When people think of Chinese food, they tend to think of diced meat and vegetables fried in an oily wok over a roaring flame. But Mainland China’s the recent Clay Pot Festival drew on Chef Ram’s knowledge to introduce a very different kind of Chinese cooking. Legend has it that dishes cooked slowly in clay pots were invented to restore the appetite of one of China’s early emperors. The cooking technique is healthier than frying, using much less oil, and allows the different aromas of the dishes to remain intact.
The braised chicken with orange and black bean at the festival which ended this past Sunday, showcased the cooking method’s potential to produce tender meat saturated with flavour. The sauce beautifully balanced the pungent black beans with the sweetness of orange. It was the slight, tingling spice from chillies that carried the sauce beyond the usual ‘sweet and sour’ combinations.
A pot of Hunan chilli prawns (Rs. 495) was a little less exhilarating. The prawns were nice and plump but they didn’t really combine with the sauce all that effectively. Although this sauce had the earthy brown colour characteristic of dishes from China’s Hunan region, it lacked that tantalising spiciness which also makes them so distinctive.
However, this was more than made up for by the drunken chicken, a legendary Chinese dish that’s virtually impossible to find elsewhere in India. It is prepared by soaking small cubes of chicken for over four hours in Chinese wine so that their toughness breaks down and they emerge meltingly tender and full of the wine’s potent fruity flavours. The dish was a good example of how Chinese food can also offer some very subtle flavours, alongside radiant sweet and sour and sizzling chilli.
Besides, the two vegetable pots were also satisfying accompaniments. The exotic vegetables in chilli basil sauce had baby corn cooked al-dente to hold their freshness. The dish was made more interesting than the standard Chinese vegetable dishes by the liberal use of fresh basil which gave its sauce an earthy texture. Similarly, the other dish, Yuling’s hot and numbing vegetables, gained added piquancy from the numbing spice of Sichuan peppercorns.
Overall, the clay pot dishes offered further proof that Mainland China, at Greater Kailash Part II, can produce some of the most interesting Chinese food in India. The restaurant’s décor matched the restrained interpretation of Chinese style shown in the food, with simple paper lanterns and smoked glass screens.