Warrior Fare, Sian, The Gateway Hotel
No. 309, Old Mahabalipuram Road, Sholinganallur, Chennai 600 119.
Meal:?Rs 1,000 per person, tax and alcohol extra
Red Paper lanterns with hanging tassels line the entrance to Sian, the Taj Gateway hotel’s Chinese specialty restaurant in Chennai. Xian is famous for its army of Terracotta Warriors that stand guard at China’s Shaanxi province. It’s also celebrated for its noodles ‘Biang! Biang!’—the sound made by cooks striking their metal woks—and for steamed dumplings, or Bao. The dumplings are rumoured to have been stuffed with dog and donkey meat, as well as squirrel and snake. We, however, had to make do with bean curd and tofu on the Xian festival menu. The Terracotta Warriors beckon the hungry visitor from tiny coasters that mosaic the table as small terracotta bells filled with candles twinkle at each table. There are hearty broths filled with shards of fish and bean curd, pale vegetable wontons simmered in clear stock and appetisers made of strips of lamb that warriors would have tossed at the edge of their blades, shouting ‘Gambey!’ Or cheers! There are as many condiments and dipping sauces that we might find at an Indian table, so part of the charm of Shaanxi cuisine is that it is fiery enough for the Indian palate. We are served shredded white cabbage with a hot and sour chilli dressing, a salad of cucumbers and braised chicken with potato cubes. “We use a chopper to cube the lamb for the spicy-sour lamb dumplings. Only then will they absorb all the spices,” says Chef Ashvini Pandey. We have them with stir-fried rice and ‘Ethereal Noodles’. The desserts are a real surprise, a milky custard, parcels of pineapple pastry and fried walnuts in crunchy caramelised baskets. Even the Terracotta Warriors would have blinked and shouted “Gambey!”.