“Flavors from Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia & Thailand”
Since Sarah and I had recently spent a week in Thailand working our way through some marvelous Thai cuisine, we were thrilled when the Novotel OMR announced their Streets of Asia Pan-Asian Food Festival.
We both admit that the special flavors of Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, and, of course, Thailand, hold a special place on our palates, so were eager to dig in and savor that array of exotic spices without needing our passports. The menu was a collaboration with the Novotel’s chef from their Bangkok hotel, so we knew it would be special!
What better way to further whet our appetite than to tour the entire spread of dishes laid out around The Square, the hotel’s dining venue? We were welcomed by Abbinnaya, of the hotel’s marketing team, and she showed us around the vast buffet as the staff put the tempting final touches on intriguing items like the Hong Shao Niu Nan—braised shoulder of beef—a favorite from Singapore!
As we completed the tour, Executive Chef Muthu Kumar joined us and helped us begin to grasp the deeper objectives of his Streets of Asia menu—the Yin and Yang of the Ayurvedic principals of life and sustenance. He explained the five elements and how they related to the three Doshas and our own body’s innate knowledge of what’s best for us—while pointing out even more intriguing dishes like the Harissa Grilled Fish and the flatbread pizza fired in a wood stone oven. Chef also reminded us of the five flavor profiles: sweet, sour, salt, pungent, and bitter.
Well prepared by Chef Muthu’s guidance, it was time to dig in, our appetites tuned to a high pitch. Chef Muthu and Abbinnaya joined us as we sampled another first for Sarah and me, a fresh chiku fruit, an amazingly beneficial—and delicious—staple of local diets that is the gift from a tropical evergreen tree.
About the size of a plum, it looks more like a potato, with a rough, brown skin and a firm texture when unripe. (Shhhh, Sarah actually bought some earlier this year thinking they were spuds . . . and trashed them when she found the seeds and the bitter, unripe flavor! Who knew?) The taste, when ripe and ready to be eaten, is like a pear, with a similar texture, but with an underlying caramel finish that positively delights. Add a new item to our shopping list!
So, with that introduction, we were prepared to start our walk down those Asian streets! As Chef continued his teachings about the Vata, Pitta, and Kapha body types and their likes and needs, we started with a chicken satay, a trademark of Thai cuisine.
This time, though, it was presented in style, served up on a flatiron, a sizzling bed of charcoal providing the perfect char—one of my favorite taste and texture attributes. The peanut sauce, another tradition, included crushed peanuts and a dash of jaggery to bring out the caramelized note–another favorite flavor accent of mine! The chicken was perfectly juicy and moist, so an excellent start down those narrow ways.
Next, we took a quick detour to our own streets of the subcontinent, with a trip down tikka lane. Once again, the spicing and the textures, with just the right touch of char to complement the perfectly done chicken, proved masterful and we were more than happy to consider ourselves right at home somewhere along the OMR.
So, where to, next?
Heading back east we enjoyed an Indonesian Lumpia, a delicate spring roll graced with a sweet, sticky (in the best sense) honey sambol, a coconut milk relish, typically found in Sri Lanka. The combination of the lightly crisp wrappers, the tart fillings, and the crispy curry leaves, all pointed us toward the bird’s eye chili lying in wait on the banana leaf and challenging us step right into the fire. Alas, we proved cowardly and passed on the chilies, but we loved the Lumpia’s unique flavors and delightful complexity.
From Indonesia, we traveled farther east and were welcomed to Singapore with a steaming bowl of Dong Gua Tang—Winter Melon Soup. The Square’s presentation of the soup truly enhanced the experience, as our two bowls were served with all the ingredients except the broth, which was then poured from a teapot to complete the dish.
The winter melon was a translucent, white, sliver that reminded us of pumpkin—in fact it is also known as “white pumpkin”—and the meats, including bits of beef and pork, gave us a smoky overtone that brought us memories of past winters by an open fire. Perfect!
Next up, we circled back to Thailand as we sampled the Veg Green Curry, one of my favorites. Laced with baby corn and zucchini, the curry led with the expected coconut milk sweetness but surprised us both as the heat built and grew . . . and grew! We were both left with a lovely, lingering heat to compliment the curry’s typical roundness of flavor. Well done!
Since we were feeling at home in Thailand, we decided on the “Live Station,” where guests can construct their own dish—in the Streets of Asia festival’s case, a Pad Thai, of course, and one of Sarah’s favorites. We let the station chef design a veg offering for us, and it was fresh, not too sweet, not too heavy, and a charming balance of the best of what makes Pad Thai so popular.
The typical fresh peanut topping was finely ground and added a unique twist, along with the perfectly moist scrambled egg strips to set off the sauce. But beware, another bird’s eye chili waited among the basil to pounce on our taste buds . . .
After a couple Thai dishes, we decided to head back southeast so we tried that Singapore favorite, Hong Shao Niu Nan—braised beef shoulder with roasted vegetables. The shoulder was the best of locally sourced beef, enhanced with a dark sauce that balanced the sweetness of five-star spice and savory accents. The veggies—including baby corn, carrots, capsicum, and even asparagus—starred in the dish, with their crunchy al dente complemented by just the right touch of char. (We DO love our char!)
Next up, we returned to the far north of India for the climax of our culinary travels, a Lucknow Biryani, that warmed our palates while conjuring up chilling visions of Uttar Pradesh and the Himalayas.
The biryani, with hidden nuggets of melt in your mouth chicken, was powerfully flavored with just the right hint of sweetness that confirmed its lingering time in the tandoori oven.
The dish was accompanied by Awadhi Subzi (green peas in a tomato sauce korma) and a Yam Masala. The korma had been reduced to a lovely glaze that turned the peas into a subtle spark of flavor, while the Yam Masala had a light combination of subtle spice and sweet; and both dishes served as excellent foils for the biryani. Of course, another of Sarah’s favorites, a deep, rich, dal makhani added a delicate final touch—along with a crispy, garlic naan—to complete the final destination of our journey through the mains.
What does one do at the end of a successful travel adventure through the Streets of Asia? For the Novotel’s The Square Restaurant—and for Sarah and me—that meant it was time for a global selection of desserts! Sarah, an ice cream aficionado, headed straight to the Baskin-Robbins Ice Cream Bar where she built a sundae of vanilla covered with fruit.
In keeping with the travel theme, I felt obligated to continue our survey so I grabbed a classic Opera with Caramel Sauce; a scoop of boondi, a water-droplet sized fried chickpea or gram flour sweet; a chocolate topped traditional milk cake; a white chocolate date muffin topped with vanilla sauce; and, finally, a slice of Caramel Gateaux, another classic.
I also nibbled a bit of banana chocolate pudding, plus a couple squares of the hotel’s famous granola, just to balance things out. So, France and India shared the honors for my desserts, with the Opera and its rich caramel sauce, earning top honors, but they all brought a satisfied smile . . . and a perfect finale to our culinary travels.
The Streets of Asia Festival runs through 2 June, so make plans to visit the Novotel OMR to complete your own culinary journey. The best news is that, If you happen to miss this festival, The Square hosts special dining festivals every month, with the next one in June inviting diners to explore the Streets of Old Delhi.
By the way, while the cuisine—and beverages—are outstanding and the dining value is even more so, the Novotel OMR is thoroughly welcoming to families with small children, as the pool, badminton, cricket, croquet, and other kid-centered activities to keep the youngsters happy are all available.
ABOUT NOVOTEL OMR’S STREETS OF ASIA FESTIVAL
About the festival:
The Square, a multi cuisine restaurant presents a The Asian Food Festival with flavors from Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and Thailand inspired by the renowned yin and yang principles that govern the mind and body. The food festival is not only reflective of gastronomical delights but underlines the culture, tradition, wellness and nutrition.
The 12 day culinary extravaganza features a special menu curated by master chefs from Novotel Siam Square, Bangkok presenting authentic Thai dishes with Asian specialist Chef Sagar from Novotel Chennai OMR dishing out delectable arrays from the streets of Asia.
The buffet includes signature Shao mai dumplings, Sambal kelapa made of coconut, rice noodles, thai curry and live counters of Phad thai and Satays alongside wide selection of Indian food, live pizzeria, and wide range of Ice creams, desserts and Fresh seasonal fruits. Diners can also elevate their culinary treat to the next level by winning a 3-night complementary stay at Novotel Siam Square Bangkok.
Also, as part of the festival, guests dining on 25th May get to learn the art of Dim Sum making in a master class led by Chef Sagar.
About the hotel
An Urban Escape – Novotel Ibis Chennai OMR.
Despite overlooking the bustling IT corridor, the hotel is well – protected allowing a sense of privacy and exclusivity away from traffic and pollution. An ideal escape from the city and within the city. One can take the dual advantage of staying at one while accessing the best of both Novotel and Ibis and enjoy greater choices that benefit one’s stay and travel needs.
The hotel features an exclusive sports zone with over 20 activities such as cricket, volleyball, badminton, table tennis, cross fit & more. Top it off with gastronomic and healthy delights without any guilt or remorse. The ball is in your court!
Opposite Elcot SEZ, IT expressway, Old Mahabalipuram Rd, Sholinganallur, Chennai, Tamil Nadu 600119