Last month there had been so much ooohs and aaahs over what was claimed to be the most expensive bowl of soup in the world, costing RM712 or 108 sterling pounds. For a start, the cost could well be related to the location, Kai Mayfair Restaurant in central London, rather than its actual worth, though the Star Online article assures readers that it's full of top grade abalone and shark fin.
The cook who created the dish is Malaysian Alex Chow. The boss of the restaurant is fellow Malaysian Bernard Yeoh, who is also a member of the SEA Games Malaysian shooting team.
Titled 'Monk Jumps Over The Wall', the soup has entered the Guinness World Record for The Most Expensive Bowl of Soup Commercially Available - note: it's "THE" Guinness Records, not the Malaysian version that we hear so often.
I recall, admittedly vaguely, that the title of 'Monk Jumps Over The Wall', or in a version with continuous present tense, alludes to an absolutely wondrous, aromatic, tasting dish that would have even the vegetarian Buddhist monk (or monks) jumping over the confines of the spartan monastery to sample its delights.
This title is not unique to any particular dish and has been used to refer to a number of top class tasting Chinese dishes, and needn't necessarily be expensive.
But expensive soups have always been a bit of a shocker, maybe for me only. Several years ago, while strolling in an unfamiliar part of Kuala Lumpur with 3 friends, we came across a rather shabby looking Chinese restaurant - well, 'shabby' from the outside anyway. Feeling somewhat peckish, we decided to chance it and have our dinner at what we thought to be a rather grubby place.
When we entered the joint, we were staggered by the decor inside and the gorgeous looking waitresses with their elegant cheong sums having the most wonderful traditional slits right up the side of their thighs to ... eh ... very hypoxic altitudes.
Being the cheap skate that I was (and still am), I immediately became wary while my best pal was still oblivious to the very frightening change of environment, from grubby exterior to palatial interior - somewhat like the 'before & after' scenes in a Chinese ghost movie.
He asked our fair partners to order what they liked, which I thought was rather reckless, financially that was. Fortunately, those babes were the 'jaga badan' types (conscious of their figures and diet) and asked for only 3 dishes - shark fin soup, fried chicken skin and a veg dish.
When the shark fin soup arrived, I knew we were in for trouble, financially that was (remember, told you I was a cheap skate). At that moment, I wished we had gone down to Central Market area for soup kambing (spicy lamb soup) instead.
The damn shark fin soup came in individual bowls, and not in the usual community bowl that we had expected. In that teeny weeny bowl (marvellous translucent porcelain artistically decorated with the 8 Immortals sailing across the sea, and smirking wickedly at me, so I thought), I saw in the soup a piece of shark fin about the size of of a pocket dictionary and probably one-quarter its thickness, sliced finely but all still joined at the top as one single piece - visualize it as a broad short comb with fine splayed teeth.
All those gourmet indicators were ringing my alarm bells and assaulting my money-conscious antenna like gamma rays in Hiroshima and Nagasaki on two fateful days in August 1945!
Much later I was told that it was a wondrous piece of magical culinary creation and tasted exceedingly marvellous. Hey, how come "I was told" when I was in fact there too, with my own bowl?
Because poor frightened KTemoc was, to put it crudely, sh*tting bricks at that moment worrying about how much we two blokes had between us. I knew roughly the paltry amount I had, but what about my best mate (oh, how such unknowns terrified me). But that bastard was blissfully enjoying himself and yakking happily away with the two women. How do you expect me to savour the soupy fin as mental sharks circled around me?
Of course the fried chicken skin and vegetable (unknown variety imported from China) were equally exquisite, not that I was aware of that at that time. My several attempts to catch my mate's eyes and call for an emergency budgetary session in the restaurant's toilet were both furtive and futile. Bloody bastard was basking in the babes' attention as he recounted his whatever experience while I mentally re-counted my dollars and cents, again and again.
One luscious-looking babe that I was rather keen on then looked at me and asked in her charming musically sweet manner, "Oh KTemoc, you're perspiring. Are you feeling warm?" She put her cool dainty palm on my forehead to feel whether I had any fever - how very near to the truth she was.
I gave a weak half-hearted smile, but was by then too distracted and distraught to take unscrupulous advantage of her with my usual tactic, that was, closing my hands over hers and then gently bringing it down to my lips for a seductive kiss.
To cut the scary story short, most fortunately, between the two of us, we managed, but just only, to settle the scary bill (which smartly woke my buddy up from his bliss) and escape the debtors prison.
Since that day, I have never approached within a mile of that place. The two babes did enjoy the dinner and even suggested a couple of time that we should re-visit it. I convinced them that I had discovered some unspeakable unhygenic practice by that restaurant - we went for soup kambing and bah kut teh instead.