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Vegetarian pork, anyone?

The Dim Sum Teahouse at Delhi's Taj Palace hotel organised a food festival to coincide with the Chinese Moon Festival. The spread not only had globular-shaped traditional cakes and dim sums, but also offered interesting vegetarian dishes with non-vegetarian names. MADHUR TANKHA has a bite... .

IT WAS an introduction to a slice of Chinese culture at the Dim Sum Teahouse at Delhi's Taj Palace this past week. The restaurant celebrated the Chinese Moon Festival, a celebration ringed around an interesting tale.

The fable has it that in the ancient times, there was a catastrophe in China as one day, ten suns appeared on the horizon. The country, primarily dependent on agriculture, suffered damage of great magnitude as the crops started blazing. The emperor called his finest archer, Houyi, for help and he shot down nine suns to everyone's relief. In return, Houyi asked for the hand of his daughter, Chang E. In a bid to have a ready weapon to fight recurrence of so many suns appearing in the sky, the emperor gave a pill of immortality to his son-in-law. Overcome with greed, the princess consumed it. There was a curse attached to it and Chang has been stuck on the moon ever since. To make her come back on the Earth, the Chinese eat moon cake every year, which down the centuries has become an occasion of family reunion and feasting.

An interesting story, but the spread laid out by Master Chef Lo Ka Yan, specially flown in from Hong Kong for the food fest, was more attractive to both the eyes and the tongue. The chef, an old hand in serving food according to Indian palette - he was behind the launch of the House of Ming in the city's Taj Mansingh - conjured many a dish with non-vegetarian names but purely vegetarian food. Nicely decorated, steaming hot plates of Hot and Sour Crispy Fish, Vegetable Pork, Sour Spare Ribs and Steamed Eggplant were dished out for pure culinary delight.

The Chef says, "during the festival, the monks in rural China like eating vegetarian ducks made of beans". So, here justifies his action.

Being associated with the Taj Palace for the last two years, he has been on and off the Indian shores scouting for the right ingredients for Chinese food in his homeland. But the chef's interesting experience was when Chinese Premier Li Peng stayed at Taj during his India visit.

" I had prepared breakfast, lunch and dinner for him", remembers the Chef with a smile.

Besides the vegetarian dishes and globular-shaped traditional cakes, he prepared an array of yummy dim sums, his speciality. "During winters, I prepare 100 types of dim sums", he informed.

The Chef prepares the dim sums in a bamboo basket so that on being steamed they don't stick. They are soft to munch and succulent. So that they don't smell, each piece is served on banana leaf. Prawn dim sums - prawns are minced along with corns and spinach - are scrumptious but the fish dim sums walk away with glory.

Another mouth-watering dish, served during the nine-day festival, which ended on September 21, was fried crabs - Sui Mai. They were priced at Rs. 480 for eight pieces. Also, Stuffed Crab Shell from the chef's kitchen was tasty enough. The dish, worth Rs. 360, contained not just pieces of crabs but also prawns and fish.

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