The Asian invasion
Move over humdrum continental fares. Asian-themed Sunday brunches, armed with Vietnamese banh xeo, sushi and dimsums, are taking over the city's palates
The rule of continental fare at Sunday brunches is under threat. Gone are the days when Sunday brunches at five-stars and restaurants served a spread of egg preparations, waffles, pancakes, hearty salads and bakes. With well-heeled patrons opting for niche meals, menus are changing. One such adaptation is the shifting focus of brunch meals from western to Asian cuisines. “Continental food has been a brunch staple for years, but with people travelling extensively to South East Asian countries, Indians are developing a soft spot for pan-Asian fare,” says Chef Rahul Hajarnavis from Shiro, a Lower Parel-based restaurant that serves Asian fare like Japanese and Chinese.
For Mala Pratapsingh, a regular at ITC’s Shanghai Club and her lunching partner, Dr Seema Sampat, dishes such as tangy soups, spicy noodles and wasabi-coated sushi work much better than mild continental food to brighten up their Sundays. Our predilection for this cuisine can be linked to the fact that Asian and Indian grub share a similar flavour palate. “Take for instance, coconut-based Thai soups and curries, garlic-flavoured Chinese food, ample usage of rice in Japanese sushi and haldi-infused dishes from Vietnamese cuisine,” points out Hajarnavis.
Another factor that makes us pass up pasta for phad Thai is the health quotient. “Asian food uses a lot of fresh vegetables and homemade sauces that makes it suitable to health enthusiasts,” says Michael Swamy, author of The East Indian Kitchen. Swamy points out that apart from everyday ingredients, even the cooking techniques used by these cuisines are healthy. For instance, steaming and quick stir-frying help keep the nutrition intact.
We pick the top four Asian brunches in the city and what they are churning out every Sunday.
Shanghai Club at ITC Grand Central
Price: Rs 1,800
If rains make you crave soup, head to Shanghai Club. Kickstart your brunch routine with steaming bowls of lemon and coriander soup. The soup has a clear texture and a hearty wholesomeness that makes you want to tuck into bed, with a book and a bowlful. What also suits the monsoon mood is their crispy fried baby corn appetiser. Sautéed with red chilies and a spicy Sichuan dressing, the dish makes you forget homely bhajiyas. For mains, go for the regular fried rice and burnt garlic gravy routine.
Chef Yang Jiayu says, “While most restaurants would limit traditional fare to appetisers and mains, we take it forward with traditional dessert as well. The shijin liuli shuiguo, is a toffee made out of seasonal fruits such as pineapples, papaya, apples and bananas deep-fried and coated with a sticky caramel sauce.”
Price: Rs 1,700
Banh xeo (pronounced baan seo), is a turmeric-coloured, rice flour and coconut milk-based Vietnamese pancake. At Busaba, it comes stuffed with soy sauce flavoured-tofu, scallions and mushrooms or shrimp and chicken.
The crepe is light and crispy and blends perfectly with the brunch mood. For sushi lovers, there is a green mango and raw papaya sushi. The dish has a Thai salad known as som tam rolled with nori and rice.
This Japanese staple has tangy notes coupled with patent umami that a sushi promises. Unlike other brunches in the city, this one offers an a la carte service. Chef Nikhil Chib says, “At an a la carte brunch customers laze around instead of getting up repeatedly for refills.”
Spices, jw marriott
Price: Rs 2,300 onwards
The Sunday brunch at Spices offers live sushi, seafood, tepanyaki, stir fry and dim sum stations. Our favourite is the teppanyaki table that has a Japanese chef perform live acts of food juggling and metal spatula stunts behind a large teppan griddle.
The station serves rice, stir-fried vegetables, tossed meats and noodles flavoured with sauces such as yakitori and teriyaki. If you want something lighter, opt for roasted Peking duck.
The meat comes to us dressed in a sweet hoisin sauce and is tucked inside the skin of a steamed pancake. Like a ballerina’s foot, the pancake is light and graceful.
Chef Himanshu Taneja says, “Our menu is a mix of light and filling dishes. Dishes such as phad Thai noodles and fried rice are ideal for a Sunday lunch, while crystal prawn dumpling and vegetable tofu roll are light and can be eaten as breakfast.”
Crispy Vegetable Dumplings in Soya Ginger Sauce
100g dim sum flour
50ml hot water
Salt to taste
2 tsp butter
1 tsp sesame oil
White pepper powder
30 gm elephant yam
5 asparagus spears, chopped
½ carrot, chopped
2 shitake mushrooms
10g American corn, boiled
1 bunch pok choy, blanched
5 button mushrooms, chopped
2 spring onions, chopped
400 ml oil
For the dough
>> Steam yam until tender and mash it
>> In a bowl, mix dim sum flour with hot water and add seasame oil, butter, sugar, mashed yam and some seasoning. Knead for three minutes and keep it aside
>> In a pan, heat some oil and sauté asparagus, carrots, shitake mushroom, button mushroom, spring onions and corn for a few minutes
>> Season it with salt and pepper. You may add a little vegetable stock to give the stuffing some texture and make it juicy
>> Remove from stove and cool to room temperature
>> Roll the dough into a thin sheet and cut it into small circles
>> Place the stuffing in the centre and bring all the ends together
>> Seal it like a potli by pinching it gently with your finger
>> Fry it in hot oil until crispy
>> To serve, place blanched pok choy on the plate, along with the dumplings and garnish with spring onion
Price: Rs 1,400 onwards
Vong Wong has an egg counter that dishes up everything from Thai-style omelette and classic eggs Benedict to scrambled eggs. Unlike other brunches that stick to classic Asian cuisine, this one has hints of other cuisines in the form of Spanish omelette, Greek salad and western desserts.
We root for their Burmese khowsuey station. The yellow lentil and coconut milk-based gravy is stirred and served here in deep bowls along with noodles, burnt garlic, crushed peanuts, spring onion and coriander leaves.
While their dim sums were passable, the desserts are to vie for. We especially recommend a bowl of tub tim krob, a traditional Thai dessert that has rose syrup-flavoured water chestnut pieces floating in sweet coconut milk and crushed ice. The red rubies have a delicate flavour and a crunchy bite.
Fengli yaoguo chaofan
(Cashew nut fried rice with pineapple)
500g steamed rice
200g pineapple, thick dices
100g cashew nuts
40g spring onions, finely chopped
Oil for cooking
Salt as per taste
>> In a wok, heat oil and fry the cashew nuts until brown. Once done, remove from fire and transfer them on a thick kitchen paper
>> In another wok, heat oil and stir fry the spring onions for two to three minutes. Add steamed rice, pineapple and stir-fry for three minutes
>> Season with salt and mix well. Garnish with fried cashew nut pieces and serve hot in bowls with Asian gravy