Friday, 31 December 2010

Black truffle in Chinese food

One can find European black truffle (tuber melanosporum) in a lot of things - foie gras, mushroom soup, or as shavings on pasta and scrambled eggs. They even come in a glass jar in many up market supermarkets. But all this is quintessentially European / Western. So to find black truffle appearing in Chinese menus was a bit of a novelty for me. My first encounter was early this week at the three-Michelin-starred Lung King Heen where a lobster tail was served in a Chinese champagne sauce on a bed of spinach with a sliver of the black stuff atop (see below). The taste was good and it worked, though I question its place in a Chinese restaurant.

Then to my surprise, I came across black truffle again. This time at Din Tai Fung in Causeway Bay. At a xiao lung bao cum noodle joint, one doesn't expect to see black truffles. Wrong. On the menu one can order a steamed basket of black truffle xiao lung bao at HK$138. So without hesitation I ordered one such basket (see below). Well, they tasted like the classical bao but laced with the aroma of the black truffle. It tasted surprisingly good - as the minced fatty pork and truffle created a rich and creamy taste.

One doesn't doubt the culinary uses of black truffles, nor its potential application in cuisine such as Chinese or Japanese. The interesting question here is whether these black truffles are of the European tuber melanosporum variety, or the Chinese tuber sinensis variety, or something else. And how will a surge in demand for this black stuff in the vast Chinese market impact on the world supply.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Tannhäuser at the Royal Opera

Have I really waited for nearly a quarter of a century to see Tannhäuser? Well, the wait was over last night. Naturally there was a lot of anticipation for this new Royal Opera production in 25 years. So they pulled out all the stops. The opening prelude was spellbindingly good. The solemnity of the opening theme quickly gave way to the playful and sexual thrusts with fluid and athletic choreography (Jasmin Vardimon) on stage - all this went on for nearly 20 minutes before Tannhäuser (Johan Botha) appeared. There was a bit of a giggle in the audience as Mr Botha was larger than the slim male dancers. This quickly gave way to the Venus-Tannhäuser dialogue. Michaela Schuster (as Venus) was very good with a firm yet insistent tone. Herrmann (sung by Christof Fischesser) picked up the dialogue as Venusberg dissolved and replaced by a floating tree!

The mass chorus gave its very best with a great deal of contrast, from the ethereal angel voices to the muscular song contest march. The German diction was impeccable. Johan Botha continued to shine in Act II but now singing opposite Eva-Maria Westbroek as Elizabeth. Her bright and noble tone was just right for the role.

Semyon Bychkov's reading of the score was considered and more elastic than some would expect. The very measured pace towards the end of Act II held everyone's attention. The combined forces responded and reacted to each of his nuanced direction. The set by Michael Levine was subtle - which is about right for an opera with so much drama on stage.

I do hope they will bring Tannhäuser back more regularly. Judging from the audiences' response, the Royal Opera should not have trouble selling tickets.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

A Dog's Heart at the ENO

Saw 'A Dog's Heart' about a fortnight ago - and in the mean time life and work got in the way. Looking back, it didn't feel like an opera - more like a theatre piece with some intriguing music. It was very good theatre too. The puppetry was great representing the dog before the anthropomorphism. There was humour (blood gushing out during the ops) and good choreography. I think it's a work that's worth seeing but would be pretty hard work just listening.