It was purely coincidental that our recent trip to Singapore coincided with Chinese New Year. Every where we went around the island country, new year wishes were present, Chinese lanterns were strung across the streets and the Chinese families were easily identifiable because they were all wearing red. Even the trendy western clothing stores, known more for their whites, blacks and shades of gray, had spruced up their window displays with a splash of red.
Chinatown was in a bustling, festive mood and we lingered around the food stalls trying all the street food on offer. Restaurant touts tried to lure us to their restaurants and as we flicked through the menus of exotic Chinese dishes, it became a real challenge to settle on just one place to eat. Eventually we did select one of the many restaurants and we tucked in to tasty noodles, Peking duck and crispy spring rolls.
Returning home from an overseas trip always brings mixed emotions; happy to be back home, wishing our trip could have been extended by a few more days and perhaps a certain amount of anxiety at returning to work after so many days off. It was lucky then that sitting in my inbox was an email from Hilton Chennai inviting us to come and try their new Chinese New Year menu – it was like our Singapore trip had been extended by a couple of days.
Now let me go off at a bit of a tangent here. Anyone who has eaten Chinese food in Chennai knows it can’t be truly described as authentic Chinese food. It’s just not possible to make because you can’t get the same ingredients and most importantly, the food been designed to appeal to the local palette. Take a Chinese person to any one of the Chinese chain restaurants and they’ll be scratching their heads wondering what part of the noodles is authentic. This is fine of course, a restaurant needs to make money and if the local market doesn’t like the authentic taste, it has to be adjusted to suit the market. There’s no need to get upset about this.
However, Hilton, being one of the largest worldwide hotel chains, wanted to make their Chinese New Year food festival to be as authentic as possible. After all, their clientele is international. To achieve this, they brought over Chef Ai Liang from the Sichuan region of China. A Sichuan cuisine specialist, he has designed the menu, personally cooked many of the buffet dishes and brought over his own ingredients from China to ensure that what you are eating is pure, authentic Chinese food. Try and find another restaurant in Chennai that can say that about their Chinese menu!
Meeting Chef Ai Liang was an experience in itself. A self-taught chef, now working at Hilton Chengdu in China, he doesn’t speak any English, nor do I speak any Mandarin. Instead, we relied on Google Translate to communicate and find out how he’s liking India. Fortunately the staff at the Hilton had found a translator who could speak English, Mandarin and Tamil, so he was the most in-demand person of the moment.
To kick off the buffet, lamb and beef starters were laid out. For vegetarians, delicious fried cauliflower, lightly coated in honey was on offer. I like my meat but the fried cauliflower won my heart.
If you like seafood then you’ll be dazzled at the seafood soup that has been prepared. With prawns and squid in a mushroom based soup, it’ll certain tickle your tastebuds like it did mine. My poor vegetarian wife couldn’t watch as I dished out the squid, tentacles and all, in my spoon and popped it in my mouth!
For the main buffet courses, eight separate dishes are available, three of them are vegetarian and the remaining five contain meat. Having had my fill of vegetarian starters, I skipped the veggie options and focused only on the meat – Chinese food is known for its pork and beef after all!
Before I dug in, the restaurant manager warned me that it might be a little spicy, but perhaps he didn’t know I’ve been in Chennai for nine years and spice is kinda my thing now. The shredded beef was indeed spicy, but it was so juicy that I couldn’t get enough of it. The pork noodles took me straight back to Chinatown in Singapore as I let the meat melt in my mouth. So good, I had to go back for seconds. And maybe thirds. Luckily my new year diet resolution ended last week which was the moment I landed at Changi airport.
To keep everything washed down throughout the meal, jasmine tea is provided. I must confess, I do like my jasmine tea and I finished the entire teapot by myself before my wife had a single cup. Oops!
Prowling around the buffet counters, I was looking for any special Chinese dish that I had missed. As well as the eight Chinese dishes, there was a range of Indian, Continental and Japanese sushi options so you might come for the Chinese and stay for the lasagna if you wanted to. Eventually I found the dumpling section and loaded up my plate with prawn, chicken and veggie dumplings. Let me just say this: The soy sauce accompanying the dumplings was to die for. It was unlike other soy sauces I had tried in India. I forgot to ask Chef Ai Liang (via Google Translate) if this was one of the special ingredients he had brought from China but I suspect it was.
Almost full to bursting, it was time to tackle the dessert counter. Although there are nearly endless dessert options at the Vascos restaurant, I wanted to try the two Chinese desserts that were available: Custard Tart and Fried Wantons with Honey sauce. It was excellent, just like the ones I had in Singapore. I went back for seconds, and I would challenge anyone to not settle for just one helping.
If you are looking to try out some authentic Chinese food in Chennai, now is your chance at Vasco’s at Hilton Chennai.
Chinese New Year Food Festival at Vascos, Hilton Chennai
The food festival is running during dinner the Vasco’s restaurant at Hilton Chennai from the 1st to 13th February so you need to get your skates on if you want to try authentic Chinese food in India cooked by an expert Chinese chef. The cost is Rs 1,795 plus tax per person and Rs 999 plus tax per child. This doesn’t include alcoholic drinks which are charged extra. Timings for the buffet are between 6:30pm and 11:30pm each day until the 13th February.
Call: (+91) 044-2225-5555