Living in Asia will give you an appreciation for many things you probably never noticed before: the texture of a well thrown piece of pottery, the beauty of a natural landscape, a piece of fresh raw fish, the folds in a kimono, the taste of a good cup of tea.
My friend Ming and I went out for a chat and a cup of tea at Ching Ching Cha in Georgetown, which I was really in need of as soon as I finally found a parking space and had calmed down somewhat. Driving in Georgetown can really get you fired up.
The tea house has a high ceiling with a skylight and the white walls and exposed timbers, as well as the shelves full of tea sets, loose tea barrels, and knickknacks give the place the feel of a Tyrolean chalet crossed with an open air market.
After taking off your shoes and stepping on the dais in the front of the room, you settle down onto a pillow and tuck your legs under a low rosewood table. Because that’s how it’s done.
The menu of teas includes flowers and herbs, including the chrysanthemum mix I had. The dried flowers bloomed as the hot water enveloped them. I took tea ceremony classes in Japan but until I first saw flower teas I didn’t quite understand tea as art.
Ming picked a blend that required straining with the top of the cup. She immediate came up with the idea of a cup that had a slight dip in the opposite lip to accomodate the bridge of the nose as you drink.
(And of course the straining action gave her plenty of opportunities to blind me with that bling on her finger.)
To go with our tea we chose a vegetable tea meal, which of course cause the waitress to ask us in thickly accented English if we were vegetarians, as most of the dishes were cooked in beef or pork broth. The menu is not particularly extensive, but there is a good selection and everything is relatively cheap.
We started off with miso and salad, tea-and-spice boiled eggs and more hot water for our tea. The centerpiece of the tea meal was the steamed tofu, which we’d both had a craving for. Odd to get a craving for something that is also used as a substitute for other things- like chicken.
Afterwards, I was pleased to discover that MS also wanted to have the egg custard tart, although not entirely pleased because I’d have to share mine. Most people don’t like the eggy flavor, but I love them.
I first came across these little delicacies on a trip to Hong Kong- a side trip to Macau revealed egg tarts and Mateus, the Portugese port. Mateus I’ve found in several places, but aside from a Chinese bakery on Canal Street in New York City, I’ve not found source of tart-age. Until now. It was delicious.
The dishes and glassware were almost as intriguing as the food itself. Every plate, platter and piece of silverware commanded our attention and exclamations. Like in the cha-do- you drink the tea and then examine the tea bowl, appreciating the glaze and the texture of the pottery.
I would have pictures of the tea meal, but I decided to eat it and enjoy it rather than studying it later. Strange and slightly unsettling, but true.
Here’s a recipe for egg custard tarts.