Thursday, October 11, 2012

Ni Hao - Chinese food festival at Sheraton

When you think of Chinese cuisine, if you even remotely know your geography, and club that knowledge with some common sense, then putting these two together, it wouldn't be too hard to deduce that given the vast size of China, there has got to be more than a few variations of 'Chinese cuisine'. And true to that, China can be divided in several culinary zones or regions, each one having something unique for the diners in terms of ingredients used, methods of cooking, as well as the history of the dishes. Although opinions may vary, Chinese cuisine can be divided into roughly 5 culinary zones: 

  • Guangdong and Hong Kong , whose cuisine primarily can be called Cantonese or Yue
  • Beijing and the northern areas, whose cuisine primarily can be called Mandarin
  • Shanghai and surrounding areas, whose cuisine can be called Zhe or Zhejiang
  • Sichuan, or Szechuan, where the cuisine is called Chuan
  • Hunan, in the south-central part of China where the cuisine is called Xiang
  • Cuisines like Jiangsu and Min (from the coastal areas of Fujian) among others
The Sheraton in Bangalore has flown down a Chinese chef, Chef Thi Giang, the Chef de cuisine at Li Bai restaurant at the Sheraton Saigon for 11 days. The fest, that started on the 4th, will go on till the 14th of October. Since Chef Giang is Chinese, the dishes were very much Chinese, not the Indianised version that's peddled at most other restaurants in the city.

Chef Giang is a small man...frail, like someone's skinny grandmother, but don't let those sayings of "never trust a skinny chef" fool you. For just like many a grandmother, Chef Giang has many a culinary trick up his sleeve. His diminutive probably affirms to the fact that good things come in small packages!

Chef Giang Thi

Wonton soup with seafood

The wonton soup with seafood was simply superb. A clear soup, with a sprinkling of scallions and fried garlic along with the wonton and some choice seafood - prawns, squid, and scallops - made this a clear winner. So good was the soup that I actually had two bowls, one at the start of the meal and one at the end.

Wonton soup with seafood along with some of the key ingredients


French 75

One fantastic idea Sheraton came up with was to make drinks based on Chinese philosophy, specifically based on the year you were born in. Since I was born in '83, the year of the pig, my drink was a gin and wasabi drink, as well as a drink called French 75, another gin-based cocktail, from Sheraton's top 100 cocktails. It's really a great thing to see the kitchen team work this closely with the F & B team and implement such wonderful ideas. I think the fact that Sheraton is now experimenting with different ideas, especially on the drink front, is great news to the food scene in Bangalore, because usually everyone focuses on the food, and the drinks are relegated to a proverbial footnote. Apart from that, we were also told about the concept behind this, and how the hotel plans to take this forward based on its success.

The Executive Chef, Bela K. Rieck, came and had a nice, long conversation about food and his philosophy about how food and how he plans to take things forward. The man is a genius. His work ethic is so focused and 'logical', it appealed to the engineer in me.

As for the food, it was lovely, and the Chinese dishes are part of the regular Feast buffet (easily one of the best, if not the best, spreads in the city). Although I tried very hard to restrict myself to only the Chinese dishes, I did end up trying a few other dishes, that were equally good. The salads, chicken and cabbage, as well as the spinach with roasted garlic were good. The idea of supplementing the spinach with garlic was good because not only does it add flavour,, it also helps neutralise the sort of monotonous taste of spinach. Apart from these salads, there were the other salads that are a part of the buffet anyway.

Cabbage and chicken salad

Spinach and garlic salad

Some Chinese ingredients used during the fest

The fish poached in olive oil was light and this sort of cooking technique does justice to the fish and helps keep intact the 'flavour' of the fish. This dish though wasn't par of the Chinese dishes of the fest, and neither was the roasted chicken at the carving station.

Poached fish

Roast chicken

The beef braised and stewed along with mushrooms was divine. I mean, yes, the cow is holy and all that, and so to make sure it continues to remain that way, it needs to be cooked with a lot of care. Loved this dish as well, but again, this wasn't part of the dishes for the Chinese fest.

Stewed beef with mushrooms

The braised tofu in Szechuan sauce was silky and spicy - the tofu being silky soft and the sauce being spicy. The Kung Pao chicken with cashew nuts was nice (wok fried), but I so hoped that there would've been sweet and sour pork that evening.

Braised tofu in Szechuan sauce

Some veg dish with broccoli

Kung Pao chicken with cashew nuts

The steamed fish in broth with pork fat was mind blowing...simply fabulous! This was one of the other dishes that I had twice, and I think it was my favourite dish of the evening. That broth...oh man, pork fat does lend such a wonderful and magical flavour to everything. There was another soup on offer, a lotus root with sweet corn in a pork broth. Unfortunately I don't seem to have a photograph of it, but that soup was equally brilliant. Normally, I'm not a big fan of the lotus root (sorry, I hope some jobless person doesn't sue me saying I'm disrespecting the national flower's root!), but in this case, the soup was really very good. I think anything cooked with pork automatically tastes better.

For desserts, the Chinese dessert that was on offer was something that has an acquired taste, and so although I did try a little and didn't find it too bad, I didn't go for seconds. I did, however, make my way to the teppanyaki ice cream counter to have some ice cream mixed over a cold stone and served to me. I didn't want to sample the other desserts, because that would've spoilt the taste of the Chinese food I had, so I opted to play safe. So overall, excellent food and great service at Feast. Stay tuned for more such fests at Sheraton (there's an Italian food festival coming up in November that I am eagerly waiting for).

Steamed fish in broth with pork fat

The veggies for the noodles

My second bowl of soup, along with the noodles with the XO sauce

Dessert...very acquired taste :)

Last two days of the fest...go fast! :)

Sheraton Bangalore at Brigade Gateway, 26/1, Dr Rajkumar Road, Malleshwaram-Rajajinagar, Bangalore. Phone: +91 80 4252 1000

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