April 22, 2010

Asian Flavours Part One: Spicy Grandma meets Indochine

For the past two weeks I've been on the road in Asia. Starting in Beijing, my travels have taken me to Shanghai, Hangzhou, Guangzhou and finally Singapore. Travelling on business is never easy; and airplane food is hardly gourmet. But still I’ve managed to see some amazing sights, and have some amazing meals, complete with wacky menu descriptions, unusual tastes, and the hilarity of ordering by “sign and point” (not to mention trying to navigate room service orders).  The way that food manages to connect us to one another - across very different cultures and languages - is one of my favourite things about travel.

Spicy Grandma Restaurant
Beijing Dongcheng District, xin Dongon
Market Quniou North Six-storey 609

If your vision of an authethic Chinese restaurant is one where all things weird and wonderful are on the menu, Spicy Grandma is your stop. Want whole baby turtle? Check.  What about goose tongue? Got it. Hmm - even a bit of snake on offer. Spicy Grandma has it all.  The staff's English is spotty, so we're (very) thankful for the large photo album-style menu, replete with succinct and slightly "off" English captions.

"Gluttonous" frog, courtesy of Spicy Grandma website

Beijing is famous for its roast Peking duck, so that's the first order of business.  This version is Camphorwood and Tea Smoked Duck, and yup - it's clearly recognizable as duck.

Deep-fried baby pork ribs somehow seem appealing too (why not, after a 13 hour flight?), and we round off our meal with sauteed pea shoots and eggplant.  And not just any eggplant - this dish is called Burns the Eggplant in Tile. I mean - really - how could you NOT order that dish just to see what it was? 

Well, actually, we can see what it might look like - an interesting presentation on utilitarian tin foil.  When it arrives, the dish lives up to its advance billing, looking exactly the same as the photo.  It is deeply delicious, the sauce fragrant and garlicky.  We use our steamed rice to soak it up. 

The next day affords us very little time to see much of Beijing, but we manage a quick trip to Tiananmen Square.  The day is beautiful and sunny and the square is full of Chinese tourists, taking photos of the stern very young military guards on duty, the massive monuments and each other.

Multi-generations are travelling together, grandma shepherding young children, grandpa holding grandma's purse as he strolls slowly behind.  The rest of the week is a blur, on a plane or train every day, the rain and bitter northern China weather dampening our spirits and making the jet lag linger longer than usual.  Arriving in Singapore to 35°C from frigid Guangzhou feels like a benediction.  We can't wait to put on lighter clothing and eat outside. 
If Spicy Grandma was China unplugged, Indochine is sleek and sexy Singapore glamour.  Reflecting the unique diversity of Singapore, everything tastes fresh, looks wonderful and is enhanced by the perfect little breeze, the glittering skyline and the wonderful company of my colleagues.

The view from Indochine

From bottom up and counter-clockwise: Vit Quay Gion Ton Kin (Fresh Duck Breast à la Ton Kin): Duck breast fillets grilled with herbs and spices, served with crispy basil leaves, crispy rice noodles and aromatic sweet sauce; Rau Xao Thap Cam (Stir-fried vegetables with basil and chilli): Fresh mixed vegetables seared with herbs and chilli; Cambodian Style Chilli and Basil Chicken: Tender chicken prepared in red chilli, holy basil and garlic sauce.

I especially like the way the menu describes the chicken dish: The aroma of this dish is a true indication of its flavour. After eating this, you may find your mind wandering into the world of the ancient ones who had the ability to create temples and structures that to this day remain unchallenged as great monuments.

I don't know that I am inspired to build temples, though...

Ca Chem Hap Chahn (Steamed Sea Bass with Lemon Juice): Whole sea bass steamed in lemon juice, garlic, coriander, and red chilli

Empty dishes; full stomachs; happy people

 Sebastien - our wonderful server, who chose all the dishes and served them with gracious hospitality

Stay tuned for Asian Flavours Part Two: Chili Crab!