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.

img_3349
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.

facetune_26-10-2018-23-26-42
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.

facetune_26-10-2018-23-21-22
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!

facetune_26-10-2018-23-19-54
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?

facetune_26-10-2018-23-17-57
Hunan lamb shank stew at Ming’s Chamber

Al Fresco dining at SOY, Ibn Batuta

View my food journey on Zomato!

Ibn Batuta mall was not the kind of place you would specifically go to for a meal. If you were in the mall doing your groceries or whatever, sure why not. At least that is what is what it used to be for me, until recently.

Please don’t get me wrong, It’s not that they ever had a shortage of options. The Batuta  restaurants have a rich variety of cuisines on offer but  still seems like more of a place you visit primarily to shop. If I want to eat at a restaurant in the neighborhood, I would rather go to the Marina or JLT but if the place absolutely has to be in a mall, it would probably be the Marina mall. The most probable reason for that may be – the view.

That is how Dubai has spoilt us. If it doesn’t offer  a view of the water, a park or a beautiful skyscraper, it doesn’t seem that attractive. If it has none of those, the least we have come to expect is a terrace where we can enjoy this beautiful weather or at least some sunlight coming in from panoramic windows overlooking the city. I have become so used to the Dubai life that places without windows or a view make me feel claustrophobic.

How you may wonder has Ibn Batuta Mall become one of my favorite dining out destinations in Dubai? It’s because I have discovered the outdoor dining area which I never knew about earlier. Located at the China court, this is like a an oasis of fun and festivity in the middle of your mundane grocery trip. There are no extra ordinary views of the city or the water but the fact that you can enjoy al fresco dining  in a bustling square surrounded by busy restaurants serving everything from Turkish, Indian, Chinese and Lebanese was enough to arouse my curiosity.

There were a couple of restaurants that seemed interesting but the one we decided to eat at that day was ‘Soy’. One of the reasons we decided to eat  there was because it seemed to be looking down at the all the other restaurants! No seriously, the patio outside Soy was elevated 2 to 3 feet higher than the other restaurants around it. It seemed like the best vantage point for people watching which is our 2nd most favorite thing to do at a restaurant. Yes we are weird like that!

After seating ourselves, I quickly went through the online reviews. Food seemed to be rated higher with a couple of misses here and there but the service seemed appalling. “Good afternoon Sir!” said our waiter, just as we were wondering about the  kind of mess I may have got us into. “How are you doing today?” he said with a smile while placing the menus in front of us. “We are fine, thank you!”  we said in unison, feeling a little embarrassed for forming an opinion which clearly did not seem to be right.

We ordered the diced chicken with cashew nuts and snow peas along with the crispy beef with shredded bell papers  and some brown rice. I will get to the food in a bit but please allow me to say that the fermented black bean chili sauce which accompanied the prawn crackers was the best thing that happened to me that day. It had a course texture, fiery kick and tangy aftertaste so unique that I do not remember the last time I enjoyed a condiment or sauce that much.

We have a habit of ordering the chicken with cashew nut at every Chinese and Thai place we got to. We have been at it for so long and have tried so many different renditions of the dish that we consider ourselves to be specialists of sorts. This particular dish was unique because we never tried it with snow peas before. I expected the peas to come out nice and juicy dotting the plate here and there but there were no peas to be seen. What it did have was whole baby peapods that looked a bit like edamame beans but tasted exactly like peas. The dish was closer to real Chinese than Indo-Chinese but we did not mind that a bit. There were no overwhelming flavors except for those of the lightly salted chicken and cashew gravy along with baby peas. Uniquely different but definitely a winner.

The magic ingredient in the crispy beef was the shredded bell pepper. It added a soft  texture to the hard and chewy beef. When I say chewy I do not mean rubbery. It was still crisp and crackled upon first bite but took a while to chew after that. The sweetness of the bell pepper strips accompanied the beef like they were made for each other.

Chicken cashew nut at Soy

We weren’t too happy with our cocktails. The Mojito was a bit too sweet and the Pina Colada had a bit too much froth and they were both about 100ml short of the drinkable parts. Overall however, our experience was very good. We enjoyed the sun and al-fresco seating  and there were lots of interesting people all around. The food was a 7 out of 10 and the service was good enough to make us go back for more.

Soy Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Noodle House. Dubai’s homegrown international chain.

If you are a fan of Asian food and have been in Dubai long enough, you must have dined at one of the Noodle House restaurants at some point in your life. If you are a fan of Asian Food and were living in or visiting Lahore some time between 2006 and 2009, chances are that you would have either dined at Noodle House Lahore or would have heard someone raving about how wonderfully authentic the Wasabi prawns were. Unfortunately, that is a thing of the past because Noodle House Lahore is no more. The restaurant decided to shut down their operation some years ago.

So when our young friend, Lahore’s design prodigy Hamza Bokhari was in town fresh on the heels of his London Fashion Week showcase, we thought to ourselves, “Where best to take him out than to a restaurant he used to love but can’t get any more of in Lahore?” So that ladies and gents is how we ended up at the Noodle House for the umpteenth time.

We picked the Madinat Jumeirah location and did the customary Souq Madinat stroll before arriving unannounced. After being greeted with the same big smiles we have grown accustomed to we were immediately ushered to our favorite corner of the restaurant. Our waitress patiently answered all our questions before handing us along with the usual order pad, a pictorial menu which I had not seen earlier. I love the order pad because it comes with a cool pen that you use to put a check next to the items you want and then hand it over to your server. It is an efficient process and was one of the unique things about Noodle House. They probably had to come up with a new menu with pictures of food on it because A) Their customers do not have the brain power anymore to imagine what a Peking Duck would look like. B) Their customers enjoy looking at pictures. C) Their customers cannot read. Whatever the case may be, the old order pad is also available and you can order off either of the two.

The lights were bright enough to ensure we could see each others faces and discuss the neck tattoo of the young lady on the table next to ours (Yes I have told you before, we are weird like that). They were also dim enough to act as a conduit between all the different people on all the different tables who seemed to be intimately connected through their love of good food. The background music was loud enough to suppress any sounds from the open kitchen yet low enough to allow us to have a conversation. Mixed with the low rumble of chatter from all the other tables, it created a unique soundtrack to our Asian meal.

The first time I ordered the Thai chicken with cashew nuts was because it had 3 little chilli peppers next to it on the menu. I do sometimes like to burn my mouth till the taste buds go numb but after all the beef Vindaloos, Sombrero chilli bean bombs and Thai chilli papaya salad that I have devoured in my lifetime, this was in my opinion, mildly spiced. A word of caution though; never ever use my judgement on chilli to form your opinion on whether a dish is too hot or not. Everyone has a different threshold for handling chilli and mine is just off the charts by all standards. Having said that, I would also like to say that there is a whole melange of flavors in the dish and the chilli is just one element. All of them compliment each other to create the unmistakably unique Noodle House taste. So, I strongly recommend you sample the cashew nut chicken there at least once while you live in Dubai.

IMG_1759
The Chicken cashew nut is always a part of my order at The Noodle House

We also ordered the Szechuan crispy beef, the wok fried chili prawns & calamari and the Singapore Noodles. Like the cashew nut chicken, the crispy beef and wok fried prawns included a serving of steamed rice. The Singapore noodles were basically rice vermicelli noodles tossed with some chicken, prawns and vegetables. It was the only dish that needed some extra soy sauce to enhance the flavor. The wok fried chilli prawns and calamari were lightly spiced but the chilli did not overpower the taste of the seafood. It was lightly sauteed so the prawns were less rubbery and more creamy. That along with the chewy calamari and steamed rice created a medley of different textures in your mouth.

IMG_1761
Singapore Noodles at The Noodle House

The crispy beef was voted as everyone’s favourite dish of the evening because it was essentially 3 dishes rolled into one. Such experimentation can often result in disaster but this dish was an absolute delight and none of us could stop raving about it. The texture of the dish was that of a dry fried Chinese beef, the unmistakable aroma was like a lemongrass beef stir fry and the final kick was delivered by the Schezwan sauce.

IMG_1760
The Crispy Beef is my new favourite dish at The Noodle House

You never know what life might throw at you next. Before you move on to greener pastures or your time in Dubai comes to an end, if you have not done so yet please do head down to the Noodle House and try the Crispy Szechuan beef and the Chicken cashew nut. This is a home grown Dubai restaurant that has branched out to Doha, Jeddah, Cyprus, Moscow and for a while to Lahore. Unless your next stop is one of these cities, you may never again get a chance to sample 3 recipes being rolled into one.

IMG_1762
The wok fried chilly prawns and calamari

The Noodle House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato