Sunday, May 13, 2007

Weddings, tarts and Nyonya

Rafta Rafta at the National Theatre today was laugh out loud hilarious. Set in a cramped two up, two down terrace in Bolton, British born Indian Atul is unable to consumate his marriage on his wedding night and for six weeks thereafter due to the close proximity of his loving mother and overbearing father in the same house. You see, Atul is still financially dependent on his parents and can't afford to leave home despite now being married. When the distraught virgin bride Vina confides in her own parents about her new husband's inability to perform, the news spreads to Atul's parents too. They are shocked and ashamed, and the revelations that unravel in their lives are so entertaining that I wish the play had focussed entirely on them.

Harish Patel plays the father who is bitterly disappointed by his unsuccessful (in all senses of the word) son and Meera Syal plays Atul's more understanding but acerbic mother. The chemistry between these two on stage electrified the entire performance and we had a truly entertaining time because of it.

Crossing the Thames on our way to the Tube we entertained ourselves trying to count all the life-size sculpture casts of Antony Gormley's body scattered along the horizon. To me they looked depressed and suicidal. Indeed, some people have alerted the emergency services in a panic seeing the lonely figures perched precariously on top of the high buildings. On the other hand, sometimes the figures looked self-contained and at peace or even defiant.

We then grabbed light and fluffy Portuguese custard tarts and coffees in Soho's Fernandez & Wells on Beak Street. The interior was an interesting mix of rough wood floors, white-washed walls and a clean concrete counter. The menu was refreshingly spartan - no more than necessary but what they have is done to perfection. Witness this adorable heart swirled through my latte, for example:

We ate dinner at the "home style" Peranakan restaurant Nyonya in Notting Hill. According to Nyonya's table mat, "Nyonya, meaning ladies from the descendants of the Peranakan which is the intermarriage between the Chinese settlers and the local Malays. From this intermarriage, came the birth of a unique colourful culture, tradition and most of all, the famous nyonya cuisine. Nyonya usually spent most of their time in the kitchen preparing food from the combination of a variety of herbs, spices, tamarind and coconut cream. To the older generation nyonya, this is an accomplishment, an art to be proud of. Thus, recipes are only handed down from generation to generation."

For starters, we ate lobak (pork marinated in five spices, wrapped in a crispy tofu skin and served with chilli sauce) and otak-otak (sliced white fish wrapped in banana leaves and steamed with coconut milk, herbs and spices). For mains, we ate char mee (fried yellow noodles with prawns, fish cake, squid and greens in a gravy sauce) and Singapore laksa (rice vermicelli, beansprouts, prawns, dried tofu, fish cake, shredded chicken and half a boiled egg in a spicy coconut sauce). Dessert was a traditional selection of steamed "pastries", some based on rice, others on coconut.

Our choices looked and tasted so good that the middle aged couple sitting next to us on the long tuk panjang table simply said to the waiter, "We'll have everything they're having!"

The food was deliciously robust in flavours and textures and the setting clean and modern. They could easily open a few more branches across London. I would suggest Soho and Green Lanes for starters!

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