New Delhi: It's a gastronomic tour-de-force, a caravan that's begun its journey from the national capital and traveling to Kolkata and Mumbai to showcase the very best of east and southeast Asian cuisine, culture and craftsmanship - a true Feast Of The East.
"Our aim was to showcase the culinary alchemy that lies between the Bay of Bengal and the South China Sea," explained executive chef Li Peng of the food festival that is under way at the ITC Marriott Welcomhotel here. It will run in New Delhi till Nov 27 and then shift to Kolkata (Dec 2-11) and Mumbai (Dec 16-25).
"Over the centuries, explorers, travellers and traders returning home from distant exotic lands usually brought home a treasury of ingredients and recipes to enrich their tables. Thus, cuisines enlarged their gastronomical vocabulary, morphed and became more interesting," Li pointed out.
Li partnered fellow Chinese Liang of the ITC Sonar Bangla in Kolkata and Thai chef Sampang of the ITC Grand Maratha in Mumbai in crafting the culinary delight the festival is.
"Indian spices met Chinese cooking styles and Malay traditions. Arab traders brought their way of cooking. The Europeans followed, bringing in chilli from South America. China brought the concept of ying and yang balance to food. Japan elevated every dish into an artistic statement," Li offered.
Feast Of The East showcases this awesome spread, starting with hot pots and soupy meals. These include Laksa, a wholesome Malaysian soup with seafood, Haemol Jongol, a Korean seafood hot pot, Khawswe, a chicken and coconut broth from Myanmar, and spicy Beijing hot pot.
Hot pots are a southeast and east Asian family tradition with everyone partaking from a common vessel.
After this, move on to the starters and explore the delicate flavours of Zhua Chao Dou Fu, pan fired beancurd with spring onion and soy sauce and unravel the mysteries of a He Ye Nuo Mi Ji dim sum - a stuffed lotus leaf parcel filled with sticky rice and mushrooms.
Translated literally, dim sum means "to touch your heart" - and it actually does.
Now for the main course. This, itself, is so elaborate you will wish you had starved for two days to do it justice.
On offer are a variety of curries, stir fires and grills from China, Thailand and Malaysia, as also a range of Japanese Sushi - vinegared rice topped or filled with fish, seafood, vegetable or egg.
And there's the piece de resistance, as it were - Beijing Kao Ya. This is the traditional Peking duck served with accompaniments and sauce and is personally made by chef Liang, its best exponent in India.
Pause a moment, sip your jasmine tea and then tear into the wickedly tempting deserts. Start with Pollamai Loy Kew - fresh seasonal fruits and citrus sesame jelly in jasmine scented ice syrup and work your way up to Fantasies of the East that a platter-full of shaped soufflé, chocolate coated walnuts and other such goodies is made up of.
A word of caution: the festival will burn a hole in your pocket but you will come away feeling elevated - and stuffed.