Sunday, 27 May 2007

Xiao Long Bao made with hairy crab

Some friends took me to this restaurant in a 5 star hotel in Jakarta which serves all sorts of northern Chinese delicacies with hairy crab meat and roe in it, including the infamous xiao long bao. This restaurant hails from Shanghai, so including hairy crab as part of the ingredients is understandable.

My friend said that this restaurant has to be halal (no pork) in order to cater to rich Indonesians in south Jakarta. Since they cannot use pork which is the normal ingredient in xiao long bao and other delicacies, using hairy crab with chicken is a novel approach. Besides they get to charge much higher prices than ones made of beef - each xiao long bao made from hairy crab costs about USD1 more than one made from beef.

There's no end to one's imagination. They've come up with beef bacon for breakfast and your club sandwiches in Muslim countries like Indonesia; or turkey ham which I thought was a far cry from the normal ham. The Chinese have their vegetarian versions of cha siew and roasted goose made from truly vegetarian ingredients such as beancurd, treated of course to give that tender taste associated with the original cha siew, and crispy like the skin of and roasted goose. We humans are very entrepreneurial. Is it to survive or is it to profit? Depends on how you look at it really.

In Indonesia, the nasi padang restaurants are normally no frills. All the food is prepared in the morning and left in glass display cabinets (like the ones you buy pens and watches) and one is charged by the amount one eats from the plates. So if they serve you a plate of curry chicken with 3 pieces and you eat only one of those 3 pieces, the "untouched" chicken is returned and not charged. May sound strange, and possibly unhygienic, to some of you but they've been doing that for ages so everyone here is used to it. The food is always cold, from being left in cabinets since they were cooked.

But in Singapore, Hongkong and some parts of Malaysia, specialized nasi padang restaurants exist which serve their food hot and the dishes are normally cooked as you order them - no returning of untouched food like Indonesia. Some places in Singapore display their food in cabinets similar to Indonesia's, but will heat the food up before serving them for two reasons: Singaporeans don't normally like cold food unless its a dessert, and reheating them for a few minutes do fit closer with hygiene norms there. Alternatively, some may display the food in glass cabinets but keep them warm with constant heating.

Once I had a "personalized" steamboat in a small restaurant in Beijing which was quite impressive. It is common to have personalized steamboat like shabu-shabu in Japanese restaurants as the Japanese are more hygiene conscious than the Chinese. But having that in Beijing was a pleasant surprise. So much was written about risks of catching hepatitis and other communicable diseases from sharing "common" food which is the normal way to eat Chinese food, I can't turn down an invitation to have traditional Chinese steam boat with my own personal pot.

See there's no end to evolution in this world. We can enjoy anything we like in the context of current developments and concerns, be they for hygienic or other reasons, as long as one leaves one's mind open.

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