India is slowly catching up with the unique dining experience of the Far East
One of my favourite dining experiences last week in Hong Kong was a dim sum meal (yum chaIndia) with Chinese friends. In a bustling restaurant filled with happy, noisy diners, we sat around a large table, ticked dishes off a list and watched the Lazy Susan pile high with bamboo steamers and plates of dimsum of different shapes, sizes and flavours. Continuously-filled cups of fragrant tea accompanied the food; translucent dumplings filled with a variety of vegetables, pork, chicken, and seafood; plump baos stuffed with sweet-spicy meats, cheung fun (rice noodle rolls) and of course the ever-popular fung zao (a�?phoenix clawsa�� or chickena��s feet)! Finally, dessert a�� glistening yellow Hong Kong egg tarts and red bean paste-filled sesame-studded jin dieu. It was a wonderful lunch of discovery.
It also got me thinking how convivial the entire experience was: sharing dishes and refilling one anothersa�� tea cups. As with most Asian dining experiences the accent was on sharing a�� so much more relaxed and intimate than formal dining.
So how does the whole dim sum experience fare in India? I asked the Leela Palacea��s executive chef Mir Zafar Ali, who curates popular dim sum Sunday brunches at his restaurant Zen. a�?The concept is catching on, though nowhere as popular as in Hong Kong,a�? he says. In the Far East, people begin working days byA�8.30 am and finish early, but the entire cycle is much later in India so leisurely meal breaks are rare. a�?In Hong Kong, ita��s about light bites, catching up over tea and a chat with friends during the day, maybe late afternoon. It fits perfectly with theA�lifestyle there.a�?
He has a point. Ritz Carltona��s executive chef Anupam Banerjee has another a�� light, healthy dining, which a dim sum lunch embodies, is here to stay. a�?Dim sum offers a healthful variety of different flavours in one value meal, and shows off the art of the craft,a�? he says, a�?This brings the diner back again and again.a�?
Of course, Indian diners have not yet completely embraced the entire dim sum experience as it exists at its centre, Hong Kong. a�?It will take some doing before we are ready to accept traditional Chinese dim sum like ducka��s feet or ducka��s tongue, chickena��s feet or piga��s stomach here,a�? Ali says, adding, a�?But when our Chinese chef at China XO at the Leela Chennai experiments with these a�� theya��re fantastic!a�?A�Meanwhile, his delicate, flavourful siew long baos and har gaos keep local diners happy.
So the professional chefa��s brigade enjoys traditional dim sum experiences during visits to Singapore or Hong Kong a�� chef Banerjee recommends Din Tai Fung (with its special xiaolong bao), Tim Ho Wan and the Four Seasona��s Jiang-nan Chun in Singapore. He also vouches for his own Lanterna��s dim sum, a fact borne out by the numerous lunching ladies and corporates seen wielding chopsticks over chef David Changa��s edamame dumplings with truffle oil, lobster money pouches, cheung fun and char siu baos. a�?Dim sum isna��t a fad anymore. Ita��s here to stay,a�? he says.