Yup, I know that is a mouthful. And to top it, we had to wait for more than 20 mins to get a table for 2. But boy, was it worth it!
The first time I had Xia Long Bao was on the last day of a trip to Hong Kong a few years ago. And the taste lingers. Xia Long Bao are steamed dumplings that have warm broth inside along with the more usual shrimp/meat mixture. The sheer mix of flavours and textures that this gives your mouth is crazy. I love it.
Din Tai Fung is the Taiwanese mecca of Xia Long Bao. And since they make it so well, they have now spread everywhere in Asia including to Singapore. On Saturday I went to their outlet at the Paragon Mall in Orchard.
Thanks to Martin for suggesting this place and accompanying me for an awesome meal.
For a useful lesson on how to eat Xia Long Bao, click on the above photo.
Another satisfying meal in Singapore, this time it was Roast Duck and Roast Pork at Crystal Jade Kitchen in Suntec City. The Roast Duck with a lemon dip and the pork with a more pungent one. Along with Baby Kailan with Garlic. And of course rice. Yum.
The Chinese overlay the concept of yin & yang on a lot of things and Food is one of them. So all foods are divided into ‘heaty’ foods and ‘cooling’ foods. Fried Food, for example, is considered ‘heaty’ which means it gets your body all excited and sweaty. According to Chinese grandmothers (who like all other grandmothers have a direct line to secret-stuff), to make things stable, you have to have some ‘cooling’ food along with the ‘heaty’ ones.
Interestingly, this concept is not particularly alien to me since it appears in many local Indian cultures too. The Konkan coast (ie. most of India’s western coast) for example uses Sol Kadi, a drink made from Kokum, to cool down the body after ingesting huge amounts of ‘heaty’ seafood, particularly shrimp (to experience what I am talking about, try one of the famous seafood restaurants of Mumbai such as Mahesh or Saiba). Ayurveda too makes a lot of this concept and recommends eating both hot & cold foods to balance one’s ‘kapha dosha’.
The most interesting aspect of all of this is, how two of Asia’s earliest cultures (and two of the world’s most ancient systems of health-care) both recognise the primacy of ‘balance’ in well-being.
I must have been about 4 or 5 years old, when I sat with my father in a darkened movie hall watching a grainy-white documentary that showed strange men using sticks to pull up strings off the table to stuff it in their mouths. And I loved it right away. By the time I got to my teens, I could not think of anything more sophisticated than insouciantly picking up my roast pork with chop sticks while holding a conversation with an extraordinarily gorgeous Japanese lady. Of course, it hasn’t happened quite that way (the Japanese lady part that is) – but I still think it is way cool to eat with chop sticks. So, a few years ago, I decided to learn how to do it.
It is pretty simple really. Here is how you do it.
You grasp the chopsticks within the fingers of your right hand (ie. if you are genetically left-handed; otherwise, hold it in your left hand). Then push them into a bowl of noodles (always a bowl, never a plate). The chopsticks will immediately come off your fingers. Next, you hold them a bit more steady and try to dig out the noodles harder. The whole caboodle will come out of the bowl and fall on the table. Keep repeating this till your companions at the table (in my case, a wife and two incredulous little boys who could’nt understand why they were not allowed this kind of fun) ask you to go away. Do this for about a month. You will crack it. I did – so I know you can too.
Yup, now I can hear the question. Is there a simpler way of learning to use chopsticks? Unfortunately, No. But, the good part is, this will seem really simple when you realise you need to use chopsticks and the chinese soup spoon simultaneously to get the sang-froid look. That, my friend, is another story.
“we counted fourteen separate hors d’oeuvres – artichoke hearts, tiny sardines fried in batter, perfumed tabouleh, creamed salt cod, marinated mushrooms, baby calamari, tapenade, small onions in a fresh tomato sauce, celery and chick-peas, radishes and cherry tomatoes, cold mussels. Balanced on top of the loaded tray were thick slices of pate and gherkins, saucers of olives and cold peppers. The bread had a fine crisp crust. There was white wine in the ice bucket, and a bottle of Chateauneauf-du-Pape left to breathe in the shade”
” The main course arrived – rosy slices of lamb cooked with whole cloves of garlic, young green beans and a golden potato-and-onion galette“
“The cheese was from Banon, moist in its wrapping of vine leaves, then came the triple flavours and textures of the desserts – lemon sorbet, chocolate tart, and creme angalise all sharing a plate. A coffee. A glass of marc from Gigondas. A sigh of contentment.”
Peter Mayle can be irritating. Here I had just finished what most observers would call a sumptuous Sunday lunch and settled down to read his “A year in Provence” and before you know it, I am panting for more food. I must say this for the man. He can bring food alive . Continue reading →
(Telugu actress – or, Actor as they seem to prefer it - Ileana giving away a prize)
The latest edition of the Times Food Guide, Bangalore was launched over the weekend with much fanfare at the Windsor Manor. And I found myself in a Page 3 gathering, not my natural watering-hole. For some reason, the good folks who ran this shindig decided that I was to be one of the 20 odd people giving away a prize and so I found myself wedged inside an unlikely group including Kannada actors Ramya & Ganesh , the snooker player Pankaj Advani and Wipro CFO Suresh Senapati among others.
I gave away the prize to Dakshin the south Indian cuisine restaurant at the Windsor. Which was a relief, since I do genuinely like Dakshin. But specialty food in 5 star restaurants is, in general, not for true foodies. Continue reading →
I am just back from a quick business trip to Delhi which coincided with the coldest week in Delhi in 28 years. Not good news – but as luck would have it, the first day there turned out to be very cold but very sunny, which is a lovely combination. So, escaped unhurt.
For old times sake (and because they have a bloody early morning flight from Bangalore), I flew Indian Airlines, which has now been determinedly renamed Air India. Unfortunate. Because in the process, Indian Airlines, which I have always had a soft corner for, is really starting to resemble Air India, which according to me is unquestionably among the the 10 worst airlines in the world. So, here is an emotional requiem to Indian Airlines; RIP.
Among the obscene prices for hotels rooms in Delhi, I was able to wangle a slightly less indecent price (fairly crazy nevertheless) from the The Taj Palace hotel by booking a no-cancellation room, way ahead of time on the Taj Hotels website. It is always nice to stay at the Taj, because somewhere they have perfected the art of clean & efficient luxury service without the ‘looking-you-over’ approach of some Indian luxury chains, not the least of which is the Oberoi. Continue reading →
It was after some time that I was flying Kingfisher. On the way to Mumbai, they served chinese which included chicken in black bean sauce. Now, I have never really found black bean sauce in India with the pungent aroma that it has in the far east. This came close, what with the fermented black beans, the rice wine and the sesame oil strutting its stuff. Except for the excess of corn flour, it was quite well done and very good for an airline meal. I like Kingfisher food.
Fuk Yeun Hotpot seafood restaurant (yes, seriously – that is the name) in Mongok, on Kowloon island introduced me to the pleasures of the Hong Kong Dim Sum. The last time I had Dim Sum somewhat close to this good was in the chinese restaurant at The Oberoi in Delhi. Dim Sums come in various types, shapes & sizes. Steamed buns, fried spring rolls, dumplings of all persuasion, veggie concoctions et al. Fuk Yuen rolled out the whole lot. And the real surprise in the package was this Capsicum & Eggplant number.
Moving on. For me, Wontons are the royalty of dim sum. Delicate dough hiding clever concoctions of meats & seafoods steamed in Bamboo steamers. Seems the cantonese word for Dim Sum also means ‘swallowing clouds’ which I guess is as apt a description as possible. Trust the ancients to get it right.
In all of this, I could not get to try out the vast array of live seafood on offer at Fuk Yuen. Tanks filled with lobsters, shrimp, clam, garoupa were all, unfortunately left behind. Next time.
The raging question of our times is obviously : Is Singapore or Hong Kong better for street food? Standing on various corners of Causeway Bay in Hong Kong earlier today, I can see the battle to be pretty close. On the whole, my guess is Singapore is a length ahead for two reasons. The first is the fact that Singapore street food offers 4 distinct cuisines (Chinese, Malay, Indian & Peranakan/Nyonya) whereas Hong Kong has mostly chinese (although Cantonese + all other great chinese cuisines are on offer). The other is the wide range of food courts that Singapore offers for hungry travellers. These food courts combine the visual variety of many different cuisines with the legendary squeaky-clean environs of that city state. Yup, one length ahead.
Incidentally, there is a rumour that Michelin Guide is on its way to Asia.
I was at the ET Awards do in Bangalore last evening. Everyone but everyone was talking about the big daddies of the future world – China & India. How they will drive growth, how they will reshape geopolitics, how they will change everything. The mood was generally upbeat, as it would be when there is an armchair discussion inside a five star room full of well fed & ‘well drunked’ rich men (mostly).
But I view things with altogether more concern. For I can see the big battle brewing between these two powers that I think will shake the foundations of world civilisation as we know it. I am referring of course to the battle to become the world’s epicurian default setting. In the next decade, lightly done & midly aromatic chinese food with fresh vegetables & mixed meats will meet the the sensory overload of fried + spiced, strongly vegetarian Indian cuisine in an all-out war for hungry mouths worldwide. And the best part is, I have no clue which will win.
But in a ressurective spirit of Panchsheel, let me propose a partnership. As all of us who have travelled to the deepest interior of our land know, there is a diabolical dish whipped up by ‘chotu’ chefs across a million dhabas, that has the potential to bring these two warring parties to the table and create a whole new cuisine that can quite effectively take over the world without shedding an unnecessary drop of ketchup. I am obviously referring to Gopi Manjoori (neeGobi Manchurian), that versatile creation that I can never have enough of.
One of the enduring memories of my childhood is of having to slurp down thin rice gruel whenever I fell ill. Kanji, as rice gruel is called in Malayalam was pretty much the staple food of Kerala for a very long time. But, by the late sixties & early seventies, it had reduced to being the staple food of the less-well-off or the food one had while ill. Of course, it has now been fully supplanted in Kerala by Porotta & Chilly Beef but that is another story.
Cut to another time & another land – seated at the breakfast table. A chinese waiter points to a menu & asks whether I would like to have Congee for breakfast. I decide to try it. Turns out to be the same rice gruel, except it has bits of various meats floating around.
It became clear that the Kanji of my childhood and the Congee of my travels were basically the same thing. So I decided to do some historical research to figure out where it all started. The question was : did Kanji start in kerala and move to china or vice-versa?
The answer turned out to be a surprising one – neither. It seems, Kanji was an ancient dish of the Tamil people. During the colonial conquests of the Tamils, Kanji was shipped out to South East Asia. It struck firm roots in the Malay lands, where it was picked up by Chinese settlers. It is these Malay chinese who took the Tamil kanji to their homeland and made it Congee.
Tamil culture is one of the most ancient in the world. With their strong history of colonising adventures across Asia, the Tamils have spread Indian cultural idioms across the East Asian region. Kanji is just one of those. So, if you have’nt had Kanji yet, do try it. It is vintage India.
Dixon Street is the heart of Sydney’s Chinatown. And with Carolynn, a Singaporean-Chinese as a guide, I landed up at a family-restaurant for a meal. We shuddered at the start – literally. Apparently, right under the floorboards of the restaurant was this massive exhaust fan which boomed & rattled a portion of the floor. So we shifted.
The Peking duck was fine (incidentally, click here to see an earlier post with an interesting Peking Duck video). The first course was the crispy skin, served with just the right amount of meat underneath. The second course was a bit different from the usual – the rest of the duck was served up in an interesting concoction of bean sprouts.
And I was told that, “for an Indian, you are ok with chopsticks” – which was a bit of a relief, considering the number of man-hours spent on training.
Sydney is among the 10-odd china towns I have been to – it is one of the cornier lists I keep. Carolynn who travels a hell of a lot on business, tells me that San Fransisco is probably the best Chinatown in the world. So that is one more objective for me.
Here is another Chinese food video I found on Youtube – this time of Fried Squid Balls being made in Sydney’s Chinatown.
The Crab Shootouts have not produced a definite winner, although Saigon is ahead by a clear length. Ok – let me explain. Nanking on the 2nd floor of Sigma Mall, is the newest chinese restaurant in Bangalore; on Friday, Priya Bala the Time of India food critic wrote of the good crab dishes being produced by Baba Ling the owner. Since I am seriously working on my career as India’s leading “Crab epicure”, it was a remark that needed a response. Continue reading →