I have come to the conclusion that the giant pandas are pretty smart. Just because they look cute and cuddly doesn’t mean that they are not sharp. They eat bamboo — shoots, stems and leaves — through the day, and almost nothing else. I had a very nice bamboo meal earlier this week, and now I know why the giant pandas go for bamboo.
It’s because bamboo tastes good. And especially so when it is served with soft pork belly, succulent chicken, flavoursome fish or spicy tenderloin. I ate all this — and some more — at The Claridges’ Chinese restaurant, Jade. I had been invited to try out the food being served at a bamboo festival, which is on till May 18. The dishes had been prepared by the hotel’s Chinese chef, Linlin Yang — and I was bowled over.
The bamboo had been cooked in all kinds of sauces and spices. For instance, our starter was a dish of stir-fried diced bamboo and chicken in spicy black bean sauce. The bamboo with diced tenderloin was flavoured with anise. And the double cooked pork belly was just allowed to simmer with bamboo shoots and Chinese cabbage.
Chef Linlin tells me that bamboo comes in various kinds in China, and is a veritable part of their cuisine. Even baby bamboo leaves are eaten for they are sweeter than the variety that you get in parts of India. In India, bamboo shoots are mostly eaten in the Northeast. I’ve had some excellent fermented bamboo as part of Assamese food. But I understand that it’s bit of an acquired taste — for the strong flavours of fermented bamboo don’t appeal to everybody. I, however, love it.
This meal presented bamboo with all kinds of flavours. I loved the lightly spiced bamboo pork belly as well as the bamboo and beef, and enjoyed the five-spice flavour that had been infused in a dish of fresh bamboo and ginger cooked with scallops. The scallops, soft and sweet, were perfectly cooked.
I also liked the river sole with vegetables and bamboo. The shoots had been cut in such a way that they looked like the sliced fish. I alternated between the mildly flavoured fish and the bamboo, adding some spicy veggies every now and then — and thought it was a nice mix of flavours.
I suppose at a festival like this, the taste is as important as the look. So the food was served in small bamboo containers and on crockery with pretty green images of bamboo trees. Some of the main dishes were steamed in the bamboo containers, too. And I was told Chef Linlin had designed the bamboo utensils especially for the festival.
There are a host of vegetable dishes with bamboo too — but I managed to avoid them all. But those who like their vegetables could try out the stir-fried young bamboo shoots with spring onion and dry chilli, or fresh tofu and fresh bamboo with pok choi and asparagus.
The prices are high, as befit a restaurant in a luxury hotel. But if you order carefully (rice, one appetizer and two entrees), a meal for two, with taxes, can come for less than Rs.4000. If your rich uncle is in town, you can, of course, have a feast. And if you are the rich uncle, there is nothing like it!
The bamboo food fest at Jade in The Claridges is on till May 18.
The author is a seasoned street food connoisseur