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Yang can cook!

Chef Yang is proud of the fact that he dishes out authentic Chinese fare.

ONE OF my early memories of Chinese food include being told at a small restaurant in interior Kerala many years ago that Chinese cuisine would not be available since the cook had gone to Sabarimala. From then to regularly gorging on Hong Kong chicken and chowmein now, my liking for Chinese food has grown somewhat.

However, Szechwan fried rice doesn't hold your fancy here, gobi Manchurian is passé, and Chinese chopsuey just isn't good enough for Chef Yang Jiayu. The stress is on authenticity at the Chinese food fest at the Mahjong Room at the ITC Hotel Windsor Sheraton and Towers.

"Good or bad is not relevant. What you get at a lot of restaurants here is Indian Chinese food. But this is authentic Chinese cuisine, and that is what is important," says Chef Yang. A fact well established when one diner, obviously Chinese, repeatedly asked to know if the restaurant served only Chinese food and if the chef was Chinese.

The ambience of the Mahjong Room is very contemporary, with distinct strokes of reference to the East, such as the large yellow-clothed chandeliers. The warm yellow lighting and "Oriental" music (I could have sworn that some of the pieces I heard came straight out of The King and I) set the tone for a relaxed evening. The Fengshui bamboo and scented candles add a touch of both modern and traditional Chinese setting.

Soups and starters

The meal starts typically with a serving of jasmine tea. The tealeaves are processed along with the flower, the chef explains. And though the flavour is rather strong, the tea itself is light and soothing.

The starters are worth a try, the tofu being particularly delicious. Deep-fried and tossed in yellow bean paste, it resembles the paneer dishes back home. But it is crisp on the top and soft and creamy inside, and melts like butter in the mouth.

The soups are a light affair and will not kill your appetite for the main course. And don't pass out if you see the words "black fungus" on the menu — it's only a type of mushroom and is perfectly safe to eat.

Main course

The main course offers a great deal of choice from seafood to poultry and lamb. And if you like the twang of sweet 'n' sour, try the menggu chaa yangrou — the fried lamb with onions, Mongolian style. The coated and deep fried lamb pieces have a distinct sweetness without being overpowering.

And for the vegetarians, the chef promises some surprises with bitter gourd (yes, you read it right). "Chinese people eat a lot of kerala (that's what the chef called karela, bitter gourd). We even make soup with it and it is not bitter at all. But you must choose the light green ones," Chef Yang advises.

The jianjio si — fried potatoes with green chilli — is also a nice alterative to regular potato dishes. The crisp juliennes are almost like French fries of the East.

For seafood lovers, the chef recommends qingchao xiaren — sautéed shrimp with diced vegetables. However, it might be wise to stay away from the fish if you are used to having your seafood well cooked. Most of the fish dishes are either boiled or steamed and so, still have a rather raw aftertaste.

"We follow the theme of yin and yang when we prepare food as well. There is a balance in everything," he says. "Chinese food is very light. Even non-vegetarian dishes are balanced with enough vegetables. And we use very little oil. Not like Indian cooking with butter and ghee."


To top off your meal, try some of the innovative desserts that the chef has whipped up for the occasion. "Our food is normally little sweet. So we don't have desserts," he says. However, on offer at the festival are some special recipes such as fried ice cream and milk and pineapple pancakes.

The festival is a prelude to the Mahjong Room's transformation into the Shanghai Club. The restaurant will be revamped and redecorated to suit the mood and aesthetics of a Shanghai club. And Chef Yang will work on making the menu a 100 per cent Chinese.

When asked about modifying the food to suit the Indian palate, Chef Yang says that barring a few "national favourites" such as chilli chicken, he tries to keep his dishes as authentically Chinese as they come. And as a parting gift, he says "romba nandri" as we leave.

The a la carte food festival is on at the ITC Hotels Windsor Sheraton and Towers till October 10, 7.30 p.m. onwards. For reservations, call 22269898, Extn. 1484.


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