The book of secrets @ Ming’s Chamber

Now imagine how I must have felt when I came across not only this book but the opportunity to taste all of the Emperor’s favourite dishes from the Ming court.

Ming's Chamber Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Where would you take business associates consisting of a Philipino, an American, an Indian and a Chinese person out for lunch, together in Abu Dhabi? Please don’t name one of the American fast food chains. I said take ‘them out for lunch’, not ‘kill them softly’ … LOL. Sorry about that bad joke, you will understand the relevance of the question in a bit but on a serious note, I have just discovered one of Abu Dhabi’s best kept culinary secrets. A book of secret recipes to be precise. Recipes from the Ming Dynasty that ruled China from 1368 to 1644.

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Chef Rehmat. (Keeper of secrets at Ming’s Chamber)

This book of recipes has since been passed down from generation to generation not just as a family heirloom but as a reminder of the time when China started its journey towards economic growth and prosperity by producing vast quantities of silk, porcelain, laquerware and tea for consumers in the Indian Ocean basin, Central Asia and Europe.

Today, China is a global powerhouse not just because of its economic amplitude but because of its cultural reach which has been helped in part by the world’s love for Chinese food. Now imagine how I must have felt when I came across not only this book but the opportunity to taste some of the Emperor’s favourite dishes from the Ming court. Pretty unbelievable right? The best thing is that all of these dishes are now cooked every day, on demand for people like you and me at the chamber of Ming in Abu Dhabi.

To truly understand how China has infiltrated every culture of the world with its ‘soft power’ and the vital role Chinese food has had in that global expedition, you absolutely have to order two of the starters at Mings Chamber. One of them are the TNT prawns and the other are the sweet and sour chicken wings. Some of you may compare the TNT Prawns to the ‘Dynamite Shrimps’ that are served at a very popular American/Chinese restaurant. Trust me on this, the prawns have nuked the shrimps – permanently. You will get the same mild heat from the wasabi and there is a hint of sriracha just for good measure but the difference between the two dishes is the ‘crunch’. I am still not sure how something so creamy can be so crunchy at the same time.

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TNT prawns at Ming’s Chamber

The sweet and sour chicken wings were my favourite dish on the menu. I can truly understand why the Ming Family has kept this recipe hidden for so long. This is the kind of recipe that could have led to wars and invasions and all kinds of nasty things. It’s a good thing that we are all ‘kind of’ civilised now and have ‘sort of’ stopped invading other countries; which is why the Ming family has decided to bring this centuries-old secret recipe to the forefront and yes just like everything else on the menu, you can now go and order yourself a plate of history, at the Ming’s Chamber in Abu Dhabi.

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Sweet and Sour Chicken Wings at Ming’s Chamber

When the Ming Emperors entertained trading partners from all over the world at court, the chefs tried to incorporate dishes from their guest’s countries of origin in the menu as well. Over time, the most popular recipes from overseas became a permanent part of the banquet menu and eventually got written down in the secret book of recipes; which is why we can see an influence of Singaporean, Indian, Philipino, Indonesian and Western food in the Ming’s Chamber menu.

They also have a giant Mongolian grill which they use instead of a wok to cook up your choice of noodles along with your favourite veggies and protein or just to toss up some meat like a warrior; remnants of the Yuan dynasty which was ousted when the Mings took over power in China. I quiet liked the idea of creating my own noodles. Made me feel in control. Come to think of it, transferring power to the people might have been one of the reasons the Ming Dynasty collapsed!

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Build your own noodle bowl at Ming’s Chamber

Before I sign off, please allow me to give you one last tip. You have absolutely got to try the cheesecake at the end of your meal. Doesn’t matter if its chocolate or lemon, they are both equally divine. You know that big American restaurant that has the word ‘cheesecake’ as part of its name? Yeah, well I have been there 3 to 4 times because I love cheesecake but I have yet to taste anything half as good as the cheesecake at Ming’s Chamber there. In fact, I am not sure if I have ever had cheesecake that is this good in Dubai before. It was served in a mug because of its consistency and that was the main reason behind the magic. Think of it like a wonderfully flavorful, warm, gooey mass of cream cheese with a lavish sprinkling of crunch that essentially would form the base in ordinary cheesecakes. I know right?

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Hunan lamb shank stew at Ming’s Chamber

The street food revolution @ Wok Boyz.

What is so experimental about a noodle house that cooks everything in a wok, you may ask? There must be at least a hundred in Dubai, you may say?  Well, the fact that it is basically just a kitchen with roadside seating, makes it a little unique but that is not what differentiates Wok Boyz from everyone else.  

Wok Boyz Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

I absolutely love it when a restaurant dares to do something different. It doesn’t necessarily work every time because we the customers, are stuck in our old eating habits and even if the restaurant has taken a bold step in order to provide us with a fresh experience or type of cuisine; we are not ready to step out of our comfort zones.  

Sometimes, the gamble does pay off and when it does, big or small – the restaurant becomes talk of the town. Case in point is Wok Boyz on Sheikh Zayed Road. What is so experimental about a noodle house that cooks everything in a wok, you may ask? There must be at least a hundred in Dubai, you may say?  Well, the fact that it is basically just a kitchen with roadside seating, makes it a little unique but that is not what differentiates Wok Boyz from everyone else.  

At the heart of this success story is the concept. Once this catches on, it will be a game changer for the whole industry. Next time you want to grab a shawarma after the club, you may choose to grab a noodle box instead. No, it is not the first time someone is selling noodles out of a box but very few places have been able to deconstruct the noodle box in Dubai. Think of it like the Subway of noodle boxes. You choose a base like egg or wheat noodles, choose a protein (chicken, beef etc), add some shitake mushrooms and bamboo shoots or whichever veggies your heart desires and finish it off with your Asian sauce of choice (six options). You make your own noodle box, just like you make your own sandwich. It’s called giving control back to the customer and that is the direction all fast food concepts will eventually move towards.

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Noodles in a box at Wok Boyz

If you are the indecisive kind and need to be told by others what you should be eating, this place might still be worth a visit. You may have to miss out on the best part of this experience but you will still be able to sample the signature, Spicy Korean wings and wash them down with fresh coconut water, straight out of a chilled coconut. Roadside eating doesn’t get better than this.  

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Fresh coconut water at Wok Boyz

This little hole in the wall does have the heart of a huge fast food giant. It screams out for attention but in its own unique way. The giant graffiti mural, painted on the entire wall of the building this restaurant is located in, gives away its intentions of world domination. Standing out amongst the majestic buildings and polished lobbies of Sheikh Zayed road, it stares directly up at the Emirates Towers building with pride. This fight for the next hit food concept has spilled out into the streets of Dubai and this little restaurant is definitely punching above its weight. It may be the beginning of a new sub-culture within Dubai’s dynamic street food scene.

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Korean chicken wings at Wok Boyz

Big Chefs @ Riverland.

Istanbul’s hipsters are of a different breed though. Graffiti may be a form of expression but books are a source of inspiration for them. The high-end restaurants in hipster Istanbul seem to have embraced books as a part of their décor. Not just as an afterthought but as a focal point of the entire space.

Big Chefs Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

If you haven’t been to Riverland yet, you are missing out on one of Dubai’s most exiting outdoor destinations. Yes, that is correct, it is a destination in itself. You do not have to be visiting Dubai Parks and Resorts or staying at the mysterious Qasr al Sultan hotel to enjoy what this little French themed village has to offer. I intend to review all of the Riverland restaurants soon but let me kick it all off by the contemporary Turkish eatery, Big Chefs.

I did expect the food here to be of a certain standard (because of the name) but never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined having flashbacks of Sultanahmet and all the eateries in the Beyoglu area of Istanbul. Don’t get me wrong. This restaurant is as modern as they come but so are most of the other new restaurants in traditional ‘old Istanbul’. They have held on to their centuries-old tradition of Turkish warmth and hospitality but they are the amalgamation of posh dining and the hipster movement brewing in the back alleys of old Istanbul.

Istanbul’s hipsters are of a different breed though. Graffiti may be a form of expression but books are a source of inspiration for them. The high-end restaurants in hipster Istanbul seem to have embraced books as a part of their décor. Not just as an afterthought but as a focal point of the entire space. The giant bookshelves at ‘Big Chef’, along with the indoor trees, abundant natural light and luxurious leather seating give an unmistakable Turkish identity to this restaurant.

The food was no different. They launched their redesigned menu about a week ago and Turkish influences can be seen throughout what was otherwise a very international offering. They sell their own Olive Oil and sauces. I found the pomegranate sauce to be particularly interesting. Think of it like a maple syrup but slightly less sweet with an intensely sour flavor which kicks in after a couple of seconds but gives way to the sweet after taste almost immediately. I liked it so much that I ended up taking a bottle home as well!

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Big Chef branded Olive Oil and Pomegranate syrup

Since I am a sucker for looks, I ordered the Lamb Shank because I could just not stop imagining how good it would look on my instagram. Unfortunately, the photos did not come out as great as I expected. I think I was too hungry to get up and sit with the light behind me. Thank God for editing and filters. (Note to self: always eat a little bit at home before going out to take pictures of food)

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Lamb Shank with Barley Risotto at Big Chef

Though the lamb shank itself was tender and nicely cooked, the barley pilaf risotto accompanying it  was pretty ordinary. A less fancy name for it would be ‘boiled barley’. The gravy sauce that was supposed to be served with the dish was nowhere to be found and I was just too hungry to bother asking for it. Overall, I think this dish did ok but that could have been so because I was starving or maybe just because the meat was full of flavor, was really well cooked and was literally falling off the bone. 

The Casarecce pesto rosso (pasta with pink sauce) provided a more, well-rounded experience. The portion was enough to feed a hungry adult and was appropriately creamy and very delicious. The sun-dried tomato provided a nice little zap while the red pesto gave the gorgeous pink colour and a wonderful flavor to the dish.

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Casarecce Pesto Rosso at Big Chef

The home style meatballs were what reminded me of Istanbul the most. This was a classic Turkish meat dish with potatoes. I initially thought that it was modernised by adding caramelised onion and sautéed tomatoes but after doing some research, I learnt that this was exactly how traditional meatballs were cooked and garnished in Turkish homes. 

So drop into Big Chefs whenever you crave authentic Turkish meatballs or some wonderfully pink pasta and if you do, make sure it is at the Riverland branch. It will transport you to the back alleys of Istanbul and the giant bookshelves and ladders will give you a glimpse into the posh restaurants of Beyoglu and Kadikoy.

Ginger and Mint lemonade at Big Chef