30 September 2011

dim sum and then some

From left to right: Marinated black fungus with chili and black vinegar sauce, Steamed shrimp dumpling with leek and mushroom, Barbecued pork with honey sauce. (Click on image for larger view.)

The things people say about China aren't entirely untrue. The madness of it... the rushing, the running, the yelling and the spitting... It's all there and it clutches you in a crushing bear-hug from day one. In the beginning it's exhilarating. Everything you've never seen before keeps rushing past, and your senses prickle and come alive in response.

But when the crush doesn't stop, when the stranglehold of excitement and stimulation just doesn't let go, you start to understand the value of it all falling away. You look for those few moments when the spitting stops, when pausing to catch your breath doesn't set you in the sights of the next distracted driver.

From left to right: Steamed glutinous rice roll with shrimp and yellow chives, Marinated mini cucumber with garlic and sweetened black vinegar, Baked shredded white radish puff pastry, Deep-fried shrimp and peach roll wrapped with rice paper. (Click on image for larger view.)

These gentle spaces are rare but they can be found. And when they involve food, they are the best kind of moments. Because serenity makes food taste different. It makes meals lighter, brighter, almost delicate. It is a different kind of eating -- not at all reminiscent of the messy passion that comes with street food, or the fire and joy that burns in small kitchens tucked into great neighborhoods. But it is still it's own kind of wonderful.

Chengdu's Shangri-la Hotel (which in Chinese sounds a lot like Shang Guh Li La) has a bright, open space, the Shang Palace Restaurant, where I have yet to see -- or hear -- anyone start to hack up a lung, let alone spit it out. And in addition to the smooth quiet it also promises fantastic dim sum.

From left to right: Braised diced chicken and bean curd with salted fish in clay pot, Glutinous rice with chicken, BBQ pork and mushroom wrapped in lotus leaf, Poached chicken with scallion and fresh green Sichuan pepper in shallot oil and soya sauce. (Click on image for larger view.)

Order whatever you want. And do it over and over because this is what brunch is about. Mixing the savory and the sweet. Looking for that mix that says "it's almost too late for breakfast but still too early for an afternoon nap." Three bites of custard tart for every two bites of shrimp dumpling.

From left to right: Baked egg tartlet with milk, Chilled sago cream with pomelo and mango, Steamed egg custard bun, Fresh fruit. (Click on image for larger view.)

Last weekend we sat at a table by the window and ate our way to a perfect start of a Saturday. And the best dish? The steamed egg custard buns. Each white puff at its center hid a bright yellow magic that tasted like cake batter. Sweet and sticky and a little bit salty. 

These are the foods that can make a weekend even better... and the feeling lingers even after you return to the cacophony of the real world. (At least for a few minutes.)

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