If Vizag is good for one thing, it’s the plethora of “food festivals” – large posh hotel chains that put on themed buffets. The Indian ones are quite authentic and considering what a small hick town this really is, the festivals showcasing other cuisines are not too bad. Last night we went for the Novotel’s Chinese Food Festival. Some of the dishes had the ingredients of authentic dishes, like lotus root, masquerading under the flavours of the “Punjabi- Chinese” version that is ubiquitous on every Indian street corner. Here’s some of the dishes that we sampled.
At the Novotel’s buffets I feel you get a lot variety for your buck. There are at least ten to fifteen different mini-starters and 5 to 7 desserts. We actually went for this food festival twice, because for Rs.650 we thought it was worth it. The first time round we tried everything and got incredibly full. We were more savvy second time round and were only going to go for what had tasted really good. Surprisingly, the entire menu, save a few dishes had changed. So once again, we had to sample many more dishes than was worth the calories.
We began with the crispy vegetarian wantons, the salt and pepper fish and the obligatory drums of heaven. The wonton pastry was thin and light, the vegetable filling quite plain. The drums of heaven tasted like any Drums of Heaven at any Indian-chinese restaurant.The salt and pepper fish was a winner – peppery and you could still taste the fish but I’d have preferred a more crunchy tempura style batter.
The flaky fish and crunchy noodle scored on texture but not on taste. It was hard to tell what flavours they were going for.
I love a good green bean, and with sesame seeds and what tasted like Siracha, (a thai chilli sauce), this was light, refreshing and crunchy.
The wild mushroom, which they claim was Shitake, in soy and chilli, with a cherry tomato that added nothing to the dish, was a disappointment. The dressing lacked flavour and definitely needed salt. The first time round we had a much better button mushroom with sesame seed and soy which captured an earthiness or what they call the fifth taste the Japanese word, “umami” (the other four being sweet, sour, bitter and salty).
The Chicken Snow White soup, essentially chicken broth with egg whites, and a whole array of condiments that you could add to the broth was the best dish of the night. There were spring onions, coriander, prawns, chicken, red chillies, green beans and carrots and garlic chips that had been deep fried just the right amount to bring out its sweetness rather than bitterness. On his second round at the soup, the DH overheard some locals completely perplexed that one could have prawns and chicken in the same soup (praaawnoo, chickenoo oru soupoo isthinoooo uuooo loo uu oo, something something ooo, ooo). So much for the sophistication of Vizag.
For mains, we went with Garlic bok choi with mushrooms and the eggplant in a tomato kind of sauce which was distinctly not Chinese. I felt the bok choi could have been sliced more finely and have a lot more garlic. But essentially, the sweet bitterness of the vegetable shone through. We don’t get bok choy in Vizag hence the excitement.
The lamb in hoisin sauce was beautifully tender and melt in your mouth. The hoisin sauce was surprisingly not as sickly sweet as I expected it to be.
The desserts were an interesting part of the meal – chinese moon pie, packed with gooey, sticky sweetness, was to die for (I had two slices) and a bland eggy custard tart with shaved almonds whose calories were just not worth it. This was called Chinese Moon Pie but on further investigation I have found out that the real moon pie is called a moon cake and contains red beans. This definitely did not have red beans. This had (from what I could deduce), a filling of dates, almonds, cashews, palm sugar (jaggery) and tasted like that kerala banana halwa but had a grainy, soft texture rather than a wobbly ghee rich flavour. The filling was encased in a rich buttery pastry.
A grass jelly which tasted like a white tea or a jasmine tea to which gelatine had been added. A first for me and while it was light, I don’t think I’ll be ordering that ever. I looked it up and what we had was not grass jelly. Grass jelly is black and made from a herb of the mint family. A mango pudding which was a sickly sweet tetra pak, mango juice with gelatine – more like a panacotta than a pudding. The scooped out payaya ball was the freshness required to cut through that intense sweetness. It tasted like a Mazza pudding – not good.
Overall, the soup and “moon pie” were my favourites. The variety was worth the experience.