SE Asian gourmet on Shillong platter

By Heather Cecilia Phanwar
& Richa Kharshandi

For a food adventurer, South East Asian recipes can be a delight with their array of spices, herbs and other ingredients. A city hotel takes food aficionados on a ride to South East Asia at its food festival that started on Saturday.

Hotel Polo Towers’ week-long Asian cuisines festival provides food lovers, both vegetarians and non-vegetarians, an experience to cherish. The festival offers delicious cuisines from across Asia, mostly South East Asian countries like Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam. The fresh grubs from graceful Chef Bhibhuti Bhusan will leave one craving for more.
The fiesta is an annual affair and it invites citizens to indulge in culinary ecstasy.

Jason Lenthang, the head of Food and Beverage at the hotel, led the way to Sky Grill, a spacious and airy restaurant with a simple decor. A shiny Chinese teapot placed as a centrepiece on the table gave a hint of the theme. Strands of orchid on both ends of the table added to the sophistication.
“People here love to experiment with food and bringing the South East Asian platter here is something that everyone is excited about. This is the third food fest we are organising,” said Lenthang, adding that the footfall in the last two years was impressive and the organisers are hoping for a similar response this time too.

The food was served in courses starting with soup, starters, appetizers, main course and of course dessert. The selection of cuisines is remarkable.
When asked, Lenthang said they conducted a survey and as expected the majority voted for Asian culinary. “The food festival highlights a lot of seafood but also has various options for vegetarians.”

The head cluster informed that they bring fresh produces from the market here in the state. However, some herbs and spices are not available in Meghalaya and they have to import from Guwahati, Kolkata and Thailand.
The first on the table was Tom Kha, a spicy Thai coconut soup with exotic vegetables and herbs. The spiciness added with a little bit of lemon grass was a perfect combination. The lemon grass was not overpowering but complemented the other ingredients. Pieces of chicken and broccoli made it savoury. The soup is a perfect way to start a sumptuous meal as the herbs cleanse your palate and prepare it for a burst of flavours.

Yum won sen was the next in line. It is a glass noodle salad made from julienned onions, Chinese celery strips, crushed garlic and a few pieces of peanut. This salad would definitely make vegetarians long for more. The first bite of the glass noodle mixed with the veggies was refreshing. Every strand of the noodle was perfectly cooked. For non-vegetarians too this salad will also be a top notch.
The salad was followed by a queue of starters, the first being spinach cheese roll, which is fresh sauteed spinach and cheese made into a crispy roll served with chilli plum sauce. For anybody who does not like spinach, eating this appetizer will make you think twice if spinach is added. The crispiness of the roll dipped in the chilli plum sauce just makes your mouth explode with different flavours — from the finely diced spinach to the cheese and the sweet and spiciness of the sauce. This is a highly recommended appetizer for any food lover. The small rolls were cut in equal pieces and well placed on the plate with a few toppings of finely diced vegetables.
Then on the list was chicken satay with peanut sauce. The chicken was served in skewer sticks and its blandness was complemented by the sauce. Chicken for a non-vegetarian is always heaven. The flavour of the chicken blends well with the sauce.
Stuffed mushroom with garlic and pepper was a wonder on plate. The mushroom was stuffed with cheese and chilli tossed with garlic and pepper. This was another appetizer that will make an impact on the vegetarians. The chilli plum sauce goes well with it. The saltiness of the cheese, mushroom and the garlic leaves a lasting taste on your mouth. You will definitely go for two or three of these.
Jade balls, made of cottage cheese balls with scallion and spinach tossed with hot chilli plum sauce, were intricately placed on the plate with a few toppings of red and yellow bell pepper thinly sliced on top.
The main course was an Indonesian favourite, Nasi Goreng. It is fried rice made with an Indonesian twist consisting of chicken, egg, prawn, mixed pepper, spring onion, carrot topped with fried egg, served with salad, prawn chips and chicken satay. The rice looked spicy but it was not. Taking one spoon of it, you get pieces of chicken and prawn all in one.
It is not the typical fried rice. The aromatic flavours of the rice makes you want to eat more. It is simple with different techniques involved in cooking. This main course is something which you have to look out for at the festival.
You can conclude the fiesta with a date pan cake, a fusion pancake with dates, cashew nut and a dash of ice cream.
Executive chef Bhibhuti Bhusan, who is originally from Odisha, mastered his culinary skills at Central Institute of Hotel Management and Catering. He started his career with Mayfair Hotels and Resort and had worked at the Marriott in Dubai.
Bhusan came to Shillong in February 2018. “I am an all-rounder,” said the chef with a shy smile and then added, “I can make any dish from Arabic cuisine to continental. But Thai is my favourite cuisine. I chose Shillong and not the other way round. The best thing about Shillong is the weather that is better than Dubai.”
He also likes to visit the farmers’ market and chooses his ingredients carefully.
Bhusan, presenting a wonderful delectable fare of ethnic and exquisite Asian culinary experience for the people of Shillong, said he has 20 people who help him in the kitchen. People can relish the dishes ranging from Thai’s Spicy Crab Meat Soup, Suimais, Indonesia’s Nasi Goreng to the flavours of Malaysia and Vietnam, among others.
“Seafood will be the main attraction of this festival. It will be more of coastal food. There will be small octopus, squids among others. Dim sums which are popular in Japan will be another highly anticipated attraction. They will be different from the normal ones that we get,” Lenthang said.
For the festival, people who have special requests can pre-order their food according to the cuisine they like.
“Last year we organised four-day food festival and witnessed quite a number of visitors and this year we expect even more. If you want to experience South East Asian food in Shillong, this is the scene. Basically this festival is for people who like to experience different cuisines,” Lenthang said.

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