Home Chennai The Taj offers flavour and tradition – in a pot

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    Golden Dragon at Taj Coromandel unearths an old Chinese tradition with specials served in earthenware

    With the first bite we are transported on a culinary journey of exquisite delight. The Golden Dragon’s Clay Pot festival begins with a tongue teaser called “Shaomal”. These are tiny dim sums, or morsels of “heart’s delight” as they were called when they were served in the teahouses on the famous Silk Route from China to Constantinople. Our shaomal has an almost transparent skin filled with diced prawn. On the top there is a scattering of orange pearls of fish roe. They quiver on the tongue, as well they might as they are the eggs of the flying fish found in the Indian Ocean.

    Lessons in history
    It takes us back to the early 15th century when the Ming Emperor sent an armada of great Chinese ships into the Indian Ocean. Not just once, but seven times, to check out what countries were open to trade. In command was Admiral Zheng He. His fellow traveller, Ma Huan has left us details of the fabled spice coast of India. Today, six centuries later, recent finds at Kollam in Kerala, have unearthed coins and shards of Chinese pottery. Along the water’s edge, Chinese fishing nets lower their dragonfly forms to catch the day’s leaping catch of the same flying fish. The dim sums are just an introduction to the special treat that Chef Radi Prakash has devised. He calls it a “Clay Pot Festival” and before he dashes off to prepare his first clay pot he explains. “There are two methods of serving Chinese food. One as we all know, consists of many different courses. In the Clay Pot, we cook all the ingredients together and serve it as a complete meal in one. Except that we’ve also created a different sauce to go with each clay pot.”

    Take your pick
    Clay pots come in different sizes, explains Ken Hom, in his book on Chinese cuisine. They have a flat bottom and a close-fitting lid. The base is usually a layer of rice, or noodles, with different ingredients semi-cooked, or braised and placed on top. “The resulting dishes are aromatic and infused with intense flavours,” he notes. With each clay pot that chef Prakash creates we experience some of these flavours. The chicken and sticky rice clay pot is paired with a soya broth and sesame. The tofu and vermicelli has a ginger-coriander sauce to go with it. There are sauces for the duck, and an aromatic shrimp based sauce for the seafood clay pot. Topping the feast is a dessert of divine delight — tiny cigars filled with water chestnuts and lychee ice cream like a floating Chinese ship. Admiral Zheng He would be pleased.

    Starting today, the festival is on till May 4. Prices start from Rs. 950 to Rs. 1,200 (plus tax) for a clay pot meal. Details: 66002827

    -Geeta Doctor

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