The menu at Asian Gourmet in Glasgow is pretty hardcore, definitely not one for the fainthearted.
It features duck tongue and duck palm (the web of the foot, apparently), pig's stomach and trotters, marinate honeycomb tripes, fried fish head with tofu, deep-fried hairtail (which my fish guide tells me is a member of the tropical cutlassfish family), towel gourd (also known as sponge cucumber, luffa,or dishcloth gourd), stir fried pork kidney, bitter melon, braised beef tendons, jellyfish with shredded cucumber, hot and spicy frog legs, and quick fried pork intestines.
However, if you lack the bottle to try out that little lot, it's not as if Asian Gourmet leaves you high and dry. Those who think that Chinese food is a nice safe chow mein, or boneless chicken breast in sweet and sour sauce, can seek refuge at the back of the menu where the old guard are all on offer. But to be frank, you'd be missing a trick because there are so many more interesting, more authentic dishes to be had. And if I have scared you off by drawing your attention to the more arcane and adventurous ingredients on offer, be reassured that the less familiar repertoire also contains dishes that are much less daunting.
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The next thing you need to know about Asian Gourmet is that its portions are huge, more like four-person helpings, so unless you want to eat a large amount of a couple of things, then come in a group; this way you'll get variety. The more of you there are, the cheaper this kind of meal becomes. Just bump up the rice, noodles and vegetables and a few main dishes will feed many mouths.
I had more or less stopped eating "Chinese" food in Scotland because it is generally poor quality and the opposite of genuine, but there's a freshness, digestibility and trueness about the food at Asian Gourmet that seems cut from a different cloth; it just shines out at you. I'd lay a bet that our pork and Chinese leek dumplings had been made from scratch on the premises. They didn't appear pre-frozen and factory-formed. Their silkily translucent wrappers enveloped a homespun-looking forcemeat with a mosaic of vibrant green through it, and opened up easily when you dunked them in their dip of inky, nose-tingling black rice vinegar. Seven substantial dumplings costs £5.50. What a bargain. Our hot chilli oil pot arrived in a sinus-stimulating puff, trailing clouds of mouth-watering pungency, with thin, curling slices of yielding beef peeping up from its terracotta depths, under an oily, glossy collar strewn with a confetti of chopped fresh and whole dried red chillis. Miraculously, the meat was not too piquant; it had absorbed all the fragrance of the chilli taste but somehow, the heat was in abatement. As for the pak choi only just wilted in its swirling depths, what a brilliant way to cook this vegetable.
Everything is very aromatic at Asian Gourmet, even the sticky, pearly rice, priming your olfactory system for delights to come. The chef is evidently someone who likes to freshen up a dish with last-minute garnishes in that estimable Chinese way, so our salt and pepper squid was not only succulent and cleanly, crisply fried but enlivened by a bright, refreshing dice of stir fried white onions, peppers, and spring onions that cut the potential oiliness of the batter. Talking of stir frying, the unique fragrance of a well-seasoned wok was omnipresent, in beautifully firm but fine fried vermicelli noodles, and in captivating shards of celery, shown the wok with toasted cashews, then lubricated with a lightly coating sauce. This was another barnstorming treatment of an under-valued vegetable. And Chinese cooks can be so adept at contrasting texture. Who would have thought of combining crunchy fried soft shell crab with thin slices of rice cake, a beguiling ingredient that proved to be as chewy, slippy and smooth as a sea-washed pebble? Believe me, it worked.
Asian Gourmet is in a workaday basement with prison-grey tiled walls but friendly, lighthearted, and extremely helpful staff are more than fair compensation. Decor apart, this restaurant is hot, hot, hot.