The hopeless love I bear for noodles is worth sighing over sometimes. A bowl of slurp-worthy (is there such a word?), broth-laden noodle, with a few slices of protein and veg thrown in here and there is my idea of comfort in general, followed by a serving of dumplings, which is why the dumpling shops near my house will never go out of business. So when Chef Ananchai promised a set of surprisingly delicious noodles, who was I to say no? The Asian Noodle Festival at Zen, The Park, features some of my favourite noodles – there’s Pho, Somen and Japchae – the magical words drew me like a moth, and I found myself sitting among friends on a lazy, humid afternoon, slurping noodles from a bowl, and wishing I could dangle my legs like the inelegant person I am.
We start off on a cold shock -the Hiyashi Somen, slippery strands of fragile wheat noodles need to be soaked into the dipping soy-based broth, with a generous dash of Mirin to keep things interesting, finished with some grated ginger, and cold scallion bits. I am more of a fan of the nuttiness of Soba noodles, but this is quite lovely in its own way. There are slices from a tomato to add to the tang, but it becomes a happy, silent game of slurping noodles, the cold strands slipping down my throat, the salty shoyu mildly pungent with a touch of wasabi.
I have a horrible fetish for Beef Pho, longing for bowls which comes steaming to the table, the paper-thin slivers of beef barely losing their pinkness from the boiling hot broth, silky rice noodles and the pleasure of adding as much beansprouts and basil your heart desires, together with some squeezes of lime. Here, the beef is thoroughly cooked, but meltingly tender, offset with meaty shiitake mushrooms and greens, sitting pretty on top of some thin strands of rice noodles in a mild broth. I wished for the broth to be piping hot and more, well, meaty, but this was also quite pleasant.
The seafood noodle come in a rather gorgeous and intensely fishy broth, topped with squid and prawns, and the broth contains, apart from a generous hit of red pepper, a touch of soy and plump noodle with a touch of chew – I carefully evaded the prawn to pick up a curl of squid – its cooked a bit too long for my liking, but my love for tentacles overcomes all obstacles, as usual.
The Curry Soba noodle is the crowd pleaser, and that’s probably because of the mildly chewy green tea soba noodles paired with broth and some Japanese chicken curry laden on top, with chunks of soft potato added to heighten the experience. Mix everything together and slowly dig in, and the world’s a better place all of a sudden.
I was looking forward to the Japchae, made with one of my favourite types of noodle – sweet potato – the dangmyeon, tossed together with greens, a good hit of soy, sesame oil and some pieces of fried chicken. The slippery noodles had an addictive smokey flavour which lingered on my tongue for long moments afterwards, and the delicate crunch from the sesame seeds added a tender nuttiness which reflected further in the desserts.
A huddle of flat noodles and green tea soba were fried and quickly soaked in sticky honey, with the scent of butter and vanilla wafting from it, paired with some rather intense black sesame seed ice cream, which was, again, the table’s favourite. I have never really been a fan of cold noodles with coconut, so I wisely stayed away from it after the first taste, which was a bit too much coconut for my soul. The Asian Noodles Festival is on till the 7th of August, 2016, and is available during Lunch and Dinner at The Zen. For reservations, follow the Zomato link below.
Disclaimer: Poorna Banerjee was invited to dine at The Zen by The Park.