July 9, 2022

The wedding banquet

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So we finally did it. Kind of. When Sankala and I got married in 2020 during what we thought was the height of the Covid pandemic, social distancing restrictions meant that our party consisted of the two of us, plus one witness on each side, and the civil celebrant who made it official. We had told ourselves and everyone else that when travel opened up again, we would host a 'real' wedding banquet in Taipei and invite our friends to join us there.

It's been almost 2 years since that fateful day, and travel still hasn't opened up for Hong Kong and Taiwan. Quarantine is still required at both destinations, and non-nationals would have a pretty tough time even getting into Taiwan. So we have kinda given up on the idea of doing a big bash, and allowed the Parental Units to organize a small dinner with a close circle of family and the Parental Units' friends.

I had been seeing posts about Silks House (晶華軒) at the Regent Taipei, and one particular dish tickled my fancy, so I informed the old fogeys of my intention to host the dinner there. As it turns out, on the night of our actual wedding, the Parental Units hosted a dinner at this very restaurant to celebrate dad's 80th birthday. It was from here that they spoke to us via a video call after our wedding ceremony. So the Parental Units contacted the restaurant to make sure the same private dining room was reserved as it is able to seat more than 20 people around one large table.

Meanwhile, I got in touch with the restaurant to set the menu. I had zero interest in taking their standard set menus as they inevitably include shark's fin - which is a definitely no-no in my book - and other high-end ingredients I don't have much interest in. I insisted on picking out the dishes that I wanted to try, and I am grateful for the Parental Units' willingness to indulge me.

We arranged a short ceremony before dinner so that Sankala and I could serve tea to the Parental Units as well as the elders in my family, and this was being done in a suite in the hotel upstairs. Due to a miscommunication between dad, the hotel, and me, we almost couldn't get it done in time. Fortunately we were able to clear things up and check-in properly for Sankala and mom to have their make-up done. The ceremonial tea service was relatively straightforward, and we had a number of people joining us for a photo op.

We adjourned to the restaurant for dinner, and dad happily made brief introductions regarding all of tonight's guests. Sankala remarked that she's always known dad to be the quiet one, so she was amazed at how much talking he actually did today...

The meal started with 2 appetizers. I had disregarded the recommendations of the restaurant and dispensed with their usual selection of 6 starters. When the appetizers were served, I quickly realized how foolish I looked... as there were too few portions to go around for a table of 22. Definitely did not start off on the right foot...

Wagyu beef tongue with chili oil (蔥麻和牛舌) - this was very tender, and a little spicy.

Mixed shredded vegetables with sea cucumber (拾香海參絲) - this was OK.

Double-boiled fish maw and Chinese cabbage with chicken consomme (菜膽砂鍋濃湯燉花膠) - the soup was definitely double-boiled, with milky consistency coming from lots of chicken and of course the fish maw. I was reasonably happy with the fish maw, and a few of the guests remarked that the quality and execution today is above par. The staff dutifully laid out two plates of chicken meat, but I had no real interest in "the dregs (湯渣)".

Steamed South African abalone (清蒸南非孔雀活鮑魚) - these were meant to be about 6 taels (兩) each, so reasonably big in terms of size.

The execution was definitely off, as the texture was too chewy. I neglected to consider the fact that the average age around the table was above 70, and fresh live abalone of this size could require some effort on the guests' part. Well, live and learn.

Stir-fried king prawn with garlic and chili (避風塘炒帝皇蝦球) - I liked this presentation a lot. The king prawn was certainly large and impressive, and while this meant that a fully-cooked prawn wouldn't be as tender as smaller ones, it was still pretty tasty.

Braised sea cucumber with mushroom (花菇紅燒關東刺參) - this was, sadly, another execution miss. The spiny sea cucumbers from the seas north of the Kanto (関東) area in Japan were not soft enough, meaning they didn't spend enough time rehydrating them. That's a shame because it was certainly the most expensive dish tonight.

Fried frog leg with vegetables (玉簪田雞腿) - so THIS was the reason why we are here tonight. I saw someone post a picture of this and got all excited. I have only had this at Sing Gor Private Kitchen in Macau, and I was pretty surprised to find that someone in Taipei - not known for a high level in terms of Cantonese cuisine - was doing this.

Well... this wasn't exactly as I had hoped. The kitchen didn't remove all the bones, but rather kept one as "support". The meat of the frog's leg was instead wrapped around strips of spring onion, mushroom, and crispy ham. The “jade hair sticks (玉簪)" represented by kailan (芥蘭) stems were served on the side instead. The frog legs themselves were, alas, somewhat under-seasoned. Nice to see them make an effort, but there's definitely room for improvement.

Stir-fried water bamboo with garlic (蒜炒筊白筍) - again, I didn't order enough portions of veggie dishes to share...

Sautéed lily bulb with Chinese celery and gingko (芹香銀杏炒百合)

Leafy amaranth in superior broth (上湯莧菜) - this was pretty nice.

Cantonese steamed brown sugar sponge cake (黑糖古法馬拉糕) - I'm guessing the old fogeys were still hungry after not getting fed enough by me, because this disappeared real quick. In fact, I didn't get a chance to taste any! So I asked for an extra portion... and that went quickly, too!

I didn't think this was a drinking crowd, so I was pretty conservative when it came to bringing wine.

2012 Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame - good acidity balance and pretty easy to drink.

1999 Ducru-Beaucaillou - tons of cedar, sweet and ripe fruit, and also smoke. Drinking pretty nicely.

The Parental Units and my uncles were certainly pretty happy tonight. I was really grateful that everyone came to share in our happiness, and gave us a lot of "face".

We did have one bottle of Champagne left after dinner, so Sankala and I invited Little Rabbit up to our suite to finish it off. No one would be surprised that Little Rabbit was still hungry after the meal since, heck, I myself felt a little peckish. So we ordered room service, popped the last bottle open, and watched some F1 qualifying on TV...

Wok fried chicken with Sichuan spices and white rice (左宗棠雞飯) - not quite the same stuff that I used to eat as a student in the States, and the addition of chayote shoots (龍鬚菜) definitely made it too healthy, but... how often do I find General Tso's chicken in Asia?!

Shrimp and scallop stir-fried rice with XO sauce (XO醬鮮蝦干貝炒飯) - not bad la... but I prefer my General Tso's chicken.

A fun way to end the evening, that's for sure!

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