Hot Pot Burns Hole In Man's Stomach
A Taiwanese mala hot pot. Note the pool of liquid chili.
Screen Cap: burmamoster/Youtube
It's being reported that a 26-year-old man in China, with no previous history of gastrointestinal problems, checked into a hospital after eating a hot pot that supposedly burned a hole in his stomach lining. The problem with that story is that it's been shown that the consumption of spicy foods isn't actually the root cause of the overwhelming majority of stomach ulcers.
Spicy foods can definitely exacerbate existing conditions, you wouldn't be shocked if spicy food made a cold sore hurt, but alone it shouldn't be able to burn a hole in anything. The original article notes that the hospital that received this man has an unusually high admission rate for people with similar hot pot related maladies. Given that the particular type of hot pot, mala hot pot, is extremely popular the world over, it would seem odd that only this hospital is getting an influx of hot pot related patients.
Perhaps if we summoned the spirit of John Snow, local Chinese officials could make a map of the area and pinpoint exactly which shops these cases are coming from. An investigation might confirm what the original article suggests, which is that these shops are using unregulated chemicals instead of ingredients to achieve the spiciness of this meal.
Why would they do that? Well "mala" part of mala hot pot refers to inclusion of a particular kind of chili sauce which relies heavily on the heat and numbing effect of Sichuan peppercorns. These peppercorns share a lot in common with the black pepper on your dinner table but, in addition to their spice, they carry a chemical that causes and odd numbing sensation throughout the mouth when eaten. They're not exactly cheap though and it's possible that a less than ethical hot pot restaurant has decided to substitute or supplement their peppercorns with a chemical that causes as similar feeling. That would not be a shocking revelation in light of the ongoing and seemingly pervasive problems China has with food safety and insuring food remains unadulterated. For an object lesson we need only to look at the 2008 milk scandal in which dairy producers appear to have intentionally spiked their products and supply chain with a "protein supplement" that turned out to contain the plastic melamine. This contamination sickened just shy of 300,000 children and infants and hospitalized hundreds of thousands.
Get the Dining Newsletter
The week's top local food news and events, plus interviews with chefs and restaurant owners, dining tips, and a peek at our print review.