Ethnic food festivals are often good promotional tools for otherwise quiet hotels. While some of the bigger brands can bring in guest chefs and place large orders for out-of-the-ordinary supplies, others may not have this luxury.
Smaller hotels or newer establishments may not be able to guarantee sufficient returns to warrant the investment.
More often than not, the end product is not quite as good as it promises to be.
The Millennium Hongqiao Hotel Shanghai opened with barely a whimper last year. The 369-room property is just next to the family-haunt Carrefour in the Gubei area but how many shoppers actually knew that just behind the shopping center is an elegant hotel?
The five-star compound enjoys some lovely grounds and an interesting design. It looks like just about every other hotel in the city, but it appears to be sticking to the "if it ain't broke don't fix it" school of thought.
Not much thought has gone into the dining, however.
With the wealth of choice in the surrounding areas, especially on bustling Hongmei Road barely five minutes away by taxi, it comes as no surprise that Millennium does not pull in too many walk-in customers to its cafe, Chinese restaurant or grill and bar.
This week's Malaysian Hawker's Cuisine food fair was a timely band-aid to help this situation. A joint promotion with Malaysia Airlines, Tourism Malaysia and the hotel, guests were able to watch traditional performances and sample authentic fare from stalls set up quite literally by the roadside. The country's tourism board is promoting Visit Malaysia 2007.
The event was set up in the hotel's main car park, giving diners a space reminiscent of a suburb in the Southeast Asian nation; if one ignored the Yan'an Elevated Road in the background it was quite conceivable that the locale could be somewhere in the federation.
Compared with the Muslim-majority secular state, Shanghai was considerable cooler this week and the often spicy dishes went down quite pleasantly. Having spent some time in the country's southern neighbor, assam laksa (curry noodles) is not nearly as good as the coconut-milky Singapore version. The noodles on offer here, however, were less intent on sending the stomach through somersaults as dairy-based broths often do.
Despite the promise of murtabak (meat pastry), there was none on offer despite a few trips to the fried bread table. There was plenty of fresh if a little flaky roti canai, though.
Nasi Lemak (coconut rice) is a dish often taken for breakfast but can be enjoyed throughout the day. Perhaps this was why the rice tasted like it had been left in the tray for hours - dry and clumpy. Admittedly, there was a significant lemak feeling, which meant that it did its job.
The sembal belachan (dried shrimp chili paste) was also a godsend in this chili-oil haven. The spiciness came as a shock (it's been a while), but thankfully there was teh terik (ginger tea) on hand to quench the fire.
The star of the show was the chix kut teh (chicken-bone tea). The "tea," which is actually a soup, had been boiled for a good amount of time for the herbs and spices to be locked in. The only let down was a lack of decent rice to eat it with.
Fans of Southeast Asian desserts will be excited to know the hotel is serving old-time favorites such as ice kachang (shaved ice on beans) and pisang goreng (fried banana). Fans of neither can content themselves with Movenpick ice cream.
The food fair ends tonight and costs 150 yuan (US$14.90), plus 15 percent service. For homesick expats from the region, the promotion is a nice way to spend the evening in an alfresco setting.
Address: 2588 Yan'an Road W.