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Where Chinese is Chinese

Board the Shanghai Express to savour the varied flavours of China

— Pic. by S.R.Raghunathan

The dragon returns at the Shanghai Club, Chola Sheraton.

"YOU JUST have to go to China," says Chef Yang Jiayu earnestly, as he gives up trying to explain how varied Chinese food can be, as you move from province to province. "There's Shangdong, Guangdong, Sichuan, Hunan, Fujian, Anhui and Jiangsu, and each province has its own cuisine," he says, politely pulling away my paper and pen and writing them down himself when I ask him to repeat the first spelling, for the third time.

It must be rather interesting, being a true-blue Chinese chef in Chennai, the land of the `Shezwan and Chillie Chigens.' "Indian-Chinese!" he laughs, rolling his eyes, "Tomato chutney, a slice of ginger, it's ginger chicken. Take out the ginger, it's chilly chicken. Add some coriander, it's chicken Manchurian."

But if you want the real thing, head to the Chola Sheraton's Shanghai Club, and ask Chef Yang to lead you through the provinces with his `Return of the Dragon' festival.

"I've chosen flavours that are deep and spicy, to suit the Indian palette," says Chef Yang.The starters include chaozhou spicy fried chicken followed by golden-brown prawns tossed in chilly flakes and bright crunchy celery. Chef Yang's trademark lotus roots, which are deliciously crisp and sticky, sweet and numbing at the same time, make an entry next, followed by a rather strong fried tofu, tossed in yellow bean paste.

Flavourful duck

The chicken-noodle lump soup is hearty, crammed with thick doughy homemade noodles. Skip it if you want to make space for the rest of the meal. Especially the duck. Chef Yang's flavourful duck has the texture of plump mushrooms and twangs with fresh ginger. The minced chicken, served with vividly green sliced beans and chillies is a medley of unusual flavours. The crab, slathered in hot bean sauce, however, is rather run of the mill.

Though fried ice cream might be a constant in any Chinese restaurant, even the Chettinad-Chinese ones, the Shanghai Club's version is certainly worth trying out, if you have a sweet tooth. They freeze ice cream in a tightly rolled wonton, then dunk it in hot oil. So when it's served, the just-browned outside, dusted with coconut powder and drizzled with thick honey, is hot, while the inside is coldly gooey. Achingly sweet, but delicious.

The festival is on for dinner till November 28. Call 28110101 for reservations.

SHONALI MUTHALALY

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