Monday, January 5, 2009

The Pan Asian Itch

Well one has heard of the ‘seven year itch’, the ‘itch’ one experiences over the age of 40…you see when men get naughty. But a Pan Asian itch? No my friends we are not in Bangkok…but very much in Goa, at a place down in the valley, which had Joe ‘itching’ for more.

So how do I describe how it came across? Was it the pretty hostesss? *I do not think so, cause this time he insisted on my photograph being taken. Was it the ‘Deep Purple” hues? Yes the restaurant was decorated in rich hues of purple and Joe always was one for ‘hard rock.’ But knowing my man, I do not think that was the reason. Was it the cocktail called the ‘Pan Asian itch’ that he was nursing throughout the meal? I wonder. But let me complete my narrative and then you can be the judge.

We were seated in the valley, in the Vainguinnin Beach Resort at the Pan Asian restaurant. The food consultant who is managing the place is Clifford who has worked at the Leela Kempinski (the Great Wall) in Mumbai, Henry Thams, Mandarin and the opening team of the famous hangout of the Bollywood stars…Olive. Now with so much of experience in his hands we waited in anticipation of what was in store for us.

Well everything starts with a teaser….no I am not talking about Joe’s cocktail. On the menu they call it hors d’oeuvres…in English translation-appetiser. Clifford had recommended the Sui Loong Pao (steamed dumplings Shanghai style), the Me Grob (crispy vermicelli with sweet, sour and spicy dressing-we had added prawns) and the Neua Phak Chee (crispy beef with a spicy Thai dressing). Now they say that an appetiser titillates…I have seen my dog Mojo(well his nature is more of Joe hence the name) sitting with his tongue hanging out when he has been told to ‘stay’. Well if I had clicked a picture of Joe at that moment….you see I needed to click a picture of the food, hence the command…he would definitely have resembled Mojo. Besides the taste appeal which comes third, (it is visual and smell first), Clifford had presented the dishes tastefully. And just as the flashbulb clcked, in a flash Joe’s plate was heaped with all those delicacies presented there. Now the Me Grob-I have a very simple name for it, ‘Thai Bhel puri’…was crispy, tangy, a feast for the salivary glands, those sauces really activate the juices within. But my personal favorite was the crispy beef…forget words ‘phak chee’. You see if I tell a local bhayya that the dish is called ‘phak chee’ he would think I am making sounds of disgust. Heavenly…yes the choir in church during this season have been singing the ‘hallel-lu-iah’…this was a dish that can move the earth with its heavenly refrain.

But we were not given time to dwell on the appetisers, or even the pretty hostess was moving around. Clifford had recommeneded the ‘favorites’. Now it is not right to use that word. For all Chef’s each and every dish is a personal favorite…but it was not possible to try out all the food. So with a little wheedling we asked for a dish from different regions to try.

The Indonesian speciality-Prawn Sambal Goreng, the Fillipino Escabeche,, the Chinese Mandarin Fish, the Thai Red Noy Kai…c’mon guys, don’t get envious, it is not humanly possible for us to eat all this food. But these are a few of the popular dishes listed on the menu…and many many more….you know those favorite red and green curries? For us-we decided to be adventurous and try out the Escabeche and the Prawn Sambal Goreng. Now the traditional Sambal Goreng is made of beef, beef liver, beef lungs and prawns. The cooking process is similar to the Rendang (Rendang is made from beef, chicken or mutton slowly cooked in coconut milk and spices for several hours until almost all the liquid is gone, leaving the meat coated in the spicy condiments. The cooking process changes from boiling to frying as the liquid evaporates. The slow cooking process allows the meat to absorb all the spices and to become tender) except this dish does not use curry but lots of chilli instead. It is best eaten with Ketupat or compressed rice. Now if you have seen the cooking process of the dish, let me explain the eating-sorry devouring process that it went through. The prawns were slowly cooked in saliva(in Joe’s case facial movements of ecstacy accompanying the movement), for several minutes till the last flavour of the dish was extracted, and the liquid absolutely gone, the process changed to shredded and ground pieces till it becomes absolutely tender for digestion. Gosh I must be getting ‘Barmy’. Was Joe’s itch contagious? Simply put that dish is ‘superb’…what a mouthful. And the Escabeche? The Escabeche is an acidic Spanish marinade used for seasoning and preserving fish and poultry. This dish is associated with Spanish cuisine although the name is Arabic and vinegar and citrus fruits are used extensively in its preparation. The fish is cooked seperately and so is the pickled seasoning-mixed together and then cooled. Well lecture over…lets talk about the taste. The tantalising flavour of the fruit acids complemented the fish to perfection. My tongue, so conditioned to heavy masalas and curries…played with the delicate seasonings. The flavour of the fish was not fact it was strengthened with the pickled dressing. Given time I am sure that this dish could become my favorite…no plain grilled fish with a lemon butter dressing for me..the Escabeche is definitely more promising.

I have not been one for Asian desserts…of course old favorites like Honeyed Noodles and Banana Toffee with icecream are listed there with the date wantons. Belive me those crispy fellas are one to die for. But if you are one to be adventuous..and believe me that night I was…(did I say it was Joe’s itch?) try the Tub Tim Grob. Thai water chestnuts suspended and crispy in strawberry flavoured coconut milk. Cool…refreshing…am I sounding like the ‘sprite’ advertisement? But that was the feeling…but it did not dampen Joe’s ‘ahh-hum’ itch. Normally one does not visit a restaurant for sometime after the first encounter. But the love of my life seemed to be drooling. And believe me it was not for me. ‘Oddy,’ he says, ‘when are we coming back for more?’

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