuisine of Zhongdian, four hours north of Lijiang, is more than just tsampa, dried yak meat and yak butter tea. In fact, the area is blessed with a wide variety of produce.
The Tibetans in Zhongdian are better off than their cousins elsewhere in China due to the yearly monsoon rains that make it possible to grow barley, wheat and vegetable crops that are not readily available in other Tibetan areas. They also enjoy plenty of grazing land for their animals, while the nearby forests provide a ready supply of mushrooms, wild vegetables and herbs.
And one of the most popular dishes in the Land of Snows is the local hotpot, a perfect meal for a cold winter night, providing an opportunity for a warm and intimate meal with friends. While not as well-known outside of Yunnan as  shuan yangrou, the rinsed mutton of the north, or the lip-numbing Chongqing hotpot, the Tibetan hotpot offers a hearty meal that should not be missed if you are visiting Zhongdian.
The list of hotpot ingredients is packed with nutritious vegetables. Cured spareribs are the star of the Tibetan hotpot, lending a wonderful meaty flavor to the broth, with just a smoky note, juxtaposed with tasty bite-sized meatballs. Other things thrown into the Tibetan hot pot include starch-rich and creamy plateau potatoes, red plump tomatoes, sweet napa cabbage, deep-fried pork skin, coriander, Chinese yam, beancurd, a crisp vegetable called qingsun, known as wosun in the north, fentiao (wide potato-starch noodles),  fensi (thin bean-starch noodles), as well as yiwo (clustered) mushrooms.
All of these ingredients contribute to the multiple sweet and savory flavors of the hotpot. The most enjoyable part of eating hotpot is toward the end of the meal when the broth gets intensely rich because of the extended cooking of varieties of vegetables and meat.
People in Zhongdian say that the secret to a good hotpot is the clay pots from the nearby town of Nixi, which is famous for its black pottery. The Tibetan hotpot is cooked in an earthenware pot handmade by Nixi potters, who work without a pottery wheel, using just a few wooden tools.
“Hotpots prepared in a Nixi claypot taste much better than those prepared in copper pots,” said Wang Dui, the head chef of Songtsam Retreat, located opposite the Songzanlin Monastery in Zhongdian. “The broth is subtle and delicate and not oily at all because the clay is a good agent for absorbing grease.”
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