The House of Ming offers an impressive repertoire for the August Moon festival, says neeta lal

In a globalized world, where more and more subcultures and cuisines are finding acceptance within the mainstream, no regional festival or celebratory occasion is really out of bounds for another nation. This reality hit home on a recent trip to Germany where I saw multi-hued Holi posters festooning several German cities. Ostensibly, the Germans are celebrating Holi with increasing fervour, colours, sweets, pichkaris et al. 

 Similarly, Halloween, Guy Fawkes and even Chinese festivals like the lantern festival and the dragon boat festival are all finding a resonance across India. Celebrating this universality is an ongoing promotion ~ the August Moon festival ~ at the House of Ming (HOM), the Taj Mahal Hotel&’s iconic Chinese eatery. 

 According to legend, the ancient Chinese believed that the movement of the moon in the sky had a close relationship with changes of the seasons and agricultural production. Hence, to express their gratitude to the moon, and celebrate their harvest, they offered a sacrifice to the moon. Ergo, the August moon festival has a pronouncedly communitarian dimension to it as on this day, families gather under a bright full moon and eat moon cakes while expressing a yearning for family members and friends who live afar. 

 A famous legend surrounding the moon festival concerns its possible role in Chinese history. Overrun by the Mongols in the 13th century, the Chinese threw off their oppressors in 1368 AD. It is said that moon cakes~which the Mongols did not eat ~ were the perfect vehicle for hiding and passing along the plains for the rebellion. Families were instructed not to eat the moon cakes until the day of the moon festival, which is when the rebellion took place. 

 In keeping with the spirit of the festival, the mood at the HOM was also bright and convivial. Even on a weekday there was nary a table to spare at the 120-seater restaurant, chockfull as it was of happy diners working their way through a rich smorgasbord. 

But then this is quintessential HOM. At a time when Chinese cuisine eateries across Delhi open and down shutters with alarming alacrity, this restaurant (that debuted in 1978) seems remarkably untouched by the vagaries of the cut-throat hospitality business. Perhaps because it offers the complete package ~ an eye-pleasing and cozy décor, unobtrusive and attentive service and uniformly top-notch food. We begin with our perennial favourites ~ deep-fried jumbo prawns. They arrive gossamer gold with their crunch intact and are a delight to savour with the accompanying honey-based dip. Up next are fried shrimp dumplings with black sesame and hot bean sauce. The contrast of the cotton-soft dumplings in this dish is accentuated rather well by its piquant sauce and the dish vamooses in no time from our plates. The sesame-flecked crispy duck ~ the third starter ~ is also well-executed and we savour it with a soya-based sauce.  

 Next, we wave the steam off our chicken wonton sour pepper soup to partake of this piping hot number. It sings on our palate! The paper-thin wontons are bursting with the goodness of succulent chicken while floating in a sea of tangy sour and peppery broth.  The mains comprise Chinese greens with pickled chilli and shredded chicken with ginger-garlic-butter sauce. The aromatics lift the latter dish to a whole new level. However, my favorite turned out to be the pan-fried sole in a spicy mustard sauce, its taste augmented by spicy Hunan noodles. The festival is also offering a range of teas paired with specific dishes and cocktails and mocktails. 

 After clearly indulging ourselves, there&’s limited room for dessert. Even so, we struggle to say no to the warm and moist mooncakes, the centerpiece of the festival. The chef informs us that on this day it is mandatory to eat the cakes. Their round shape, he adds, symbolizes the reunion of a family. Well, who am I to argue with tradition? I pop in a piece of the cake and let its rich filling of lotus seeds (makhanas) tingle my tastebuds while also marking a fitting finale to a fabulous meal.   

 

Neeta Lal is a New Delhi-based senior journalist; write to her at [email protected]