Our first meals in Chennai felt like we’d already boarded the flight and headed east – way East. First Japanese and then South Korean food, Chennai was offering international South East Asian food and we were lapping it up.
First stop for lunch was Teppan at Benjarong, the Japanese Teppanyaki restaurant. Located above a Thai place called Benjarong and next to the French Loaf bakery on TTK Road, Alwarpet. Teppanyaki is a form of Japanese cooking done on a large iron hot plate or grill. The dining experience is completed by the chef whose clownish banter and circus displays, juggling eggs and condiment,s catching salt shakers in his chef’s hat, joking with customers, flipping shrimp in to their mouths are all essential. Customers sit around a large rectangular grill and each set of people have their food cooked separately in the order they came but everyone is there for the show.
For us, Chef Joseph spun eggs on the grill then threw them up in the air on the flat blade of his cleaver knife; juggled eggs in the air, caught them on the edge of a cleaver, then tapped the eggs open and drew out a heart shape complete with arrow through it for us, the couple at the grill. Salt and pepper shakers rhythmically tap danced on the grill then landed in his chefs hat with an enthusiastic “BONZAI” from us, the crowd. The more we encouraged him, the more flamboyant he got.
We ordered the seafood and the tenderloin menu. At first the prices seemed a little steep but the portions were filling and generous. It started with a salad of greens, Japanese mayonnaise and a crunchy topping that looked like panko crumbs but weren’t. Next came the beef tenderloin on a skewer with leeks in a luscious oyster/soy sauce.
The seafood starter was a tempura fried jumbo prawn with dipping sauce which was crispy, crunchy and everything tempura should be. Next was a bowl of refreshing miso soup.
Then came the chef on the grill with the main course of beef, chicken, two types of fish (snapper and basa) cooked to perfection. The rice he makes first, with eggs and assorted veges with all sorts of spices, pastes and sake and is divine and very filling. A great atmosphere and perfect for an office outing or a large family gathering – the more the merrier. We were thoroughly entertained. Just when the stomachs were full but the taste buds were yearning for something sweet, we were whisked away to another room for desserts. A stunning array of over 15 small desserts – mousses, parfaits, creme brulee, tarts, custard tarts and cakes all decadent and inviting but nothing particularly Japanese. We had to choose 5 desserts each. For Rs.1300/- each, it was an expensive meal but the theatrics and taste were worth every penny. A meal with drama and reasonable sized portions.
Please click here for another video from Chef Joseph:
For dinner we walked down Chamier’s Road, passed the flyover to the Korean restaurant called Deok Su Gung. You’ll recognise it from the green lights lighting up the trees outside the building which looks like a community centre. It’s not at all fancy but the food is authentic, spicy, saucy and fantastic. A large hotel like reception with cane chairs and garish plastic flowers greet you and we are led by a very Tamilian looking gent in to the restaurant area. On one side are huge (empty) fish tanks and on the other are rows of booths/rooms constructed with Formica boards and curtains for doors. Apparently this is pretty common place in South Korea. So we shared our booth-room with a young Korean lad who barely touched his food. The menu was a gold edged tomb of deliciousness. It was heavy and loaded with pictures, which really help in choosing your food. While the menu is in Korean with English subtitles, the pictures really help in making decisions.
We ordered the pork bulgogi – bulgogi being a standarad South Korean type of barbeque done with beef or pork, sprinkled with sesame seeds. We also ordered the octopus noodles. Massive portions but we ploughed through. And while we couldn’t finish all the noodles, there was not an octopus or his tentacles left. Interestingly they gave us metal chopsticks which I have not seen anywhere before. They were also a lot more flat at the tip than most chopsticks.
Whatever you order you get an array of starters. According to South Korean tradition, the more number of starters, the more respected the guest. It is usually served in 3s, 5s, 7s and 12s. We got a filling 12. There was crispy fried seaweed dusted in sugar. Tasted like a green sugary vadam with the taste of the sea. Beans in a chilli sauce, lettuce with fresh pineapple foam which was a little bizarre but took the edge of the fermented smelly kimchis, dried fish, bean sprouts, various types of kimchi in various stages of smelly fermentedness. All the waiters and waitresses are from South Korea so don’t speak a word of English but we managed just fine.
On arrival we were given a cold face towel that smelled reassuringly of a well chlorinated swimming pool cleansed the Chennai dust from our faces. Because there are curtains on the booths and you can’t see outside to the rest of restaurant area, there’s a little call bell on the table to summon the waiter (a different one every time it seems). We ended with the South Korean cold coffee, which is cold black coffee and a vanilla icecream cup you dunk in to it and stir around. I should have eaten the ice cream separately. The whole thing became a watery diluted concoction tasting neither of coffee nor of ice cream. And no, they didn’t play Gangnam Style even once…
The next morning shopping at Amma Nana – the place for embassy people to buy all types of sauces, creams, pastasetc imported for their benefit. We love the place for its dried wild mushrooms and the variety of sauces and pastes that we stock up on once a year because they would never sit on the shop shelves of Vizag . We couriered them back to Vellore and proceeded to the airport. We were ridiculously early but the holiday had begun. As the time for the check in counter to open was still a while away we began to miss Abroozi. And again just like at Katpadi railway station, we were greeted by dogs. We spotted two dog crates and I went over to take a look. Always interested in how people transport their dogs by air I had to take a look. Two huge hulking hounds were being taken to SriLanka for a dog show. These were beautiful specimens and extremely well behaved.
Dog owners in South India, if you are flying out of Chennai the man who will organise everything for you from crate to papers to even being at the airport with you till you take off is Arjun Agrawal of Best of Breeds Kennels (firstname.lastname@example.org OR 9840275357). He is based in Ashok Nagar, Chennai. I’ve not used his services myself but talking to him and seeing him in action was very reassuring.
Immigration cleared (my ECR stamp not posing any problems) it was time to leave the Indian airspace and make the 3 hour airplane journey to Kuala Lumpur. A Nasi Lemak for me and a Thai Green curry for the DH awaited us on board and we were not disappointed. Never have I tasted such amazing airplane food. Not the dehydrated sausage and stale bread roll that British Airways dishes out. This was spicy, flavourful and I wish I had a picture to show you. The only advice I have for Air Asia travellers is that everything you buy on board is charged in Malaysian Ringgits so make sure you change some before you fly. They won’t even give you a sip of water without a Ringgit in exchange. I get incredibly cold on aircrafts and knowing that Air Asia makes you buy (not even rent!) a blanket we brought our own. Smart move because it was essential on all flights, trains and Malaysian airports where the air conditioning is on North Pole settings.
Air Asia charge you for everything – even for picking a seat! The joke is that Tony Fernandes (the guy who owns the airline and currently on The Apprentice Asia) goes in to a coffee shop and orders a coffee. He pay 5 Ringgit for it. Then he asks if he can have sugar, the guy says “1Ringgit”, spoon to stir it,”50 cents”, a seat to sit and have his coffee, “2 Ringitt”, can I sit under the fan, “3 Ringgit”, Can the fan be turned on, “Another 2 Ringgit.”
So East we flew and almost better than being upgraded to first class (there is none on Air Asia) is we got a seat next to us free. Like a good Indian I took full advantage of the freebie and stretched out along the two seat, covered in the bedsheet I had brought from home. The DH was slightly envious that I was able to contort myself in to a position that didn’t have the arm handles poking in to my ribs. The DH was being pounded by the obese and happy go lucky Malaysian/Indian kid behind him. This kid all of 12 was charming the air hostesses, inviting them to play board games with him, lavishing money on junk food, tanking up on cola and generally having a rollicking good time. He even offered us a Dark Fantasy Chocolate biscuit as an apology for causing all this trouble. He was acting a bit like me when I flew for the first time as a kid on a business class ticket on Kuwait Airways and proceeded to polish off an entire cart of cakes and other goodies with my mother across the aisle, ready with the sick bag, convinced I was going to throw up from the amount of treats the air hostesses were pushing. The sheer delight of flying business class and the extent of my gluttony will not be forgotton.
Sitting there I was thinking, how lucky we are. How fortunate. Going on holiday, having fun, holding hands, giggling like teenagers, having our dog looked after us by family, off on an adventure. How very blessed we are.