Chinese Spicy & Barbie Kitchen

311 Racecourse Road, Kensington
Ph: 9372 5218

@eatnik got all excited when she told me about this place. We were meeting up at Chillipadi Mamak Kopitiam for a pre-pub trivia dinner, but we’d both arrived early, so we wandered up towards KFL so I could buy some pantry goods, and she could show me ‘the new offal place’. I was a little skeptical at first, because of their big printed lunch time specials poster in the window, and the fact they had spelled Barbie like the doll.

But a quick flick through the menu out the front took me from a state of skepticism to a state of anticipation. The menu promised all sorts of braised, fried and grilled offal, amongst an extensive selection of typically Sichuan and Shanghainese dishes.

Our fist visit was on a Saturday afternoon, and much to our chagrin, we were informed that the grilled items on the menu were only available at dinner. A couple of sighs later, we settled on – as you will see – a banquet of other goodies from the menu.

The menu is quite an interesting read. The translation into English seems to have been done by google translator, as it doesn’t quite build in the cultural nuance of Chinese dish names. Witness the prime example: Saliva Chicken.

A more common – and appetising – translation of this would be ‘Mouth-watering Chicken’. It’s boiled chicken, served cold, with a sauce of chilli and Sichuan pepper infused oil, with some chilli, garlic and spring onions. It’s meant to be served cold, but I thought it was a little too cold; in that way that eating chicken out of the fridge leads to chewing through meat which is super-solid. Flavour-wise, though, it was great.

There are also some glaring inaccuracies on the menu. This dish was described as beef lungs – they don’t mince words in their menu, be prepared to see the word gizzards a few times – but it was a mixture of liver, heart, and brisket. There might have been some lung in there too, but I’m not too sure. In any case, the flavour was good – spicy and salty, with a sour twang from some Sichuan pepper.

I wasn’t going to go to a restaurant that specialises in offal and not order tripe, right? This was tripe, served cold, in a chilli oil sauce. Seeing a trend here? This sauce didn’t have the Sichuan pepper, however. There was a bit of vinegar in there though, which helped cut through the richness of the chilli oil. I absolutely loved this dish. The texture of the tripe was great; springy and toothsome, yet soft and chewy. And let’s face it, when you’re eating offal, it’s often all about the texture.
Need some respite from the offal? How about some more conventional dishes. These are listed as leek pancakes in the menu, but the waitress explained to us that the chef prepares them differently. At this point, I was starting to wonder if they’d just taken the menus from some other restaurant. Anyhow, they came out more like little flat spring rolls. The filling was made of leek and egg, and they were delicious. Crispy and not too oily, the outside had that lightly flour-dusted feel to it, like on a good spring onion pancake.
We ordered a serve of the xiao long bao, which weren’t quite like your average XLB. Unlike the prevailing style, these XLB were fat and puffy, more like a bao (steamed bun) than a dumpling. They were somewhere in between, and they were awesome! We’d let them sit a little while, as the food was coming thick and fast by this stage, so unfortunately, the soup in them had been mostly soaked up by the bun casing. We had these again on our return visit though, and they were still juicy inside. So juicy I managed to squirt all over my t-shirt!
This was a bit of a weird dish. Bean curd skin strips and little bundles of rice vermicelli, swimming in a bowl of black vinegar sauce. It wasn’t terrible, but it also wasn’t worth trying, in my opinion. I think there might have been some sort of protein in there too – like fish? – but I can’t remember. Clearly, don’t waste your time or belly with this one.
The opposite goes for the next dish. Called the ‘Spicy ink fountain’, it’s a cold dish of baby squid, in a – you guessed it – sour, spicy sauce. I just want to point out that despite most of these dishes having a sour and spicy sauce, none of them actually tasted the same. The varying combinations of chilli (both dried and fresh), vinegar, salt and Sichuan pepper meant each dish had its own unique flavour. The baby squid was to die for. Again, served cold, this squid was just barely rare. Not chewy in the slightest, the texture was springy and delicate.
We thought perhaps we should have some vegetables with all of this protein, so we ordered some fried beans with mince. Yeah, this restaurant is not the place to go if you’re dining out with vegetarian friends. These beans were OK, but nothing special. I would have liked them to have been fried at a higher temperature, so they become a little more crispy, and get a looser skin, before they’re stir-fried with the mince and chilli.
This dish was something of an unexpected fail. We’d ordered a mushroom dish, but what came out was a dish of braised Chinese cabbage and belly pork. In all fairness the waitress had said something when we ordered it, but it was a little hard to decipher, so I just nodded. And it wasn’t a bad dish at all, it just wasn’t a dish of mushrooms. So just be aware if you order mushrooms from the menu, you might get pork.
The final dish, and for me, the absolute star of the spread, was the spicy deep-fried pork intestines. Fried so that the outside was crispy, yet the insides weren’t overly chewy, and then wok-tossed with five spice, chilli, garlic and Sichuan peppers, these intestines were so more-ish. They’d be a perfect beer snack, too. And even @eatnik, who isn’t a fan of intestines, was a fan of these. That being said, intestines are an acquired taste, and Mr J, who tried them for the first time here, wasn’t a fan.

A large part of the allure of this place is the extensive list of grilled items. So we organised for a return visit on another night. True to their word, the grilled items were available on our return visit, though there were some marinated duck gizzards which weren’t available either time.

We ordered some grilled baby squid, chicken hearts, and lamb kidneys. The servings are calculated per skewer, so if you’re not sure about something, you can still try it without committing too much! The stand-out here were the chicken hearts, but they’re always great, in my book. The lamb kidneys were a bit over-cooked, and dry, so I’d avoid them next time.

We also got some grilled eggs, which were dusted in turmeric and fennel seeds. I wanted to like these more, but they reminded me of son-in-law eggs, where the hard boiled eggs are deep fried, only instead of the crispy fried skin, these eggs had a tough, chewy exterior.
We also got a couple of skewers of enoki mushrooms wrapped in pork. These were great! The slightly charred pork, again liberally spiced with fennel and cumin, encased the enoki mushrooms, which remained juicy and soft.
Again, needing to up the vegetable quotient of the meal, we ordered a cold dish of cucumber and bean curd skin. This was tasty, but could have done with a bit more chilli.
I ordered the prawn dumplings, expecting something like a prawn version of a jiaozi or gyoza. What arrived was actually a version of a har gao. Not that I’m complaining, it was just unexpected. And the skins were a little too thick. The filling was tasty, though.
Finally, we ordered the ‘Three generations Fish’. This was slices of fish that had been coated in a thick batter before being poached – or maybe there was a flash-frying process involved – in the soup. There’s a similar version of this dish in most Sichuan restaurants, only the fish is usually swimming in chilli oil, amongst the detritus of dried chillis. Not so here. The omission of chilli – but not Sichuan pepper – meant the dish wasn’t stupidly hot, and allowed the flavour of the Sichuan pepper to shine. The fish, with its soaked batter jacket, was an interesting texture. I quite liked it, but @fatbooo wasn’t as much of a fan.
All in all, Chinese Spicy and Barbie Kitchen is an interesting place, with many items on the menu you won’t easily find elsewhere in Melbourne. If you’re a fan of chilli and spice, and you’re not perturbed by offal, definitely hit it up soon!

Chinese Spicy and Barbie Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Joo Hooi Café

475 Jalan Penang, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Phone: Hahaha are you for real?

OK, so the Hong Kong #fatty posts are done,but believe it or not, my blog is still on holiday! Next up, Penang. Sans @eatnik, I was on a solo eating mission, though I did have a local guide, thanks to @RippingYan. Her friend Mr A had graciously offered to show me around Penang, which essentially just meant a culinary tour. We’ll get to that later, but on my first morning in Penang, I ventured out on my own.

I had been curious about Assam laksa for a while, mostly because I’d been told that there pretty much aren’t any good versions of it in Melbourne, and well, when you’re travelling overseas, you should always try to eat local food, or at least food you can’t get back home. Ugh, I’m such a food tourist. At least it’s better than being a sex tourist, I guess. Though the likelihood of contracting a disease is often as high.

Anyway, I did a little research online about where to find the best Assam laksa in Penang, and apparently I needed to go out to Air Itam, which felt a little far to accomplish in a morning, so instead I went to reportedly the best place in Georgetown, Joo Hooi cafe.

The set up of this cafe is a lot like a mini hawker centre. There are various little specialty carts down one side of the cafe, each run by a separate owner, and communal seats and booths inside the cafe itself. It’s sort of like a food cart co-operative.
I sat down, and a gorgeous little old lady came over to ask what I’d like to eat. It was at this moment I was so glad I could speak Cantonese. Not that she didn’t speak some English, but because it was early in the day, and because she didn’t have many customers to serve – she seemed to be in charge of drinks and expediting orders to the various food cart owners – she sat down and started chatting to me about Penang and my holiday plans. She seemed amused when I told her I was pretty much there just to eat. But with the tourists who started to file in later on, I guess she’s seen it all before.

I ordered the Assam laksa, as that’s what the place is known for. Interestingly, most of the ‘cafes’ in Penang have this sort of set up, with specialist cart vendors, but each one tends to have one or two carts that are well renowned for being exceptionally good. It makes me wonder what the other cart owners in the joint think. Are they glad to have a star in their midst to draw the crowds, or is it a matter of annoyance, that everyone who goes there just wants the famous dish?

Anyway, for those of you who were expecting a big bowl of coconut curry soup, Assam laksa is not like that. It’s found in various places around Malaysia, but Penang seems to be the most famous for it. It’s called Assam laksa because of the use of tamarind in the soup (Asam being Malay for tamarind). The other main element in the soup is mackerel (though I was told that sometimes sardines are used). The result is an intense soup that is both tangy and salty; oh, and it’s fishy, so if you don’t like that, steer clear! This is balanced out with some lemongrass, galangal, fresh pineapple and mint, and given a bit of lift with cucumber, lettuce and red onion. The garnish is some torch ginger flower, and in the spoon is a molasses-like sweet prawn paste called petis udang.

The flavours of this laksa are heady and intense, but all the fresh elements keep it from being too fishy or too heavy. The noodles also weren’t what I was expecting, being a medium thick rice noodle – like those used for Vietnamese bun bo Hue instead of the Hokkien noodle/rice vermicelli combination normally found in a curry laksa (which incidentally, is known in Penang as curry mee).
The one strange thing about this laksa is that there aren’t really any chunky elements to it. There’s not prawn, or fish cake, or tofu. All the protein – the mackerel – is part of the soup, so in a way, it’s like eating a really soupy spaghetti Bolognese! Well, a fishy Bolognese. Nonetheless, I really loved this laksa, even though it wasn’t quite what I was expecting.
I came back a second time a few days later, and the same little old lady was working. I have a feeling she works there every day. It was mid-afternoon this time, and again it wasn’t so busy. We chatted again about the places I’d been to in the mean time, and she suggested a few places I should try. I felt bad, because I knew I wouldn’t get to them – Mr A is the consummate food tour guide of Penang, you see – but I smiled and thanked her for the info anyway.

She made another recommendation as to what I should drink. I’m not sure exactly what it was in the end, but she described it as a sour fruit drink, assuring me it was very refreshing and perfect for the mid-afternoon heat. Deferring to her local expert knowledge, I of course agreed. I think it was some sort of under-ripe or pickled guava drink? It had the slight astringent taste that you get from guava or persimmons, and true to her word, it was most refreshing. Does anyone (maybe Malaysian) know what this drink might be?

I’d been on a bit of a mission in Penang. My research goal was Char Kway Teow. And while this wasn’t the best I had in Penang – more on that later – it was certainly good. Loads of prawns and Chinese sausage, and with a good amount of wok hei – that charred flavour, known as the ‘breath’ of the wok, which is usually seen as a hallmark of anything that’s been stir-fried well – the downfall here was that the soy used was a bit too sweet. Still, none too shabby!
Check out Jason Chow’s video on Joo Hooi.

Kimberley Restaurant

Kimberly Hotel, 28 Kimberly Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong
Phone: +852 2369 8212

When @eatnik first mentioned the Kimberley Restaurant, I thought she must have been a little mistaken. A hotel restaurant? Without a celebrity executive chef? Why would we waste our time? Hotel restaurants tend, for the most part, to be something like a sheltered workshop. The hotel rarely needs the restaurant to be wildly successful or profitable, it just needs it to gain its three-plus star status, and to have somewhere to serve a decent breakfast buffet. This is a pretty harsh, sweeping generalisation I know, but a lot of the hotel restaurants around the world will bear witness to its validity.

Ten seconds into our conversation, @eatnik mentioned suckling pig. Nay, glutinous rice stuffed suckling pig. My interest was piqued. Then she showed me this video. Oh, it was game on, and there was no way we were going to miss out on trying this on our #fatty adventure.

Thanks to the wonders of modern technology and social media, we’d managed to make a friend in @e_ting, another food blogger who from Australia who had moved to Hong Kong a while ago. She graciously organised a table for twelve, a motley crew, peppered with unexpected social connections. Still, the important thing here was actually the size of the group, as a table of twelve warrants a true Cantonese banquet.

As much as yum cha is probably Cantonese culture’s best known gift to the culinary world, for me, the traditional banquet that unfolds when large groups of Cantonese people get together is the epitome of Cantonese food to me. It starts out with one, two, or sometimes three entree courses. Sometimes it’s oysters or baby abalone, sometimes it’s quail, or as with our dinner at the Kimberley, it often starts out with an assortment of cold roasted meats.

With the full knowledge of the piggy pigging that was to come, thankfully we opted for just the single entree course. The char siu was pretty standard, and the fried tofu was a little out-of-the-ordinary – and nicely smooth – but the real surpsrise here was the little pieces of pig’s trotter (I think?) which were pretty much just braised pork skin with a sliver of fat, meat and cartilage.

At this point of the Cantonese banquet, the seafood course would come next. Often crab, or lobster, hopefully on a bed of egg noodles. But I digress. Because we were having the suckling pig,we opted for less extraneous courses, so the parade of main dishes started arriving at the table.

Garlic prawns with broccoli. This was pretty boring I thought, though cooked reasonably well. It was a filler dish, not a killer dish..

We had a vegetarian in our midst, so stir-fried bean curd with mushrooms was in order. I actually really enjoy Cantonese vegetable dishes, because they’re often a respite from the umami overload of other dishes. However, this wasn’t quite the usual oasis of chlorophyll in a desert of salt and MSG.
This, however, was! Snow pea shoots lightly braised in a light stock. I think I’ve talked about my love of this vegetable before, but it’s another one of those dishes which epitomises Cantonese cuisine to me. I love how it’s just so simple, and you can really taste the unique flavour of the vegetable.

The next dish to arrive was a huge pot of braised beef with lemongrass. A mixture of brisket and tendons – and other generally cheap cuts – all braised to the point where the meat was falling apart, and the collagen had melted into the sauce, making it stick to your lips like a good tonkotsu broth or a runny yolk. The chunks of vegetable in there were daikon (the big white carrot at the market) but I mistakenly identified it at first as winter melon. It was that sweet.

Another, smaller claypot came next. It was on the specials list, and despite us about to hoe into a suckling pig, we couldn’t resist ordering the braised pork belly. Pork fiends much? This was braised with fermented tofu, which gives it quite a strong, salty flavour, not unlike miso, but think even more pungent. Pungent and delicious, I mean!
I made a request to have a whole steamed fish, because for me it’s one of the things that the Cantonese do better than anyone else in the world. So simple, but so perfect. The irony of the situation is that I really have no idea what fish is what in English, because I only ever really had fish like this with my family growing up. So I know the Chinese names – which usually are just a descriptor of the type of pattern on the fish’s skin, or something to do with the size of its mouth, but I have no idea when I see a menu in English which fish I should be ordering. Thankfully, others at the table are more fluent in the ways of food translation, and I’m told this was a garoupa. The flesh was perfectly cooked, flaking at the touch, and still silky and sweet. You could taste the quality of the fish.

Finally, to the main event: the suckling pig, or Kimmy, as she was dubbed. She was wheeled out on a little trolley, in the same way that a Peking duck would often be, and we all marvelled at the sheen on her skin, and her cute little tail. She’d been pretty much de-boned and stuffed – she still had legs, but there was no rib cage or spine to navigate, and her torso had become a porky blanket to wrap around a sausage of tasty glutinous rice.

At this point, due to my inability/unwillingness to take sufficiently pornographic photos of Kimmy, I refer you to @e_ting’s post about this dinner. And re-watch the video from the top of this post. Mmm, crackling.

The crackling was crisp and crunchy, with the lightness that only the thin skin and baby fat that an infant pig’s hide can produce. Thank you Kimmy, for being such a wonderful specimen of deliciousness. The rice inside was also well seasoned, but let’s be honest, it was most definitely – figuratively and literally – a filler.

So yeah, you know what? Hotel restaurants… not always a bad thing!

Tai Po Market Cooked Food Centre

2/F, Tai Po Hui Market, Tai Po Complex, 8 Heung Sze Wui Street, Tai Po, New Territories, Hong Kong

After a few days of intense urban eating and fast city shopping, team #fatty was hitting the wall. I know, hard to believe, right? But it’s true. We’ve a way to go before we can truly call ourselves semi-professional eaters. So for a change of pace, @eatnik suggested we head out to the New Territories. Or the boondocks, for those who aren’t suburbially inclined. It took about half an hour to reach on the train, but it felt a world away from the looming skyscrapers of Hong Kong proper. You could see blue skies in more than slivers, and there was a landscape rather than a skyline! There are freaking hills out there!

Okay, okay, so that wasn’t actually what we were after. We were looking for, as @eatnik rightly dubbed it, “The Food Court of Awesome”. But the respite from the frenetic buzz of the metropolis was a nice added bonus.

We wandered through a couple of floors of wet market; seriously, they’re everywhere in Asia, and they’re so cool (go population density!). On the top floor, there is what is referred to as a cooked food centre, though we’d refer to it in Australia as an overgrown food court, and in Singapore, they’re known as hawker centres. Same same, but different.

After doing a lap of the centre, noting the peculiar-yet-familiar grouping of all female and all male tables of high school students, and being wooed by various stall owners, we decided to start off with some yum cha style dumplings.The first to arrive were the classic har gao (prawn dumplings) and siu mai.
The skin on the har gao were a little claggy, and the filling was over-seasoned – with MSG, I believe – so not the best of starts for the Food Court of Awesome. In the FCA’s defence, we were supposed to be looking for fish ball noodles, as that’s what the place is known for, but we got distracted.

Then there were the siu mai. As you might have started to gather, everything this joint served up was on the rustic, or crude, side. The dumplings lacked the finesse of their big city counterparts, but there was a certain yokel-ish charm to it all. That charm included what we surmised was a near equal proportion of pork meat and pork fat in these dumplings. Flavoursome, but also a little overwhelming.

Doing things differently, however, also leads to sparks of creativity, such as in these quail egg dumplings.

The quail egg was perched on a lump of minced pork – which unfortunately tasted like Chien Wah dim sim meat – with a delicate translucent wonton skin-like wrapper. A great idea, just executed a little, well, crudely.
I should mention at this point that the total cost of these dumplings was somewhere in the vicinity of $6 AUD. Which is why we didn’t really think it was so bad. Especially since we spent the same amount on a single dish from the vendor next door – whom, incidentally, I believe was just a reseller for this next dish – which made the half-hour train trip, and the mediocre dumplings, worth enduring. Redemption for Tai Po came in the form of eggs.

I give you fried century eggs.

That’s right, FRIED. CENTURY. EGGS. Coated in a thin layer of prawn mince then crumbed and deep fried, and served with a sweet, mild nam jim – it was from a Thai food stall – these things are intoxicatingly good. The heady richness of the century egg, with the slight tang of the runny black yolk, is tempered by the salty prawn meat and lifted by the texture of the crunchy coating, in the way only deep frying bread crumbs can.
There were other adventures to be had in Tai Po, involving geese, egg tarts and little old ladies, but those are tales for another time.

Under Bridge Spicy Crab

Main branch: shop 1-2, G/f, Chinaweal Centre, 414-424 Jaffe Rd., Wan Chai, Hong Kong
Phone: +852 2834 6268

You can’t really go to Hong Kong and not eat crab at some stage. Crab is one of those staple banquet dishes that turns up at almost every dinner I go to with extended family. Usually, we opt for it stir-fried with ginger and spring onion, on top of a bed of egg noodles. The egg noodle’s actually where it’s at, for me. The sauce soaks up the flavour of the crab, and soaks through the noodles. While I like crab, it’s often a lot of work, unless you’re lucky enough to get one of the meaty claws. And since I have best quality heart, I take worst quality crab.

Anyway, I was staying in the Wanch, a convenient part of town, not only because it’s near the sleazy hooker bars, but because it’s the Under Bridge Spicy Crab heartland. Near the corner of Canal and Lockhart Roads is a ghetto of seafood restaurants, specialising in ‘Spicy Crab’. The original is on the corner of Canal and Jaffe, but it’s hard to tell, because there are three or four other ‘outlets’ owned by the same chef, all proclaiming to be the original, and all on the same block. I think the name ‘Under Bridge’ refers to Canal Road, which is an overpass cutting across Lockhart and Jaffe Roads.

Before heading out for a night on the town (read boozing it up in Lan Kwai Fong), @eatnik and I met up with the @eatdrinkstagger kids for some crabby action. As I was staying around the corner, I’d stopped in earlier in the day to book a table, and lucky I did, because the place was pretty busy, with people waiting for tables as we arrived. Despite booking, we still had to wait about five minutes, which we spent perched on stools out the front, perusing the menu. I’m fairly sure the branch of Under Bridge Spicy Crab we went to was the original, but it’s hard to say for sure!

We started off the evening with some beers. SOME ONE LITRE BEERS. Oh yeah.
First up were some stir-fried pippies in a sweet, salty, spicy cause. I don’t think it was XO, but I could be wrong. Whatever sauce it was, it was a perfect way to start the meal, as the beer had arrived, but not the rice. The only problem was that in the stir-frying process, a lot of the pippies had escaped their shells, so often you’d pick up a shell to find yourself just sucking the sauce off of it. That did mean there was a fair amount of pippie flesh floating around under the shell debris, so it just required some eagle-eyed hunting!
We also ordered the pigeon, which appeared to be lightly dusted with the obligatory five spice and then fried. I wasn’t much of a fan of this dish – it was pretty dry, and pigeon doesn’t have the gamey taste quail has, which I love.
Seeing as this was turning into something of a meatfest, we ordered the snow pea shoots, stir-fried with garlic. A pretty standard Cantonese vegetable dish, and one of my favourite. The shoots here were a bit more mature than I’m used to back in Melbourne. This made it seem more of a substantial vegetable, but on the down side, the snow pea flavour was less fresh and intense. Still, it was a good counterbalance to the saltiness of all the other dishes.
Everyone at the table was a fully qualified tofu fan, so it seemed prudent to order some tofu. Deep fried, with salt and pepper – and GARLIC CHIPS – these were a delight. They weren’t as airy and ‘puffy’ as most fried tofu I’d had before, instead actually maintaining a smooth texture inside. The seasoning made these very more-ish, and we polished off the lot.
Then came the main event: the ‘Typhoon Shelter’ style spicy crab. As you can see, the deep fried crab is COVERED with a blanket of fried diced garlic, and depending on your order, a varying amount of chilli. We ordered it medium, but we probably should have gone for hot. This is how it arrives at the table.
If you make enough of a nuisance of yourself by taking photos – especially if ALL FOUR OF YOU are taking photos, with varying degrees of photographic technology in hand – you’ll probably attract one of the more friendly waiters’ attention. And he’ll jovially offer to re-style the dish so that it’s more visually appealing. At least, that’s what this fellow did for us!
It was a little embarrassing, but also extremely amusing. And hey, we all think he did a pretty good job! What do you think?
I quite liked the signature spicy crab, though I think the deep frying actually dried out the meat a bit too much. But the fried garlic and chilli topping is addictive. Five minutes in, and we were all spooning the stuff on our rice. Luckily, we were all just hanging out for drinks together later, so we’d all have horrendous breath together. I feel a bit sorry for @alexobov with whom we met up with later.

If you want to know more about Under Bridge Spicy Crab, there’s a really good article on CNNGo.

Five Generations

五代同堂, 25-31 Carnarvon Rd., Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong
Ph: +852 2723 3383

Five Generations’ egg pudding was the winner of CNN.go’s ‘Hong Kong’s best dessert‘ last year. This pretty much made it a must-try on our #fatty list.

The first time we tried to go, it took us a while to find the place. It’s around the corner from where you might think it would be, though it’s not really hidden at all, there’s just no English signage. If you’re heading there late night (it’s open until 1 or 2 am most nights) just look for a crowd of young HKers milling around, waiting for a table. Partly because it’s tiny, and partly because it has a well-deserved reputation for being that good.

Our second attempt, we went along with the @eatdrinkstagger kids, and discovered that Five Generations has a ticket system like Tim Ho Wan,so we grabbed a ticket, and wandered over to the food-on-a-stick stall across the road. I highly recommend the cuttlefish balls and duck giblets there. Mmmm, stick food….

Anyway, it was a total boon having four of us there, because it meant we could order and sample more desserts! First up was the sago pudding with fresh fruit.

Not all that much to look at, and more of a sweet chilled soup than a pudding, but I quite liked this. It’s a simple dessert, all about coconut milk and sugar.

The next item to arrive at the table was a guava snow storm, or something to that effect. It was a mountain of a peculiarly textured shaved ice. They had a big special machine which did the shaving, and though I haven’t seen it here in Australia, there were places selling the same thing in Malaysia.

The guava flavour was strong and refreshing, though I could have done without the hundreds and thousands on top. I guess they wanted to create that carnival shaved ice show cone feel? And no, that woman in the background isn’t that dubious about the dessert, she was looking dubiously at us all because we were taking about ten shots of each dessert that arrived at the table. Bloody food bloggers.

I was a tad dubious about the next dessert. Though I shouldn’t have been, because you can’t really fault a banana fritter. Unless the banana is under-ripe.

And this was not. Moreover, it was not only battered and fried, but then dusted with caster sugar and cinnamon! Banana fritter donut! All sorts of genius WIN. Served with a pretty non-descript chocolate syrup, and some decent green tea ice cream, I’d definitely have this one over again.

But then we got to the main event. The egg pudding. Since there were four of us, we clearly weren’t going to be able to share one, or even two, between us. So we did what any self-respecting sugarphiles would do: we ordered the six pack.

Yup, when you order the six pack, they come in actual egg shells, instead of the cute glass egg cup. I think the egg shells provide just as much whimsy, but each serving is just the little bit smaller than the individual serve.
The egg pudding is smooth and creamy, yet rich and egg-y. I think Gem described it as an ‘egg pannacotta’, which is pretty apt. Trust me folks, it lives up to the hype, and even if there’s only two of you, consider getting the six pack.

We rounded out our tasting banquet with a ginger souffle. It was pretty impressive when it arrived at the table. But with our incessant photographing, it was looking a little deflated by the time we actually dug into it.

While I liked he ginger flavour, it confirmed for me that souffles, while a technical marvel, aren’t really my cup of tea. The texture was a tad rubbery, though it was still pretty light. I’d just prefer a cake or pudding, I think.
So if you’re in Hong Kong, and eating at a restaurant in Tsim Sha Tsui, skip the dessert, and head on over to Five Generations. You won’t regret it.

Vivid Star

11o Hopkins St, Footscray
Phone: 9689 1888

This one’s for the Nagoya Ramen Ninja. He complained that my posts of late have been too far flung, and I’m not doing my duty as a Footscravian food blogger. So it’s time I did a little more representing for the ‘hood. Hopefully in return, he’ll share his Nagoya Ramen tips with the interwebs again?

Vivid Star is one of the newer Vietnamese restaurants on the Hopkins St strip. It strikes a balance between the modern slicker stylings of Hung Vuong and Sapa Hills – that always tend to make me wary, seeming to pander for the Anglo market – and the beyond-help tacky-yet-charming style of classic Vietnamese eateries, with their pastel walls, ample use of mirrors, plastic condiment baskets and drapery-upholstered chairs.

The irony of the situation is that more often than not, the daggier the restaurant, the better the food. As evidenced recently when I tried two versions of cha ca locally.

In fact, I ended up at Vivid Star because Dong Que was closed on a Monday night, which was a sad discovery, because @tammois and I had a banh xeo craving. @jeroxie and her Mister came along as well, for what was a lively and fun-filled evening eating great food and talking about food. @tammois is writing her PhD about food and culture in Melbourne, you see.

I had also been meant to go to Vivid Star late last year with some neighbours for a x-mas get-together, but didn’t quite make it in the end. Having heard great things from Lauren, I was glad to finally have a chance to try it out. Even if it meant navigating their diagrammatic menu!

We started off with some fried silken tofu, and soft shelled crab.

The tofu was delicate and soft, with the crispy exterior providing just enough of a shell to enable us to pick it up, and the pork floss on top was, as @tammois declared, “genius!” The soft-shelled crab was also good – still juicy inside, though the coating was a touch on the salty side. Still, it’s soft-shelled crab, so I’m generally pretty forgiving.

We also ordered some rice paper rolls with pork and prawn.

These were fresh and springy, though there was too much rice vermicelli and not enough lettuce in them for my liking.Also, I like it when restaurants put in some perilla, basil, mint and/or chives in their rice paper rolls. Were it not for the peanut/hoi sin dipping sauce, these rolls would have been quite bland.

I had been tasked with ordering for the table, which tends to happen when friends come to Vietnamese restaurants with me. I find this a little strange, as I don’t think having knowledge about a particular type of cuisine necessarily equates to knowing what to order at a particular restaurant, and often this happens at places I haven’t eaten at before.

In this situation, I always try to order a combination of dishes to create a balance of flavours and ingredients. I think it’s a pretty common Asian thing – Thai and Vietnamese people often talk about balancing flavours of salty, sweet, spicy and sour in dishes, whereas I think it happens on more of a combination of dishes level in Chinese custom, rather than an individual dish level.

Anyway, I always try to get a range of different proteins, a good amount of vegetables, usually something sweet or sour, and at least one dish with a decent chilli kick. However, often this becomes difficult if there’s not so many people in the group. This night was one example of me composing a well-rounded selection of dishes, which lead to there being too much food. I’m a little ashamed to say that this happens a lot.

The first dish to arrive was the pork spare ribs with fish sauce. This dish was nothing like what I expected.

I had expected that it would be something like a thit kho, pork braised (often in a claypot) in fish sauce. I was expecting little chunks of spare ribs, sort of like what you might get at yum cha. What came out instead was a dish of fried de-boned spare ribs, glazed with a fish sauce reduction. It was certainly unexpected, but oi troi oi (that’s southern Vietnamese for OMG) was it good! The pork was juicy and tender, the batter crispy and barely there, and the fish sauce was rich and just a touch smoky.

Next up was the fried flounder, with salt and pepper. A standard on the Chinese-Vietnamese menu, this
is always one of my favourites to share. Simple flavours of salf, pepper, five spice, chilli and garlic, that work well with just about any seafood. The fish was a bit on the over-cooked side, sadly, but it was still pretty enjoyable.

Being in a Vietnamese restaurant, there was hardly any choice involved in ordering the rau muong (water spinach, or kang kung) which I will always consider Viet Nam’s national vegetable. In Viet Nam, it’s the equivalent to choy sum – ubiquitous, cheap, and versatile. It also happens to be one of my favourite vegetables.

Here, we just had it stir-fried with garlic. This was the ‘bland’ dish of the bunch. I don’t say that in a bad way. The thing is, when you’re ordering a selection of dishes, you should order at least one dish which is bland, or more subtle, I think. It’s kind of like giving you taste buds a break to catch their breath when trying to run a marathon. Sometimes you can ignore this principle, but I’ll guarantee you that you’ll eat a lot more rice. And then there are other times, when you opt for something other than steamed rice.

I went for the chicken and salted fish fried rice, because I’ve had a slight fascination with it lately. Vivid Star’s version is pretty great, too!

I really should have stopped there, but of course, it didn’t seem balanced, so I though I’d order a beef dish. I went for the bo luc lac, because to my surprise, @tammois hadn’t tried it before.
The bo luc lac at Vivid Star is pretty good – not as amazingly steak-y as one I’d had years ago at Thien An, or as my father makes, but pretty good nonetheless.

I think Vivid Star is likely to be one of my regular fall-back local options. The quality of the food and the service is great, but there didn’t seem to be anything amazingly special on the menu that sets them apart from other places along Hopkins St. Oh, except that you can bring your own seafood (perhaps from the live fishmonger store around the corner in Leeds St?) and they will cook if for you in any style you want, for a nominal fee of $15.

Vivid Star on Urbanspoon

J Cafe (Sushi Burger)

167 Exhibition Street, Melbourne CBD
Phone: 9650 9877

Ever since @alexlobov told me about this place last year, I had been curious to try it. Sushi in the shape of a burger? What’s not to like!? It’s a marriage of Japanese flavours with Western form and function. It’s a type of fusion that instantly works, unlike some forms of culinary fusion, where different flavours are mashed together in a strained combination that is intriguing, not not always successful.

I met up with Mr D for dinner, and as is our trademark routine – mostly caused by my indecision, and enabled by his easy-going passivity – we wandered around the city looking for somewhere to eat. When he suggested J Cafe, which he referred to as ‘that sushi burger place’, and which I think should be named Sushi Burger anyway, I agreed. I’m so glad he knows me well enough to have a backup plan in mind.

J Cafe is one of those cute little Japanese places, where the tables are closely packed, there’s a lot of warm blonde wooden furniture, and exceedingly polite Japanese waitresses repeat your order back to you while nodding and adding a questioning ‘yes?’ after reading each item, seeking your confirmation. It’s all very charming, I think.

We both decided to go for the Sushi Burger Box, which comprised of a sushi burger, another dish, and miso soup. For $17, it’s not bad, but there are definitely places nearby where you can get more bang for your buck.

The burgers come wrapped up in paper, a cute touch. This place is all about the kawaii factor, it seems.

I ordered the spicy raw salmon burger. It’s kind of like a round onigiri, with a nori taco wrapped around it. When it comes down to it, it tastes like a fresh hand roll, only the nori is still a bit crispy, which I like.
Mr D had the teriyaki salmon burger, which he was very happy with. I can always tell when Mr D likes what he’s eating, because he eats it rather rapidly, and makes something of a mess.
One little thing that irked me about the sushi burger meal was the fact the second dish was served after the burger, as though the burger was the entree. When the second dish arrived, without any rice accompaniment, it felt a little strange. Especially since I ordered the Tatsuta Age – yep, the fried chicken. I love fried chicken, but it needs a carb-based accompaniment (for full obesity-inducing impact).
This chicken was tasty and juicy, and the mayo drizzled across the top certainly didn’t harm its performance in the deliciousness stakes. I just wish it had come at the same time as the sushi burger.

Mr D had the Kani Croquette (fried mashed potato croquettes with crab meat). Again with the speedy eating and the bit of a mess. To be honest, I think he was much more excited about  the croquettes than the sushi burger.

J Cafe also serves up your standard Japanese bento dishes and sushi, but I think when I go back next time, I’m definitely having another sushi burger.

J Café Restaurant on Urbanspoon

A tale of two wonton noodles

After the disappointment that was wonton noodle soup at Ho Hung Kee, team #fatty spent the next few hours fighting off our food fatigue by partaking in the other great Hong Kong pastime: shopping. Working our way along the island from Causeway Bay to Central, we quite amazingly resisted eating anything for a good five hours, with the exception of a couple of egg tarts. @eatnik has something of a calorie-laden fascination with them, so I got a haircut while she hunted around the Wanch (Wan Chai) for two egg tarts of note.

Several shopping bags and credit card transactions later, we found ourselves very close to the two places touted to have Hong Kong’s best wonton noodle soup. Time for some wonton redemption. Far from being much of a secret, I think both are listed in the Lonely Planet. At least Tsim Chai Kee is, because although I had forgotten its name, I had already tried the wontons here a few years ago.

They’re big, plump, and contain nice big chunks of prawn meat. The noodles are good, too, but the standard of egg noodles in Hong Kong is almost universally high. If not stellar, than at least better than the best in Melbourne. As we sat and replenished out bodies with the salts we’d lost in our day of vigorous shopping, an ex-pat at the table next to us quite mechanically polished off two bowls, one after the other.
My mother would have wept, because here again, I did not finish all of my noodles. Because by the time we sat down and ordered, we had resolved that we were heading to Mak’s, across the street.

The contrast between the two places is quite remarkable. Tsim Chai Kee has a somewhat Japanese feel to the decor, with rectangular black lacquered furniture and ambient lighting. There’s something elegant and classic about the place. Mak’s, on the other hand, is oldskool in a different way. Plastic stools, chrome everywhere, and a vibe which probably looked modern in the 80s, but now just exudes ‘classic Hong Kong diner’.

@eatnik also noted that Tsim Chai Kee seemed to be exclusively staffed by little middle-aged ladies, while Mak’s was run by a troupe of little middle-aged men. Could the battle lines for wonton supremacy be so clearly drawn along lines of gender? Curious.

So we ordered wonton noodles at Mak’s. Or rather, I ordered wonton noodles, and @eatnik ordered wonton soup. She was admitting carb defeat, it seemed.

These wontons were something of a disappointment, after Tsim Chai Kee’s sizeable pillows of prawn. They were quite a bit smaller, and while the flavour was good, they weren’t much better than those at Ho Hung Kee we’d had that morning. Again, I started to wonder if we should be searching for Hong Kong’s best sui gao noodles, and not the best wonton noodles. Again, I couldn’t finish the noodles.

So which was better? It’s pretty clear, isn’t it? Tsim Chai Kee, for this little fatty, romped it in. However, interestingly, neither of these places came close to meeting the levels set by the sublime wontons of Sam Tor, a place strangely more for its chilli oil than its wontons.

Tsim Chai Kee 沾仔记
98, Wellington St, Central, Hong Kong

Mak’s Noodles 麥奀雲吞麵世家
77 Wellington St, Central, Hong Kong.

Ho Hung Kee

2 Sharp St. East, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
Phone: +852 25776558

We almost didn’t make it here. I hate those streets which have East and West, or North and South sections. Because I invariably end up on the wrong section. Thankfully, Sharp St (both sections combined) is quite short, so after the confusion of ending up walking through another wet market – never a bad thing in Hong Kong, really – and crossing under a major arterial twice, team #fatty finally found the congee we were looking for.

To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect, because @eatnik had found this place in the Michelin guide. Not hatted, but listed with a Bib Gourmand, Ho Hung Kee is known for its congee and its wonton noodles. Perfect for breakfast!

When I think of perfect congee, it’s not that classic stalwart pork and century egg, but rather it’s congee with sliced fish. Simple, restorative, and unparalleled in the purity of flavour, fish congee is one of those comfort foods which evokes for me memories of my mother’s loving care. So it was almost a given that this would be what I ordered.
And congee is always made better with the addition of yao zha gwai (fried bread, or Chinese donut, aka you tiao). The only thing better than carb-on-carb is when one of those carbs is fried. This congee lived up to the hype. It was silky, and smooth, without being at all watery. It sticks to your lips in the same way that a good tonkotsu broth, or runny egg yolk does. One of life’s great simple sensations. The flavour was also great, a good balance between the umami of stock – or MSG, who knows, and who cares? – and the natural flavour of the rice.

@eatnik took one for the team, and ordered the wonton noodles. We did share a bit, but I’m ashamed to admit I certainly was hogging the congee. When the noodles arrived, they weren’t very impressive.

I mean the noodles looked good – and they were – but wherefore art thine wontons? A little digging brought them to the surface, however…
I’m not sure if we ordered the wrong thing here. These wontons weren’t very inspiring. Small, and a little too solid, not a shade on those at Sam Tor. Perhaps we should have opted for the sui gao, another soup dumpling which tends to be larger, and includes a few more ingredients in the filling.
So if you’re in the area, and after some congee, definitely head down, but I daresay there are better noodle joints in Causeway Bay. Oh, and if you’re at all prone to getting lost, here’s a handy map.