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Dreams of dim sum

Chef Anthony serves a dim sum meat to die for — Photo:K.Gopinathan.

AS A foodie, there's a dream meal I've often longed for. A never-ending array of dim sum, momos, wonton, ravioli, and other steamed delicacies with fragrant, savoury fillings. So, in a sense, the ongoing Dim Sum set lunch (September 1 to 12) at The Oberoi's Szechwan Court, the brainchild of Chef Anthony Huang, was pretty close to a dream come true.

For a healthy lunch on the run between 12.30 and 2.30 p.m., the steamed and fried dumplings, served in pairs mainly from wicker steamers, proved as delectable to the palate as they were easy on the eye. To begin with, Chef Anthony offered Chicken and Prawn Sui Mai, in which the stuffed-to-the-seams minced filling was perfectly cooked within its paper-thin wrapper. If it felt too mild to the tongue, a revolving lazy-Suzy offered sauces including one of chilli-coriander-ginger, tempered with sugar and salt. Divine prawn dumplings followed, their crinkled edges and soft centre yielding hints of five-spice powder and herbs. Fragrant jasmine tea on the house accompanies the meal.

Then came the essential lessons on a platter. In the guise of Chicken Wings, Vegetable Spring Rolls, and Pan-fried Chicken Dumplings. We stop eating for a whole, long minute. For aren't dim sum always steamed fillings in flimsy wrappers? That's the preconception we brought to the table.

"Dim sum are Chinese hors d'oeuvres,' explains Chef Anthony, the hotel's Senior Sous Chef, who has worked for the group's signature Baan Thai, Taipan, and India Jones restaurants. "In China, there must be at least 4,000 varieties of dim sum. That's a very casual estimate. Probably more."

How did they originate? "I'm not sure if this is true," smiles this third-generation chef, "but I believe Chinese mothers of long ago created bite-sized dim sum because their children refused to eat a whole meal."

Chef Anthony, who created a popular dim sum brunch while at Taipan, the fine dining Chinese restaurant at The Oberoi at New Delhi, proves laudably innovative. A first bite of the Chicken Wings convinces us of that. Rich with flavours of soya sauce, five spice, and garlic, the flesh comes away easily, with spicy, tangy undernotes.

The pan-fried dumplings, crisp on one face, smooth on another, are delicious, their onion-laced contents melting in the mouth. The golden spring roll wrappings part to reveal crisp juliennes of carrot, cabbage, and other vegetables, the contrast within and without a stunning match. Sheer manna from a Chinese kitchen.

On our taster menu, two other dishes prove outstanding. A silken slice of steamed tofu, gently afloat in light soya sauce, its acquired smoothness melting into the senses. And braised black mushrooms stuffed with tofu, the pronounced flavour of the wilderness tamed by the subtle soya bean curd.

At an all-inclusive rate of Rs. 550 (vegetarian) and Rs. 600 (non-vegetarian), this set lunch promises a wondrous journey into the familiar rendered an adventure. After sampling it, dim sum will never seem ordinary to you again. That's a promise from ever-smiling Chef Anthony.

But these mouth-watering bites are not the end of his culinary sharing. He follows it up with a choice of a clear chicken or vegetable soup rich with carrots, spring onion, mushrooms and — wontons! It clears the palate, and shifts our concentration beyond the wondrous, never-ending dim sum. Then comes a platter of braised noodles, topped with crunchy vegetables.

Chef Anthony, we find, has still another trump up his impeccable sleeve. Though this cuisine is not known for its desserts, he serves an irresistible one.

Glossy spring rolls that ooze fresh papaya and pineapple, figs and plums, with a dusting of sugar and cinnamon. It's a dessert to die for, served with homemade vanilla ice-cream with a sprinkling of butterscotch under its wedge of dark chocolate.

But is cinnamon traditionally used in China? "Not really, but let's call this new Chinese cuisine," laughs the chef.

"After all, the rolls are filled with plums and figs, the Chinese fruits of plenty." Who needs another word after that superb repast?


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