Chennai’s attempt at Chinese yum cha culture

It is about more than just dim sums. It is a tradition from further East that Chennai is finally warming up to

They call it the vegan treasure. It looks like a pink flower. Which is fitting, since the idea behind Chap Chay’s yum cha festival is to celebrate spring.

Many among their 51 dumpling varieties on offer seem to follow this theme: the quail and cashed har gow, for instance, is a transparent starch roll with a delicate, purple filling showing through. It is paired with a deep golden-brown chrysanthemum tea after considerable deliberation, for it is the combination of both that sits in the heart of yum cha.

Or so Chef Suraj Rana says. The chef, along with Executive Chef Tamoghna Chakraborty, have much to say about the intricacies of yum cha culture. It is always light food, they insist, like a late breakfast, or an early lunch, or a little something in the evening. It is also, always, a combination of dim sums and tea, but that doesn’t mean that there is any shortage of variety.

Also served here
  • Sian, Vivanta Chennai, OMR
  • HuTong, Alwarpet
  • China XO, The Leela Palace, MRC Nagar
  • Nasi and Mee Asian Canteen, Nungambakkam
  • Stix, Hyatt Regency, Teynampet

The menu at their festival gives a glimpse into just how vast the world of dim sum is — broad varieties include the pan-fried guotie, pan-grilled jian jiao, steamed open siu mai, Cantonese style, see-through har gows, steamed and rice noodle-based cheung fun, broth-laden xiao long bao, dessert-esque tiandian, and, of course, the baozi characterised by its steamed milk buns.

Each of these offer plenty of scope to play around with, when it comes to stuffings, sauces and flavour combinations. A sweet honey pork preparation, for instance, is stuffed inside an even sweeter, spongy bao — this dish doesn’t even try to balance flavours evenly. Instead, it goes all-out to pleasure the sweet tooth, and it works.

Textures are also experimented with, like delicate cheung fun that can barely hold its own weight, but is wrapped around surprisingly sturdy and loudly crunchy shoots of tempura asparagus.

Chennai is no stranger to dumplings. But its appetite has been mildly whetted so far, with only a few quality yum cha options on offer. These are not to be confused with mere dimsum menus — they offer almost an education in taste and variety, and also open up palates to a range of teas to go with.

Tea is key
  • Chap Chay has a few interesting pairings
  • A taut herbal grass tea made with green tea, turmeric and butterfly pea flower, paired with a range of sweet baozis
  • A strong cranberry apple tea, slightly on the sweeter side, that does well with a pan-grilled fatty chicken jian jiao

Yum cha is essentially supposed to have both, and then that something extra in terms of vibe to tie it all together. The term is essentially a verb — some say “yum cha” means drinking tea, while others say it means delicately scarfing dimsum. All seem to agree, however, that it also stands as a noun synonymous with the meal itself, and that the closest Western frame of reference for the uninitiated is brunch: less formal, but as simple or as elaborate as you choose to make it. Albeit not ruled by the clock.

The yum cha festival is underway at Chap Chay, The Raintree, Alwarpet till March 22. Call 42252525.

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Printable version | Apr 2, 2020 2:57:52 AM |

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