Tastes worth travelling for

When in Singapore, do as the locals do, says Jenni Muir and seek out the best of the regional specialities
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Dinner at 1221 in Shanghai

Dinner at 1221 in Shanghai

It's sometimes said that the Shanghai kitchen consumes as much sugar as it does soy sauce. Look at a recipe for almost any savoury dish of the city or surrounding regions of eastern China, and there it will be - lion's head meatballs one teaspoon, potstickers one tablespoon, "smoked" fish (marinated and deep-fried) five table-spoons, red-cooked pork two cups. Yet the finished dish should never taste too sweet, or indeed too greasy. It is achieving the right balance on a consistent basis that has helped to make 1221 (Yi Èr Èr Yi) one of the most esteemed restaurants in the city. Owned by Western educated Michelle Liu, this stylish yet reasonably priced restaurant is tucked away in an old toy factory at the end of an alley. Reser- vations are essential, thanks to enthusiastic custom from locals and the expatriate business community, who appreciate the menu translation. You'll find food from all over China, plus some fusion fare, but Shanghainese dishes are the speciality: onion pancakes, "drunken" chicken and prawns, stir-fried shredded beef, sweet lotus root. Accompany your meal with eight-treasure tea, poured from a long-spouted pot. To finish? Something sweet. Try the rice pan- cakes with banana and raisins.

1221, 1221 Yan An West Road, Shanghai (+86 21 6213 65850).


Afternoon Tea at the Oriental

No, don't order the traditional English afternoon tea in the Author's Lounge. You can get that anytime back home - though, admittedly, it's unlikely to be as good as they serve at Bangkok's Mandarin Oriental. For a unique culinary experience opt for the "Oriental" tea, which takes the time-honoured format of a British tea and infuses it with Asian flavours. Succulent, generously filled finger sandwiches of tuna and chicken receive a welcome boost from fresh spices such as kaffir lime and lemongrass. Dainty cakes marry lychee and strawberry, or raspberry and anise. Tender scones are beautifully scented with pandan, so too the soft rice-flour and coconut sweets that finish the carefully presented meal.

Also important is to drink your fill of the colonial atmosphere. What is now the gracious Author's Wing of the Oriental is in fact the hotel built on the banks of the Chao Phraya river in 1887, replacing the original guesthouse founded 11 years earlier. Somerset Maugham, Joseph Conrad, Graham Greene and Noel Coward have stayed here. So too Barbara Cartland, and Jeffrey Archer, guest of honour at the reopening celebrations. So relax into the white rattan chairs and enjoy a slice of literary history along with your jasmine tea.

Author's Lounge, Mandarin Oriental Hotel, 48 Oriental Avenue, Bangkok (+66 2 659 9000) www.mandarinoriental.com


Nonya cooking

Also known as Straits Chinese or Peranakan cuisine, Nonya cooking is a mixture of Chinese and Malay traditions. According to (very possibly incorrect) legend, Peranakans descend from the 1459 marriage of the Sultan of Melaka to a Chinese princess, Han Li Po. She arrived with 500 ladies, each of whom married local men. During the 19th century, immigrant Chinese males, who married Malay women, enhanced the community and over time the families became wealthy and aristocratic. The cuisine that evolved is a fusion of Chinese techniques and local tropical produce, especially spices, so while it is highly refined it is also boldly flavoured, spicy and tangy. Most famous of the dishes is the rich soup- noodle laksa. Look out too for the distinctive braised chicken with black nut gravy.

There are more than 30 Nonya restaurants in Singapore. Stylish Blue Ginger on Tanjong Pagar Road is considered the finest for its quality of food but is worth a visit simply for the interesting renovation of the traditional Peranakan shop building. One of the most accessible Nonya venues is the friendly House of Peranakan Cuisine, just off Orchard Road. Don't worry about the hotel setting - locals eat there too.

Blue Ginger, 97 Tanjong Pagar Road, Singapore (+ 65 6222 3928)


Kaiseki cuisine

The Japanese government's health advice is that people should try to eat 30 different foods every day. How much would they consume on a special occasion blow-out then? If dining on kaiseki cuisine - the rarefied procession of small, exquisitely presented dishes based unswervingly on seasonal produce - they would get near 20 ingredients just sampling the appetizers. Another seven courses follow on.

At Gora Kadan, a refined hotel-spa set in the former summer palace of the Kanin-no-miya imperial family, kaiseki meals are served in private dining rooms each evening. Your kimono-wrapped personal housekeeper always calls from behind the paper screen before entering with her trays and presenting the dishes - as is traditional - on her knees. In winter, the meal may contain savoury custard with cod's roe and crab; a rice porridge with grilled fish, pickled plum and green tea; tiny cubes of sesame tofu decorated with gold leaf; kudzu starch soup; perhaps a challenging bowl of sticky sea bream intestines, but, also simple grilled sirloin with broccoli. Most of it is no bigger than a few mouthfuls, all of it is nourishing. You won't get much exercise while there, but the housekeeper stays fit just serving dinner.

Gora Kadan, 1300 Gora, Hakone-machi, Ashigarashimo-gun, Kanagawa-ken, Japan (+81 460 2 3331)


Dinner at Bukhara

There aren't many top-flight restaurants where you're expected to make such a pig of yourself that they hand you a bib to wear. Yet it didn't

deter Bill Gates or Mick Jagger from enjoying Bukhara's finger lickin' good food. With money, and the foresight to make an essential reservation, you can experience the kebabs that have helped make this Asia's finest restaurant, according Restaurant Magazine's latest list of the World's 50 Best. Bukhara opened in 1977 and the atmospheric design, showcase kitchen and superlative Northwest Frontier cuisine have proved such a hit that the concept has been rolled out inter-nationally. Its cave-like walls are lined with tapestries, the lighting is dim, the colours warm, but the low tables and stools shaped from tree trunks make sitting awkward. Mughlai kebabs and tandoor-grilled food are the menu's mainstays.

Those visiting in groups should share the beautifully crusted sikandari raan, a whole leg of lamb marinated in vinegar, cinnamon, and black cumin, braised then finished in the tandoor. Simply grilled chicken tikka is a must-have too, so you can see how wrong the curry houses back home get it.

Bukhara, Maurya Sheraton Hotel, Diplomatic Enclave, New Delhi, India (+91 11 611 2233).