At times I wonder how many chowmein shops are there in Kolkata? Well, I possibly would lose count.They come in different shapes, sizes and colour and they are the favourite staple of Kolkata. But this post is not about chowmein. This is about ‘Noodles’, the big ethnic elder brother as it is popularly known across the world.
If there were ever a competition on which is the world’s greatest comfort food, then ‘Noodles’ will be the hands down winner. There is still a debate on noodles and pasta about which one was invented before. However there have been records of noodles being made in China in the third century AD, making it one of the oldest forms of food, eventually becoming a staple almost all across the globe. Noodles can be had in many ways, from simple stir fried to hot, cold, instant, in a soupy form, pan fried with various sauces; this list could almost be endless. So, The Zen at The Park, Kolkata recently started an Asian Noodles Festival, which promises to showcase some of the exotic varieties to tantalise the taste buds. And what better time to have this festival, than in the monsoons.
The menu is a combination of cold noodles, soupy noodles, curry noodles, wok fried and in the dessert. Speciality preparations have been taken from China, Japan, Thailand, Korea and Vietnam and the result is an explosion of flavours in various forms. In cold noodles, they have hiyashi somen, which is a Japanese styled cold noodle served over rocky ice cubes with a side of condiments like wasabi, spring onion, daikon and grated ginger and a bowl of sweet and tangy soy dip. Chef Ananchai, who is the curator of this unconventional menu, demonstrated the process of enjoying this soup. With a lot of enthusiasm, we picked up our chop sticks and mixed all the condiments with the noodles and then dipped the strands of noodles in the soy mirin and sake concoction before slurping it down. I must say that it was nothing short of sublime.
The cold noodle was followed by the soupy noodles. One can opt for Peking style noodle soup with vegetables or Pho bac, which is a Vietnamese Hanoi rice noodle soup with a hot broth of beef, shitake mushrooms and pokchoi. My love for seafood made me opt for the Japanese Nagasaki Champon which has prawns, fish and squids along with some vegetables. This soup had the typical flavour of the ocean, which made me happy, however it was a bit too spicy for my taste and seeing everyone excited over the beef broth, I had to ask for a bowl. And my, it was sweet, salty, tangy and was packed with flavour. The beef was perfectly cooked and the addition of the shitake mushrooms heightened the experience. This soup clearly took the centre stage.
Then there were the curry based noodles from Korea and Japan where the curry powders have been sourced from these countries. We had Curry cha soba from Japan. Made with matcha green tea noodles, this broth was hearty and wholesome. It had a concentrated earthy flavour which enhanced the eating experience. At this point, I was not sure whether I had devoured too much carbs in the pretence of having healthy soupy versions; however it did feel quite light. Next came the wok fried Chapchea which can be simplified as a Korean style stir fried glass noodle with sesame and a choice of vegetables, chicken or fish. This kind of glass noodles is made with potato starch and gives it an amazing silky and slippery texture. Tossed in a wok with the crunch of sesame seeds and some chicken pieces was outrageously fabulous, so much so that even after going back home and for the next couple of days, I only wanted to binge on this Chapchea.
The Zen has been known to dish out some of the exquisite desserts, unusual of Asian restaurants and here again for this festival, the desserts were stunning, especially the black sesame seed ice cream that was served with a pretty complex darsan made with different kinds of noodles, honey, vanilla and butter topped with sesame seeds. There was also some cold glass noodle with coconut syrup which had subtle flavours and was quite comforting to taste. All in all, we went back with some happy experience.
This festival is on till the 7th of August 2016 for both lunch and dinner menu at The Zen.Thank you Chef Sharad Dewan for a wonderful session explaining us the dishes in details. Thanks Namrita Gill, Sayahhna Datta Ray and Sumedha Bagchi for the invite. – Madhushree