Skip to main content

Say Nǐ hǎo to Mapo Tofu!

Don't you wish you could go back in time just to truly appreciate where you were and what you were doing with your time then? I ponder about this sometimes. I spent two years in Melbourne. That city was a treat food-wise. I tried so many new things, experienced so many new flavours! Narrow lanes used to be dotted with little quaint cafes and the fruit and vegetable market lined with food carts, and it used to be but a pleasure to walk by, trying these treats on a free day. 


Chinatown in melbourne
Chinatown in Melbourne (image courtesy: www.victoria.aussietrueblue.com)
But of course every major city has to have its very own Chinatown, Melbourne included. We had a community kitchen in the lodge we stayed at. Every night after classes, the group of Chinese girls and guys used to collectively cook in the kitchen - sharing their sauces and veggies, and thereafter eating together. Laughter from the kitchen echoed into the halls and I used to envy the sense of togetherness they experienced over food! 

I too had some really lovely Chinese friends whom I met in class and who eventually introduced me to their cuisine. They invited me to join them in their cooking sessions - me, the only Indian amongst them all - I felt privileged! Their cooking, I noticed, involved the use of so many fresh healthy greens which were quickly tossed in a wok skilfully with chopsticks; a dash of salt here, a splash of sauce there, and voilaaaa, you got a great looking, colourful, nutritional dish right in front of you, from fridge to fork..or chopsticks in no time. 


friends cooking together
Me in the centre with Jeannet and Laura
in the community kitchen doing the famous V pose!
There were days when cooking wasn't our calling, and my friends took me to Chinatown to dine at a restaurant there. A dish called Mapo Tofu jumped out to me from the menu because I love anything tofu. A lot of people say that if 'nothing' were to taste like something, it would taste like tofu...but it's a blessed ingredient according to me. Going by the approving nods of my fellow Chinese diners, I went ahead and ordered the dish. "But it's very spicy!", warned Chao (whose English name was Laura); "Ha! Don't you know I'm Indian?!", I retorted. When the food arrived (mine as always came after everyone else's), I took comfort in the glaring red of the Mapo Tofu - thinking to myself I'm going to enjoy the heat and kick from this dish in the Melbourne winter! Served with steamed starchy rice, Mapo Tofu came with ample silky tofu chunks, pork mince cooked in a greasy gravy of red chilli and black peppercorns - the combination made me fall in love! Though I must tell you - I didn't know the mince was made from pork meat. I never ate pork. So when I began eating the dish I felt something was odd and different, but didn't pop up the question to my friends, until I was conveniently halfway through. "Yes, yes, it is pork!", they vehemently replied and sensed something was wrong going by my wide-eyed glare. "Oh well...", I said, before I continued eating the rest of it. Inside, I was a bit guilty but folks, Mapo Tofu was worth it. 


mapo tofu
Mapo Tofu
Mapo Tofu is a dish that comes from the Sichuan province in China, my friends explained. Outside Melbourne, I have rarely seen the dish feature in menus at Asian restaurants in Mumbai and Pune. I have dared to order it once or twice, but what I get is a ghastly version of the dish - nothing authentic about it at all. Convenience is the call of today, so if you come by any Asian store, look out for a Mapo Tofu premix sauce packet...all you then have to do is add the tofu and mince and you're happy! But if you're interested in making this dish from scratch at home, try this recipe: 
http://afoodieworld.com/mapo-tofu/ 

Today if I look at the picture bank from my time in Melbourne, I'm not very rich. I wish I clicked more, captured more memories, the small things and the big. But nonetheless, the memories are alive and all for me to revisit in my little head as and when I please. Until next time, Zài jiàn!

Popular posts from this blog

INSIDE THE GO CHEESE FACTORY

Last weekend, I got a unique opportunity to visit Gowardhan Cheese Factory in Manchar district, a good two hour drive from Pune city. The owning home-grown company Parag Milk Foods brand portfolio includes Gowardhan and GO boasting of a range of dairy products that have been retailed across Mumbai and Pune over the last decade. I first started using their yoghurt when the local kirana store ran out of my usual preference of Amul, Danone and Britannia. One spoon of it and I instantly found it so fresh, light and 'unprocessed'.
I have always loved cheese but now I even prefer it over chocolate. So when I was scheduled to visit the GO factory, it bore semblance to winning the golden ticket and entering glistening gates to its factory much like the popular Roald Dahl's Charlie. Except that it was not all that dramatic! 

Shashi Tharoor's 'An Era of Darkness' Illustrates the Rapacity of the British Raj in India

It was August 15, 2016, I was having lunch with someone. Gazing at the news on the television screen behind me, she asked, "It's India's Independence Day today! Independence from whom?" Independence from the British, I answered, shocked. Shocked, because this someone in question was British and she had not a clue about the crimes of her country's colonial past.  Like millions of Indians and non-Indians, I was left aghast and despondent when I heard the viral Shashi Tharoor Oxford Union debate (if you haven't seen it yet, you've been living under a HUGE rock, and I suggest you watch it before you proceed to read the remainder of this blog). Tharoor in all his articulate and intellectual glory spoke in motion for Britain owing reparations to her former colonies. Tharoor's well-researched facts on the brutality of British rule in India for over two centuries left me astounded, and a sense of shame dawned on me - I knew so little about my country's p…

Restaurant Review: Soy at Le Royce, Pune

Many times I have been recommended a restaurant that is super popular in the city, but after dining there I tend to walk out feeling disappointed...it was good, but not that good. Pune has a few restaurants that are deemed a must-visit for outsiders. My theory is that these popular outlets were good at one time, but once they gained popularity and the footprint, somewhere along the way, the prices sky-rocketed and the food quality suffered. Nonetheless with some PR machinery backing them up, they do get their desired footfalls. 

Sometimes, the best restaurants turn out to be the ones very few have heard of. One such not-much-talked-about place is Soy. My sister discovered it two years ago when severe sushi cravings drove her on a city-wide hunt for a restaurant that serves decent ones. Sheltered on the ground floor of Le Royce Hotel, the chefs at Soy dish out some remarkable Chinese and Japanese food. 

Their menu has good range and better still, vegetarians will not be left upset I assu…