“Dimsum” translates to “touch the heart” in Chinese and my four city China trip through Michelin starred restaurants, local holes in the wall and superb dimsum sure did touch my heart. But the treat to beat all treats was in Beijing. To interview and dine with China’s best chef Tony Lu, who shuns publicity, never meets journalists. He says he prefers to focus his time on nurturing his seven restaurants and two Michelin stars. And in Beijing’s most popular Cai Yi Xuan, ( “the art of dining”) where along with Tony Lu’s menu I had yet another fabulous surprise, our very own dapper Vishal Sanadhya who heads up food and beverage in this iconic hotel. I get a taste of China’s Beijing, Shandong, Guangdong and Zhejiang provinces in this shimmering, glamorous restaurant.
Delightful dimsum of course, plump with flavour and texture. I devour amazing lessons about China’s cuisine incredibly rich culturally, gastronomically and medically. In ancient times, a cooking pot (the ding) was a symbol of political power and in this carnivorous country, I not only ate at many a pure vegetarian restaurant but also in Shanghai’s sublime pure vegetarian Michelin starred restaurant. Tony Lu’s of course. My learning continues.
It does not get more romantic than this, in China. I’m surrounded by the magnificent, shimmering and tranquil West Lake in Hangzhou, as I dine in the award winning Jin Sha. Nestled amidst an exquisite garden along the shores of a lake deemed heaven on earth by explorers of old, Four Seasons Hangzhou is rooted in centuries of dynastic lore. It is a 21st-century luxurious prism through which the past is reflected. It’s luxury amid nature that pampers and the masterful Chinese fare seduces. I sit by the beautiful glassed in dining area of Jin Sha set amid 17 acres of landscaped gardens and interconnected lily ponds and I’m luxuriating in MasterChef Wangyong’s flavour and textural masterpieces be it marinated blackfungus with lilybuds, a dramatic colourful salad of organic vegetables and fruits too. I love the roasted cauliflower with truffle and the simply made pickled radish delights with it’s tangy crunchiness. I also eat the worlds best Crispy chicken with salt here. The dapper Wayne Tan and Alleen Woo helpfully translate and also explain the intricacies of Hangzhou and Shanghainese cuisine.
No wonder Jinsha has been declared the only four-star restaurant in Hangzhou by Forbes Travel Guide and is in the most prestigious list of China’s 50 Best restaurants too.
MY CUP OF TEA
Grown right here is the worlds most fabulous green tea. And I get my first taste of it in Jinsha. I’m feeling like the empress of china sipping on the famous and incredibly addictive and prized Longjing tea which was granted the status of GongCha, or imperial tea, in the Qing dynasty by the Kangxi Emperor. It continued to be the favorite of emperors. And they came specially to Hangzhou where it is grown. Much like champagne even longjing tea to be called longjing has to be grown in Zhejiang province in China, in the West Lake area in Hangzhou or within the Xihu District.
Like most Chinese green teas it is roasted early in processing (after picking) to stop the natural oxidation process, which is a part of creating black and oolong teas. This is done by “firing” (heating in pans) or by steaming the leaves before they completely dry out. So Longjing tea leaves experience minimal oxidation. I love the mellow yellow-green color of the tea when the leaves are steeped in hot water. And the complex long finish.
The tea contains vitamin C, amino acids, and, like most finer Chinese green teas, has one of the highest concentrations of catechins among teas. It is excellent for health, digestion and even weight loss. What can be better than the imperial Longjing tea? It’s the fabulous hightea in which Chef Stanley infuses every pastry and bagel with longing tea. Macaron, green tea cheesecake green tea chocolate mousse and green tea scone too.
Its known as sipping your tea and eating it too.
Right after lunch and high tea, I pay homage to the most sacred, largest and most visited of Buddhist temples Lingyin, located a few minutes drive away. And this temple was founded by our very own Indian monk 1600.years ago. I’m dazzled (in the center of the Hall of the Heavenly King) by the statue of the fat, bare and bellied Buddha with a smiling face – the laughing Buddha.
And then I go into the temple’s restaurant for a taste of the inexpensive and pure vegetarian meal. In the functional, clean eatery, which serves slippery moist prosperity noodles, longevity noodles (10 RMB, roughly Rs 90 each) served in large bowls. After Jin Sha’s dazzling meal, heady high- tea, amid beautiful nature and Lord Buddha’s blessings… I came away feeling rejuvenated and
JINSHA’S PICKLED RADDISH
White radish 1kg//Soy sauce 35 gms/
Monosodium glutamate (optional) 3 gms/ Sugar 75 gms /Dried chilli 1gm /Dark soy sauce 6,5 gms/ Garlic 2 gms
Wash the white radish; peel and cut white radish into julienne. Marinate the white radish with salt for one night than wash off all the salty and spicy flavors. Dry it- Put soy sauce, monosodium glutamate, sugar, dried chili, dark soy sauce and garlic together and boil it until the sugar melts. Cool the sauce. Immerse the raddish in the sauce for 24 hours. Serve it to add crunch and tang to your meal.
Come sizzle with me… in the finest global capital of spice, Sichuan. It is not just the cuisine of China’s Sichuan province but has become the global synonym for the finest spicy food. And I’m fortunate to learn the secrets of this 4000 year old cuisine from the best chefs. And even more to taste the best of the best, in the highly renowned LiXuan restaurant perched in the luxurious landmark of Chengdu, The Ritz-Carlton. A truly seductive taste of Sichuan here is due to their global “scenography” (sense of place) reputation. At this renowned fine dining Chinese restaurant, the dynamic Vito Romeo (who honed his skills under the likes of Alain Ducasse and Joel Robuchon) and Chef Michael impressed with their knowledge and flavors of sophisticated interpretations of classic Cantonese and Sichuanese dishes. I get high on Sichuan’s vibrantly addictive flavors. The chef shares his super recipes of kung pao chicken, ma po tofu… the signature Sichuan dishes. Should you want them please mail firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m rejoicing and laughing. Not only because I bowed in reverence at the original laughing Buddha sacred temple (founded 1600 years ago by an Indian monk) but also because I am immersed in stunningly beautiful nature in China’s most romantic city, Hanghzhou. And here’s the best part. I am feasting on my best Chinese meals in the award winning Jin Sha restaurant which is surrounded by 17 acres of landscaped lush gardens and lily ponds located on the magnificent Westlake. I am luxuriating in MasterChef Wangyong’s flavour and textural masterpieces ( fabulous vegetarian wows too ) and the world’s best crispy chicken with salt. The dapper Wayne Tan and Aileen Woo helpfully translate and also explain the intricacies of Hangzhou and Shanghainese cuisine. And to top this mind blowing experience, is the highly prized (and expensive) longjing tea.
Unmatched fine fragrance, beloved of emperors, superb for health and weight loss too. As though this is not enough, Masterchef Wangyong serves up the most sublime longjing tea crèmebrullee. I’m having my tea and eating it too. Zen paradise redefined!
I’m so excited…here in China, in the finest global capital of spice, I’m sniffing out the spicy secrets of the king of spicy cuisines…Sichuan ( also called Schezwan). In India, not only do we love Chinese food but it’s the spicy Sichuan version that we all enjoy. This ancient cuisine is the cuisine of the South Western Sichuan province of China And here in Chengdu, the fast growing capital of Sichuan I am not only getting a taste of the authentic Sichuan but also learning it’s secrets. And Im doing so in the best of best places and from the greatest most knowledgable chefs.
SPICES…signature Sichuan dishes
Whoa! Big live woks sizzle and I actually take part in a cooking session by the brilliant chefs under the leadership of Master chef Frank Zhuang. All the ingredients are on display in Spices, this vibrant restaurant of the most luxurious landmark of Chengdu, The Ritz-Carlton. A truly seductive taste of Sichuan here is due to their global “scenography” (sense of place) reputation. Here too the local Sichuan flavors are vibrant and palpable and delicious. And the Kungfu tea show is mindblowing.
Here, in Spices, the fiery wok creations and local favorites like Kung Pao chicken, ma po tofu and twice-cooked pork complement delicate dim sum at the live Chinese stations. World cuisines are on offer here too but I am focussed on the Sichuan. Im happily surprised by the exquisite vegetarian masterpieces at the renowned fine dining Chinese restaurant, where the dynamic Vito Romeo (who honed his skills under the likes of Alain Ducasse and Joel Robuchon) and Chef Michael impressed with their knowledge and flavors of sophisticated interpretations of classic Cantonese and Sichuanese dishes. Each time, it’s the unmatched standards of excellence, be it in service or food that dazzle.
In Spices, Vito and Chef Steffen Gube not only guided me through the daily creations inspired by Chengdu’s rich “Tea Culture” but also of course the step by step cooking of the two main signature Sichuan dishes… Mapotofu and Kung Pao chicken.
Ooh and I’m addicted to the signature Kung Pao chicken (named after Ding baozen, governor of Sichuan in the Qing dynasty. His title was Gongbao, literally “palace guardian”)
Chef Frank’s KUNG PAO CHICKEN
Ingredient: Chicken breast, fried peanuts, vegetables, chilli peppers, Sichuan peppercorns, ginger, sugar, vinegar, Shaoxing wine
Method: Marinate the diced chicken in Shaoxing Wine and salt for 10 minutes. Rinse it. / Boil the oil on low fire, drop peanuts into the wok then deep-fried until golden brown and take out for later use / Heat the oil over big fire, add in the chicken, flash-fry till chicken turns white and take out for later use/ Add the chilli peppers, Sichuan peppercorns, soy, sugar, vinegar and vegetables into the wok and stir to mix them all / Put back the pre-cooked peanuts and chicken into the wok, mix everything up and dish up. Yum!
THE SOUL OF SICHUAN CUISINE
I’m excited to learn the basics of this bold spicy 4000 year old Sichuan cuisine in the Sichuan province itself. Guided by brilliant chefs Michael and Frank and also in the worlds first museum dedicated to a regional cuisine. If Sichuan pepper and chilli pepper are the heart of Sichuan cuisine, then doubanjiang Chilly Bean paste is the soul. Sichuan’s version is made with dried fava beans, also known as broad beans, mixed with fresh red er jin tiao chilli peppers and salt (and wheat flour) and fermented.Did you know that this chilly bean paste is as painstakingly made as champagne? ..almost.
They have different vintages for it…put it through “dewing” flipping” (like the champagne riddling) and “sunburning” I happily only take part in this “flipping” amid the stunning array of standing pots of fermenting chilli bean sauce (doubanjiang), which is churned twice daily for a year, with exposure to the sun and open air.
Here’s the soul of this addictive “chillybean paste”. Sichuan peppercorns were used over 2500 years ago. Garlic was brought in when the trade route was opened in the Han dynasty 2000 years ago, Chillies were introduced during the Ming dynasty 400 years ago. And so was born the Chilly bean paste.
P.S. Thank you Vito Romeo, Sue Fan and Chefs for this authentic taste of Sichuan…and it’s seven basic tastes…Salty, sweet, bitter, sour, heat (from chillies) numbness ( from Sichuan peppercorns) and spiciness.
Here, in Beijing, I’m tasting centuries of tradition and modernity at the same time. Dipping into China’s beloved comfort food, the boiling authentic hot pot along with Beijingers. And for the first time this favorite comfort food is being served in chic and sleek surroundings in Rosewood’s Red Bowl. Chef Zhu Qing not only ensures that the freshest of ingredients are served up to cook in the broth but also offers a fabulous choice of broths… Spicy Sichuan, Yuanyang, traditional Beijing to innovative options too. The surprise is the pure vegetarian and deliciously intense wild mushroom broth, The chef explains the intricacies of the Chinese cuisine which the charming Jessica Wang translates as we dine in this buzzy eclectic “comfort meets contemporary” restaurant. Not only are we joined by food and beverage head, Paawan Engineer, but I’m also delighted to discover that the managing Director Marc Brugger loves India and has an Indian wife. And powering this leading cutting edge international luxury hotel group as president is our very own Radha Arora. India shines!