In the United States, Chinese food is almost always synonymous with “cheap food”— or worse, “fast food.” While I have enjoyed delicious morsels of Chinese cuisine at less-than-scintillating venues, I have always felt like these restaurants leave something to be desired. After all, one grows weary of the constant assault of soy-sauce stained carpets, dirty bathrooms, cheap plastic chopsticks, and ugly white tablecloths. But, I finally experienced the pleasure of being wined and dined as a Chinese empress at the House of Ming— in India— the last place I ever expected to encounter Chinese luxury dining.
The House of Ming is a restaurant associated with the Taj Mahal Hotel, Delhi’s emblem of above-and-beyond luxury. Out of necessity, the hotel boasts 4 five-star restaurants so that guests do not have to leave the Taj’s palatial marble premises and zephyrean air-conditioning—and thus, braving the dusty Delhi streets— just to find a meal.
While each of these restaurants is a gastronomical treasure, the House of Ming conjures up images of the riches and cultivation of the Ming dynasty…
Two white lions clothed marble guarded the entryway. As my family and I passed under the winged eaves of the restaurant’s opening, we were suddenly transported into the estate of a powerful merchant, where we would be showered with music, poetry, and the finest feast in all of China. Reminiscent of Zen simplicity, the restaurant’s blue and turquoise interior unfolded in tasteful geometric patterns laced with subtle hints of embroidered silk, jade, pewter and silver.
However, something was off. Rather than being greeted by Asian women dressed in the qipao, we were whisked to our table by Indian men clad in white, mandarin-collared suits. We were suddenly reminded that we were much farther south than the Forbidden Palace in Beijing. But it was no matter.
The waiters were highly attentive, going as far as serving out portions directly onto our plates and arranging our Peking duck wraps with the utmost care and discipline. These gentle soldiers were armed with a variety of utensils to help them achieve this purpose with absolutely no physical contact. Noting the shifts in our mood, they brought out endless libations of tea, wine, and cocktails to enhance the experience.
The cuisine was primarily from the Canton and Szechuan regions, and every dish was designed with the utmost thoughtfulness to balancing otherwise-opposing flavors and textures: sweet and sour, spicy and salty, crunchy and soft. The best appetizer was the Crispy Spinach, consisting of deep-fried spinach, dried pepper flakes, and sesame seeds.
While I adored every bite of my Peking duck, it was my brother’s fish stew that was presented most beautifully: the carrots were cut like peonies, the various greens splayed like leaves, the peppers scattered like red buds, and the filleted fish tumbled like shedding flower petals. It was as if he were eating from a bowl of water lilies.
Somehow, three hours had passed. The waiters proceeded to tempt us with various desserts— toffee bananas, spiced figs, and chocolate mousse, and we could not leave without one last cup of lotus tea. Finally, bellies full, we trudged to the elevator and went back to our rooms for a peaceful night’s sleep. Playing empress in India, I had had a beautiful night.
House of Ming is located inside The Taj Mahal Hotel, 1, Mansingh Rd, Deli, DL 110011; +91 11 2302 6162