Tuesday, June 28, 2011

SHANGHAI SURPRISE

The VVIP launch of One World's Flavours of Shanghai Promotion was graced by
Mr Gao Wei from the Chinese Embassy in Malaysia

The Braised Fish Head Soup with Preserved Vegetable in Claypot was the simplest dish of the evening but its sweet earthy broth was enough to steal the show. In fact it was so good that Phoenix Bee and myself unashamedly picked several of the fish head bones clean; delighting in the tasty morsels that we managed to extract from the boney crevices.

Earlier our dinner was off to a promising start with Three Shanghai-style Appetisers: Blanched Enoki Mushrooms, Braised Gluten Puffs with Wood Ear's Fungus and Peanuts, and Fried Prawns to whet our appetite.

Again the humblest offering amongst the trio - the enoki mushrooms proved to be the best tasting; reminiscent of a tantalising chilled pickle with a mixture of carrot and cucumber strips.

I love the cold, spongy and slightly sweet gluten puffs studded with peanuts and slices of crunchy wood ear's fungus; the whole ensembel was a multi-textural treat.

The mildly briny Shanghainese-style Fried Prawns were equally simple with a nice smoky tinge to them.

All these interesting specialities were whipped up by four guest chefs from The Eton Hotel Shanghai for Zuan Yuan Chinese Restaurant's Flavours of Shanghai promotion which will run from 23 June to 2 July.

The Sauteed Shrimp with Egg White is possibly one of Shanghai's most renowned offerings. I recall eating this particular dish on previous visits to the city that's famously touted as Paris of the East; only the delicate river shrimps were tinier with a lovely pinkish hue. Anyway I don't think anybody's likely to complain about the succulent shelled crustaceans here; they're bigger in size and slickly coated in smooth translucent egg white.

My personal favourite of the evening was the Deep-fried Mandarin Fish with Sweet and Sour Sauce. The presentation was most impressive; one can't help but admire the criss-crossed cutting on each piece of fish ensures it curled up into a chrysanthemum flower shape once fried! Although you have to look out for hidden bones within the sweet flesh, I daresay it's well-worth the trouble. The bright orange-hued sauce with red and green capsicum dices and pine nuts lent it the final flourish.

We found the Sauteed Shredded Beef with Honey Beans superbly tender; suffused with a deep-seated hearty flavour.

The subsequent speciality of Steamed Mushroom with Minced Chicken and Shrimp was on a completely tangent so delicate and ethereal were the dish's nuances.

We were a little thrown off by the Fried Noodles with Beef and Vegetable. The use of our local yellow noodles was most uncharacteristic in Shanghainese cuisine. Perhaps this was possibly an unexpected substitute the chefs had to make in view of our local restrictions.

Bringing the curtains down to our dinner was Sweet Scented Osmanthus Rice Cake - an enticing treat that tasted remarkably similar to Chinese New Year nin koh (steamed glutinous rice cake) only this boast a subtle floral aroma to it.

The Flavours of Shanghai menu features both a la carte and set menus. Ours is priced at RM380++ per table of four persons. For reservations, call Zuan Yuan at 03-7681 1159.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

WRAPPED WITH LOVE

These 'choongs' are no ordinary dumplings... they're Parcels of Love!


After 45 years, I finally learned how to make choong for Duan Wu Jie! Not only did I gain a greater appreciation for my Chinese culture but I had a deeper respect for all family matriarchs who strive so hard to keep such traditions and culinary art alive.

Making those trapezoid dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves are so tedious and labour intensive. This is the first time I actually got into the thick of the action but after several clumsy attempts, I managed to get the hang of it. Even tying up the dumplings need a bit of skill or else you'd find the string slipping off the wrapped parcels when they are being boiled in the pot.

The bamboo leaves have to be soaked for 2 - 3 days and
the water needs to be changed at least twice daily!


Mom-in-law's Hakka so she uses red beans instead of mung beans for the dumpling filling. Both the glutinous rice and red beans are soaked overnight before they are stir-fried with sliced shallots, white pepper and five spice powder.

MIL tells me that if the red beans are not soft enough then they have to be boiled for 1-1.5 hours to soften them further.

Golden orange orbs of salted egg yolks form part of the
choong filling

The filling is pretty much up to one's liking but my mom-in-law's version has red beans, pork, black mushroom, salted egg yolk and dried prawns that had been fried and pounded. My aunt's used to pack hers with pork, mung beans, black eye peas, salted egg yolk, mushroom, dried oyster, dried prawns and chestnuts.

A pot of lean pork cut into cubes stir-fried with black mushroom
which also constitutes the filling

Packets of five spice and white pepper powder for seasoning the dumpling's lieu (filling)

Crunchy pounded and fried dried prawns for additional flavour

Due to health concerns, each choong only has a small portion of salted egg
yolk as lieu to accentuate its overall flavour

It's tricky learning how to fold the leaf into a cone-shaped receptacle to hold the glutinous rice and various other 'lieu' ingredients. You can't pack in too much or too little. One also has to learn how to hold, cover and fold the leaf over different angles so that it forms a nice looking trapezoid.

Notice the difference between the untrimmed and finished versions?
The upper shot has the leaf tips protruding out while the lower shot
shows dumplings in which the tips have been trimmed off.

The dumplings need to be boiled in a pot full of salted, boiling water for about 1.5 - 2 hours.
Sometimes raw glutinous rice that hasn't been stir-fried is used but this means the choongs would have to be cooked for up to 4 hours.

Mid-way through the process, the bunches of dumplings are removed with the top ones placed back at the bottom of the pot while the bottom ones are then placed on top. This ensures the choongs are all evenly cooked.