The check-in area is not a natural place to have food in the airport; so much better to go past immigration and security. But fate willed otherwise since the check-in was delayed for some reason. Demolished another crab, presumably from somewhere in the south china sea. Fate.
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.
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.
(Both photos in the post, courtesy: http://www.chinatownconnection.com/how-to-use-chopsticks.htm)
As many of you would have figured out by now, I am besotted by most things Chinese, starting with Beijing Roast Duck. It is one of my ambitions to spend two separate periods of 6 months each, wandering across India & China. One to re-discover my own country. The second to figure out what is to me the most intriguing other country on earth.
I just found a site which focuses on only Indian & China. Called http://www.2point6billion.com/, it has certainly piqued my curiosity and I intend to dig into it over the next few days.
(One among the 3 trillion videos in cyberspace on India vs China. I selected it for its pretty anchors).
(photo from : http://www.jenzcorner.com/gallery/dragoncity.jpg)
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.
(Chinchalok egg, a Peranakan/Nyonya dish – photo from Singapuradailyphoto)
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 (nee Gobi Manchurian), that versatile creation that I can never have enough of.