What could be more intriguing than when one of our favorite restaurants, Pumpkin Tales, (a Conde Nast Traveller 50 Best in India) decides to create a special dinner with one of our preferred cuisines, in this case, Sichuan? A bit of culinary magic that had us both eager for the evening!
Chindi Varadarajulu, Creative Chef and an owner of the restaurant, has always loved exploring global tastes and cuisines from Singapore to Vancouver and who believes that every day should be a culinary adventure. With Pumpkin Tales’ ever delightful and evolving menu and their newer “Long Table Special Dinners,” it was only natural that Chindi would expand her artistry to focus on one of Asia’s most popular yet often misrepresented traditions. What better way for us to expand our knowledge and delight our palates with an expert survey of the famous gems—some of them little known—of the Sichuan region.
We were greeted with an amuse-bouche of boiled spicy peanuts that set the tone with their subtle combination of savory and sweet, and prepared us for a pair of tantalizing soups: a rich, winter melon soup followed by a salted mustard and pork broth. Winter melon—also known as ash gourd or white pumpkin—makes a delicately toothsome star for a soup that intrigues with textural artistry. And the companion bowl of salted mustard broth startled our expectations with its depth of flavors highlighted by a lovely caramelized note.
Next, Chindi brought us a team of salads: a sesame ginger spinach mélange, and one titled “Smashed Cucumber.” The former captured our imagination with its architectural construction and we both debated whether we should simply admire it or go ahead and demolish it with our forks! But of course, we did, and gladly so, as the juxtaposition of delicately blanched spinach and finely chopped carrots in soy, sesame oil, and vinegar, with a liberal sprinkling of sesame seeds, granted us a smile of delight. The smashed cucumber was simple and crispy with its light dressing and supporting red peppers.
Then, it was time to move on to the mains where we could choose from more than twenty Veg and Non-Veg dishes, some with familiar titles, some tantalizing with new ingredients or fascinating combinations. Since we both had fallen in love with lotus stems when we discovered them on our move to Chennai, we were both excited to try out the Kung Po lotus root! Ah, yes, a new favorite on an old theme, as the dish brought hints of a nutty yet tangy sweetness.
Chinese tea eggs provided a subtle contrast with the expected hard-boiled egg flavor enhanced by their spending some relaxing time soaking in spiced tea. My oh my, who knew an egg could surprise the taste buds this way?
Next, we moved from the egg right to the bird, with chicken with glass noodles and cabbage, served along with a chili oil chicken wonton. Oh my, the chicken beckoned from a bed of noodles with ginger and garlic, and we both loved the simple, relatively quiet spicing that let the textures sing to us! The wonton proved an excellent foil, as we shared the dishes together, with its higher temperature on the spicing scale and its contrasting mouthfeel. A wonderful pairing that enriched both dishes.
Now we were ready for another shift in palate, so we tried the double cooked spare ribs, boiled, then sautéed in soy and aromatic spices to just the perfect turn of deep, rich flavor that rewarded the always joyful bit of toothsome effort to fetch meat from bone. Another delight to bring in the several senses to round out the experience.
Then it was back to chicken, this time as a lovely plating of steamed chicken with fresh ginger and chives, another dish so perfectly framed that one debated spoiling the visual pleasure . . . right! The chicken breast proved moist and brightly flavored, as the ginger and chives added an unexpected freshness to the experience.
But for both Sarah and me, the treasure of the evening was the essence of simplicity: the house made steamed buns laced with scallions. Yes, a simple dish, yet in the perfection of texture and flavor, with just the right tang and a tiny hint crunch, a reflection of the dedication and love from Chindi, chef Suresh, and the team at Pumpkin Tales.
We finished the evening with a trio of Chinese desserts, the mango pudding, a lovely peanut dumpling in ginger spiced tea, and a red bean steamed bun along with fresh orange slices, the essence of simplicity. A quiet finish after the array of wonderful Sichuan spices that left us wishing we had room to sample more of Chindi’s creations!
So, when can we expect another opportunity to indulge our Sichuan culinary yearnings?
More please, Chindi! And soon, please!
PUMPKIN TALES RESTAURANT BAKERY CATERING
37/20 Bheemanna Garden Street, Alwarpet, Chennai, Tamil Nadu 600018, India
About the RESTAURANT: Situated in the heart of the Chennai, Pumpkin Tales is a restaurant and venue/catering service established in 2017 with one goal – to serve delicious, wholesome and healthful food using ingredients that are environmentally sustainable and of the highest quality. With food made from real ingredients and absolutely no added preservatives, visit Pumpkin Tales for your dish of clean, DELICIOUS eating!