Taking mandarin lessons is tough….the language is tough as it is but for some reason, most syllabus use food a lot in the lessons – I guess because everyone knows Chinese food so our dear teachers think it’s the easiest way to teach us the language.
Tonight my lesson was on Shaomai (shāo mài) which is a traditional Chinese dumpling served in dianxin/dim sum. The first time I had this was on a roadside stall in Malaysia on my way from KL to Penang. My companion spoke mainly Cantonese and was a huge fan of dim sum. All I knew was that I loved the little bamboo steamers it came in and enjoyed each delicate piece with a dollop of spicy chilli sauce.
In my lesson today, I learnt that I should be able to recognise a Shaomai as it has a fluffy and flowery shape on the top. Although shaomai originates from steamed stuffed bun (I’ve seen a lot of these a lot on the streets of Malaysia, Hong Kong, Macau and Singapore), these two similar kinds of food have two main differences. First, the outer covering of shaomai is made of a thin sheet of lye water dough; Secondly, shaomai differ from steamed buns in that their outer covering is not sealed but instead has a pomegranate shape….i prefer the shaomai any day.
Once well steamed in the pot, shaomai are prized for the thin skin and abundant fillings. Shaomai is in the shape of a cup, not only delicious but also beautiful. There are two regional varieties of shaomai: a Cantonese version and a version from the Jiangnan region…frankly I couldn’t tell the difference but I certainly love a good shaomai in my Friday brunch.
In KL, I loved the dim sum varieties at the Pan Pacific Sunday brunch, In Singapore its best to try it at Paradise Point and in Dubai, Shangri-La does it best! I didn’t have much time in Korea and Macau to try good recommended Dim Sum but the best has to be in Hong Kong – I wanted to go to Maxim’s on the way to Fiji but the stopover was too short so I tried random restaurants and they were all awesome for dim sum.
Once again, I have diverted to food… I blame my Mandarin instructor. Each lesson this week was related to food and brought back heaps of memories from Asia.