Move over sweets, bhujia and chai; here is a new recipe from the orient for the kitchen-savvy urban Indian homemaker out to impress guests.
A bowl of dim sums and a light seafood dumpling soup cooked and served Chinese style in cane or wooden covered trays and bone-china cutlery, along with a tumbler of pearl jasmine tea. It is light, low on spices, usually steamed or boiled and easy to digest -- despite the abundance of starch.
"With increased consciousness about health, Indians are developing a palate for dim sums and dumplings, the traditional Chinese savouries," Sanjeev Kumar, chef de cuisine at The China Kitchen in the Hyatt Regency Hotel in the capital, told IANS.
Dim sum in Chinese means a "bit of heart". It symbolises tea time camaraderie in the traditional tea houses, where it is served with jasmine or oolong herbal tea from morning to mid-afternoon.
The chef attributes the growing Indian palate for dim sums and dumplings, which are slightly bigger in size, to the popularity of the Tibetan momos sold in almost every street corner across Indian cities.
"Momos are very much like dim sums, except the rice used is not as delicate and fragile as the Chinese rice, which is sometimes translucent like a crystal. You can see the filling inside. The glutinous variety of Chinese rice is sweeter than other rice," the chef said.
Dim sums, said the chef, are rice flour cakes stuffed with fillings of seafood, shrimps, vegetables, chicken or pork. They can be steamed, boiled, baked or fried.
"In China, people usually start their meals with dim sums and dumplings these days. They are either served as a standalone dish or in light stocks (broth) of meat, seafood, sesame and chilli oil, garnished with herbs and coriander sprigs. The Chinese love to snack on it with cups of herbal tea at the tea houses and dim sum restaurants in their country," Kumar said.
The Hyatt, which is hosting its first dim sum festival from Sep 1, has 30 varieties on offer.
"Fifteen of them are traditionally Chinese, including sweet dim sums which Indians have never tasted before. What we have found out is that Indians like the boiled dim sums," Kumar said.
Dim sums and dumplings are not difficult to make at home as all the ingredients -- barring a few like the rare "oxidised saliva of the swallow or the swiftlet bird" and some exotic mushrooms -- are available, at least in large cities, the chef said.
The Hyatt dim sum and dumpling spread, priced between Rs.550 and Rs.2,500 per dish, is based on traditional recipes from the northern Chinese province of Dong Guan -- which is famous for its sweet dumplings.
"One of Dong Guan specialities is the sweet dumpling -- small glutinous rice balls stuffed with condensed milk and oatmeal and topped with fried peanuts," chef Clarence Jiang from China, who specialises in Cantonese dim sums and Dong Guan dumplings, told IANS.
Indians like steamed dumplings with mushrooms and lotus stems, observed the chef.
"I love making them here in the capital because the response is good," he said.
In the non-vegetarian section, most of the local guests Jiang catered to opted for the "steamed vegetable dumplings with shrimps -- a combination of asparagus and sea shrimps in a small case of sweet rice".
Self-taught, Jiang, who belongs to a family of traditional Chinese chefs, has been making dim sums and dumplings since he was 15.
Dim sum, say the chefs at Hyatt, is linked to the ancient tradition of Yum Cha or drinking tea in China, which dates from the Silk Route trade. There were tea houses along the road side where farmers and traders would exchange notes over tea and dim sums.