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.
God, save me from cut-jeans bimbettes taking us on the world’s most boring journeys. Why, oh why do we have the extraordinarily yawn-inducing travel shows on Indian television?
Good travel shows have a few obvious elements. The first is an interesting anchor – someone with a personality; which means he or she has had a life, has seen the world, has a fresh viewpoint on things and still has the nous to tell a tale. 25 year old cheerleader types from the chattering classes of Delhi & Mumbai DO NOT fall into this category. Neither for that matter does tired editors of news channels. The next requirement is an underlying theme. Food is a great theme. Hotel detectives, the idea of checking out hotels incognito, is another theme that works. Why not also (Frater’s) ‘Follow the monsoon’ or (my very own) ‘Follow the Indian mango trail’ as themes for a uniquely Indian travel show? Or maybe something around Nostalgia. I can think of at least 10 other interesting thematic possibilities. Hey guys, there is no harm in thinking. The last requirement is a storyline that incorporates real human beings in believable situations. Considering India is bursting with interesting characters at every turn, this should be not too difficult to do.
And just in case money is the problem, here is my plea to the bean counters at TV channels, – please release more budgets. Indian travellers are growing up, they are big-spenders, your advertisers salivate at the prospect of reaching out to them – so well made shows with enough money spent is a good investment.
Kunal Vijayakar & the Times Now team do a reasonable job with the Foodie Show, which is the only Indian travel show I can stomach (so to speak). I am waiting for more like this.
So you have done well this year. The bonus has been good, your spouse is making good money & the stocks you invested in have zoomed up with the index. It is time to reward yourselves. How about a Mont Blanc Pen? Or maybe a set of fancy wheels? Or maybe a ballooning trip over the African veldt? or book yourself for one of the first sub-orbital flights with Virgin Galactic?
In my regular conversations with users & members of HolidayIQ, many of whom have the classic ‘successful’ profile I outlined in the first para, I now find that unique experiences are taking over from fancy products as the real self-indulgences. And it is clear that in the early 21st century India, unique travel has become THE way of self expression of the successful. Move aside, Mont Blanc & Maserati. Welcome to Masai Mara & the Moon (soon, hopefully).
Over the last few years, I have given up on business travel and got into some serious holidaying. So I get asked this question quite a lot – what are your suggestions for a holiday this season? So, in answer to the key existential angst of our time, here is my personal list of 5 great travel escapes for Winter 2007.
Watch the whales migrate at Byron Bay, Australia. One of the world’s most scenic spots, home to a great ‘littoral rainforest’ is also the setting for one of nature’s amazing events.
Soak in the atmosphere of true ‘ancient India’ on the banks of the Betwa and Maheshwar, ancient rivers of Madhya Pradesh. Stay in classily refurbished palaces & forts right on the waters edge.
Bring in the New Year at one of the classiest cities on earth. Be a part of Edinburgh’s Hogamanay, from 29th Dec 2007 to 1st jan 2008
Do a ‘Cantonese crawl’ – explore haute chinese cuisine starting in Hong Kong, Shenzen & Guangzhou and taking in various parts of the chinese coast around the south china sea
Scuba dive in the pristine coral island of Agatti, Lakshadweep. Discover the million shades that lie between Blue & Green.
It is now official – Goa is the biggest vacations spot for Indian domestic tourists. Over the last 3 years HolidayIQ has been tracking its members & users who are amongst the most ardent holiday-goers in India and the data is clear & unambiguous. Goa gets more domestic holiday-goers than any other single location.
My son clambered up on my lap as we launched into the episode where Kubera, the Treasurer to the Gods, invites young Ganesha to a feast. An early reference to Kubera’s greatness is in the description of his wonderful garden, the magical, Chaitraratha.
Gardens are an interesting, repeating motif in mythology & legend. Remember the Garden of Eden, where man got knowledge & was banished to earth? To me, nothing so demonstrates man’s supposedly evolutionary superiority as his creation of gardens. And as I wander the world, I keep a definite eye out for them.
A garden I have always wanted to see but have not yet managed to is ‘Lunuganga‘, a tropical garden created by the Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa. Bawa was an interesting character. After reading English at Cambridge & Law in London, he went on to a career at the Bar in Sri Lanka. Then at the age of 38 he shifted gears to become an architect. Lunuganga, the garden Bawa created outside Colombo, started out as a rubber estate, which he lovingly and meticulously worked on for over 50 years, turning it into a world- renowned tropical paradise. What a fascinating enterprise that must have been.
A favourite fantasy of mine is to create a flowing garden on a large tract of land atop a barren hill overlooking the sea. I can see it clearly. The weather is neither hot nor cold, but of course, is humid. I am sure I will recognise the place when I see it. My suspicion is that it is in one of the islands of Indonesia – possibly even a remote corner of Bali. Or maybe it is a little atoll in the Pacific. The search goes on.