Imagine a game among the cuisines of the world where a cuisine wins points every time someone correctly identifies its origin. With Chinese cuisine anywhere in the reckoning, you can be sure the game would be up pretty soon. It would only have to betray the hem of a dim sum or the ankle of a flash-fried noodle, and other contenders would be out the door. In fact the pre-eminence of Chinese culinary virtuosity is not a phenomenon of only recent times. For many centuries now, it has been maintained, though naturally disputed, that noodles were brought to Italy from China by Marco Polo. Whatever the truth of that, most of us can agree that noodles and dim sum lead the Chinese culinary brigade.
The history of noodles in China dates back to 100 AD, and with such a headstart it’s no wonder they’ve developed the largest variety of noodles. There are over a thousand types of noodles available in China today varying according to shapes, ingredients used – rice, soy bean, egg, wheat, buckwheat – and preparation methods – stir-fried, deep-fried, boiled, steamed. But having the strands as long as possible is the most auspicious way to have it, since tradition has it that the length of noodles symbolises longevity. With the amount I’ve had in all this while since childhood, I should be going at it for a long time to come. Talking about childhood, it never fails to strike me how children go for noodles at the drop of a hat. Noodles provide a way out to many parents dealing with cantankerous kids and also provide exciting options for their own requirements. Soon it becomes an introduction to the sophistications of Chinese cuisine and its wider revelations: Cantonese, Mandarin, Hunan or Szechuan, and even styles beyond the region.
But if noodles have been such a sensation, dim sum can’t be far behind. It could very well be the mother of all comfort foods and in fact translates into “heart’s delight”. It’s easy to see how it started out as a snack of choice for hungry travellers dropping into roadside taverns for a cup of tea. It’s undoubtedly a snack for all seasons, but it can also serve as a meal. While many of us may have only ever tried the most basic vegetable or meat filling, there is actually quite an amazing range of dim sums to consider: paper shrimps, stuffed bean curd, shrimp toast and water chestnuts.
Here’s your chance to relish an amazing array of dim sum and noodles: head to Pan Asian at ITC Maratha, Mumbai, between 20th January and 28th January for an inspired culinary performance by Chef Wang Peng that is bound to delight your senses.