If we have to choose the most popular cuisine in our country, without a doubt the Chinese cuisine would win hands down. Having stormed the country in the early 80's, Chinese food has become an integral part of our gastronomical history as any other regional food. I have serious doubt if there would be a single person who has not had a taste of or heard of Chinese staples like Chow-mein or Chilli Chicken or sweet and sour or Momos. It might not be the most 'authentic' of Chinese food but it is the Chinese food that we Indians have grown to love. I remember during college days nothing used to be more satisfying than having a hot plate of noodles topped with spicy Chicken Manchurian or sweet and sour (without a doubt loaded with MSG but who cared during those days!!) from the mobile van parked outside the gates. If you did not want to have it there, you could conveniently get it 'parceled' and relish it in the comforts of your room. Those were the days!!
Even today, going out for a meal together as a family our first choice of meal is most often Chinese. Of course, I have moved much beyond the stereotypical American Chopsuey and the greasy chowmein and spicy sauces as one realizes authentic Chinese food is all about lightly cooked food, delicate balance of flavors and freshness of ingredients (and strictly no MSG).
My fondness for Chinese food landed me at The House of Ming at The Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi, which offers some of the city's best selection of chinese dishes, to attend a specially held Bloggers table. The House of Ming had newly appointed Chef Jian Zhou, who had meticulously crafted a new menu, including a wide variety of appetizers, soups, main course and desserts. Chef Jian hails from China and brings with him over two decades of culinary expertise.The cuisine showcased at the House of Ming is primarily from the Canton and Sichuan regions where the Sichuan style offers hot and spicy fare, Cantonese cuisine alluring the palates of those who prefer light subtle flavors. I couldn't wait to see what signature touch had Chef Jian added to the premier restaurant's already popular menu.
The restaurant's classic decor and is reminiscent of Zen simplicity. The moment you enter the restaurant you immediately feel a sense of peace and tranquility looking around at the pristine white decor. Even the crockery, the wall hangings, the porcelain vases are all done in hues of green, blue and white as these colors have a great significance in the Ming dynasty history. Blue represents peace, stability, tranquility, unity and immortality.
Delayed due to some unforeseen circumstances, by the time I reached the restaurant, others were well into their first course of appetizers. Of course the staff was nice enough to serve whatever I had missed along with the main course. Amongst the appetizers were served Lamb cumin, Scallops with glass noodles, Crystal mixed vegetable dumplings and Pan fried Mushroom Dumplings with colocasia sticks. I loved the dumplings which were really plump and juicy with a really thin outer covering. The Lamb Cumin was a revelation for our tastebuds. Flavored with roasted cumin powder and coriander the lamb was tender and bursting with flavor from the freshly grounded spice. When we asked the chef about his unusual choice of cumin spice in the lamb dish he told us how many years back, when working in Beijing, a regular customer had requested him to make a lamb dish with cumin. After that the dish became really popular there and the chef has continued making it.
For soups, there was Chicken Grain Soup and Vegetarian Spinach and Tofu Soup. Chicken Grain Soup was a clear soup with coral mushrooms and small dumplings with filling of chicken mince. While I felt the chicken soup could have done with a little more flavor, the Vegetarian Spinach and Tofu Soup was delicious. With small pieces of tofu in the soup the fried garlic on the top gave it a lovely punch. It was healthy and wholesome - something that I would love to have on a cold winter day.
The mains started with Sweetcorn Chilean Sea bass Guangdong style and Kung Pao Chicken. The fish was soft and flaky and tasted really nice. The chef had given his own twist to the Kung Pao chicken. He had made it in Canton style and the dish was little sweet. Though the lamb was cooked to perfection, I must say I prefer my spicy version better. White Chicken with Sichuan Mala sauce, we were told was a special chicken in China where it was made in white sesame water which was reduced further to make the white sauce for the chicken. What really stood out for me was the Twice cooked Spicy Pork with White Leeks and Sliced Tenderloin with Oyster Sauce. Both these dishes were winners. Twice cooked spicy pork, a classic Sichuan dish, had enhanced flavors from the fermented chilly and Shaoxing wine. Nice and spicy it left your tastebuds tingling and begging for more.
Equally popular were the Eggplant in Yu Xiang Sauce and Home Style Silken Tofu. Eggplant in Yu Xiang sauce were wok fried pieces of eggplant tossed in a spicy, sweet and sour sauce. According to the chef, in chinese cuisine the eggplant is an excellent variant for someone who does not eat meat. The fried Tofu was silken smooth and tossed with peppers and spring onions and flavored with chilli oil. Normally not a huge fan of eating tofu, this was one dish I really liked. Also served was Crackling Greens with crackling tasu. Fresh mixed chinese greens with crispy fried Soya bean crumbs will certainly appeal to those looking for healthier options.
The Dessert an assortment of Red Bean Cake, Carved Fruits and Lotus Paste Stuffed Golden Fried Lychees had a beautiful presentation but the taste was a disappointment to me. The Red bean cake was too dense and the fried lychees just did not do anything to enhance the flavor of the Red bean cake.
All in all, there were some hits and some misses in the menu but on the whole it was a great dining experience and an absolute delight to meet the new Chef Jian Zhou and taste his delectable creations. There were lots of interesting dishes on the menu, for instance the Twice cooked Pork, Eggplant in Sichuan suce and the sliced Tenderloin with oyster sauce which were simple dishes but stood out for their outstanding flavors and textures. These are the dishes that I would go back for again and again.
Scallops with glass noodles
Vegetarian Spinach and Tofu Soup
Chicken Grain Soup
Sweetcorn Chilean Sea bass Guangdong style
Chicken Hakka Noodles
Yong Zhou fried rice
Kung Pao Chicken
Chicken with Sichuan Mala sauce
Home Style Silken Tofu
Sliced Tenderloin with Oyster Sauce
Red Bean Cake, Carved Fruits and Lotus Paste Stuffed Golden Fried Lychees