Few can challenge the belief that the easiest way to win the hearts and minds of others is through the stomach. Hence, as China and Uruguay, celebrate their 35th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations this year, gastro-diplomacy plays an important part.
Fiesta Uruguay, a food festival showcasing Uruguay’s culinary delights to the Chinese public, has arrived at Mulu Hutong, a fine-dining restaurant hidden in the Xinsi Hutong of Beijing’s Dongcheng district.
Until March 10, Mulu patrons can expect to be transported through their tastebuds to the faraway South-American country known for its tango, beaches, beef, and brilliant soccer playing.
Sponsored by the Uruguayan Embassy in China, the event features a multi-course menu that brings together authentic, iconic Uruguayan dishes ranging from the country’s national dish Asado (the barbecue), to homestyle appetizer lengua a la Vinagreta (cold marinated ox tongue slices), to popular snacks empanadas (crescent-shaped pastry with stuffings), dulce de leche (caramelized milk), and alfajores (two cookies sandwiched between dulce de leche).
“The menu is really good and enjoyable. The result is totally remarkable,” said Gonzalo Castillo, first secretary of the Uruguayan Embassy in China who oversees cultural affairs. He remarked that Addison Liew, Chef Patron of Mulu Hutong, succeeded in capturing the essence of Uruguayan cuisine while bringing his own touch, a product of his years of experience with international cuisine.
Hailing from Malaysia, Addison Liew has more than 18 years of experience in the F&B industry. He learned and refined his culinary craft through apprenticing and working at Michelin-starred restaurants in Singapore, France, China’s Hong Kong, Macau and Beijing.
The diplomat also told the China Daily website that tasting Chef Addison’s Uruguayan food reminds him of his home country.
“We wanted to present to our guests the dishes that the Uruguayan diplomats grew up with back at home because, at Mulu, we have been committed to preserving and sharing the taste of home cooking and childhood dishes and elevating that with French culinary techniques,” said Liew.
To develop the Fiesta Uruguay menu, the Mulu team spent two months researching Uruguayan food culture and consulting Uruguayan diplomats.
“We're very thankful for the Uruguayan embassy, especially ambassador Fernando Lugris. They’ve given us so much trust and support by responding to all our inquiries and sharing recipes for our reference,” Liew said.
Wedged like a diamond glittering between Brazil and Argentina, Uruguay boasts a cuisine of distinct Latin American characteristics – rich meats, buttery pastries and refreshing salads.
Asado, a Uruguayan gastronomic trademark originating from the gauchos (cowboys), speaks volumes. A popular event that brings together family and friends, an asado usually consists of beef, pork, chicken and chorizo, all cooked using an open fire or a grill. The meats are often enjoyed with red wine and side dishes such as salads.
Admitting that asado as one of his favorite dishes to cook on the Fiesta Uruguay menu, Chef Addison interpreted the dish from his years of a culinary career steeped in French cuisine.
The main course features two parts of the Uruguayan beef – short ribs and ox tail. The short ribs are marinated in Uruguayan red wine before being slowly grilled on the charcoal, while the ox tail is cut into thin slices, rolled into a ball, and cooked through by pouring on the clear ox tail bone broth.
“This is the first time I have ever used Uruguayan beef and its quality surprised me. Its fat and meat are so balanced that they can almost melt in your mouth,” said Chef Addison, adding that he was glad his asado won the favor of Uruguayan diplomats who had sampled his creations before the menu was published.
A Spanish colony for decades until the 1820s, Uruguay also received a consistent influx of Italian immigrants between the 1840s and the 1960s, resulting in a national cuisine rife with European influences.
“Because of the Spanish and Italian influences, Uruguayan cuisine boasts a mélange of canapés,” noted Chef Addison. For the Fiesta Uruguay menu, he and his team created datiles con Roquefort (puffy, buttery bread stuffed with a date puree and blue cheese), alfajors and empanadas – all infused with his own interpretations.
For example, Mulu’s alfajors feature homemade strawberry marmalade, rather than the traditional dulce de leche, sandwiched between Uruguayan macaroons. Their empanadas are stuffed with escargots, a delicacy in French cuisine, rather than common stuffing such as minced beef or chicken.
The Uruguayan fine dining experience at Mulu culminates in garrapinadas, a dessert inspired by the country’s popular snack garrapinadas (caramelized peanuts). Featuring peanuts coated with both dulce de leche and dark chocolate mousse, decorated with gold leaf and placed atop a piece of banana chocolate cake, Chef Addison’s ingenious creation wowed the Uruguayan diplomats.
“How we approached Uruguayan food is akin to how we always approach Southeast Asian food at Mulu where we are dedicated to upgrading Southeast Asian snacks and street food dishes with exquisite French culinary skills,” said the chef.