Nothing says “I love you, #fatty” like a burger cake

It’s @eatnik‘s birthday today. Happy birthday #fatty!!

For a few weeks, @jeroxie and I had been scheming and planning a birthday cake for her, as she’d been the kind purveyor of awesome birthday cakes for us both (a crazily rich milo cake upon my request, and an impressive Words with Friends cake for Penny) as well as a team effort with @meatnik to make a croquembouche – that shat all over any masterchef contestant’s – for @th0i3‘s 30th.

So whatever we came up with, it was going to have to be plucked from the clouds of awesome. Initially, we’d toyed with the idea of a rainbow cake. They seem to be a little en vogue of late, and the flavour possibilities seemed exciting. Then we though something a little more personalised might be a better idea. I floated the idea of a ‘pork belly’ cake, with layers of strawberry sponge meat and white chocolate mousse fat, topped with a bruleed layer of ‘crackling’. I still think I’ll get around to that one day. But when @eatnik announce last week that her birthday celebrations were going to be “burgers and beers” at Thousand Pound Bend, it was time for a cake rethink.

With a little research, and some very helpful advice given by professional cake decorator @sweet_libertine, the burger cake seemed feasible, and actually easier than the pork belly monstrosity we’d been dreaming up.

Now I didn’t take photos of the cake making process, but in essence, this is what the cake was composed of:

  • an orange chiffon cake (for the top of the bun) – from Poh’s recipe, with extra orange essence for a super-charged zing)
  • a chocolate pound cake (for the patty) – from a recipe sourced from @essjayeff, with added cocoa and Hershey’s chocolate syrup – props to @th0i3 for co-baking this with me!
  • another variation on Poh’s chiffon cake, without the orange, but with hazelnut meal added (for the base of the bun).

This was also my first attempt at working with – and making my own – fondant icing. It’s kind of fun, but gets a little messy! I used this recipe, but found I needed to add a lot more icing sugar than they had suggested, partly because I was using liquid food colouring instead of gel colour.

Anyway, to assemble it, I created a skirt of fondant icing for the burger base. Given the amount of icing I was going to be using for everything else, I only wanted it around the edges, for presentation. There’s only so much sugar in a cake that even I can stand! That gooey stuff seeping out is a sour cream frosting that I was using as glue for the fondant.imageA thicker layer of the sour cream frosting went over that, to form the mayo, and then some ruffled green fondant for the lettuce.imageOnce the lettuce layer was done, I added some atomic red fondant tomato slices. See that chocolate pound cake waiting patiently in the background? It’s up next!imageI shaved the top and parts of the edges off, so it woud be more of a patty shape.imageThen, following @sweet_libertine’s advice, I covered it all with ganache – made with Lindt dark Chilli Intense chocolate and sour cream – and glued bits of crumbled pound cake on top, to give it that rough burger mince look.imageThe patty goes on, and I start getting excited about how well it’s all turning out.imageOf course, there’s a reason ‘I can haz cheezburger’ is a meme, and ‘I can haz burger’ is not. I made the fondant cheese Swiss because, well, it looked more obviously like cheese. There’s nothing subtle about a novelty burger cake OK, people?imageThe trickiest part with the fondant was probably laying a huge sheet of it over the top of the bun. To do this, I rolled it out on a sheet of baking paper, then flipped it over onto the cake. Ad thankfully, it came off without a hitch! I don’t think I could really have tried it a second time without making more icing, because once it hits the frosting, the icing can’t really be moved or re-used. And yes, for those continuity geeks playing at home, yes, I did this bit before assembling the rest of the cake. It just seemed more logical to show you the process from bottom to top.imageThen I shaped some novelty sesame seeds out of white fondant, and glued them on using the sour cream frosting.
imagePlace the top on, and voila! Novelty burger cake success!
imageHere’s a shot of how the cake looked on the inside. Try as I might, I couldn’t make it look like anything other than the mess you dread to clean up, with a hangover, the next morning after a big party.imageHappy birthday #fatty!

Last of the Fatties. Two days in Penang.

So it’s been a couple of weeks, but I’m back. New domain, new look, new blogging engine. But not much else has changed. Thanks to those of you who noticed I had taken a break, and those who encouraged me to get back to blogging sooner. It’s heart-warming/ego-stroking to know that people actually read what I write!

Anyway, enough with the pleasantries, it’s time to clear the decks for new eating adventures. So what was probably going to be another four or five posts is now the #fatty Penang megapost. I was in Penang for a total of four days. This post represents the food I ate in the last two days. You’re about to see why I hit ‘food fatigue’ at the end of this holiday.

Let’s start with Penang-style yum cha.

20110501-114537.jpgInstead of trolleys being pushed around, dishes are paraded around the tea house by waitresses with huge steamer trays. The servings tend to be typically smaller. To be honest, I wasn’t really that impressed with this, compared to yum cha in Hong Kong, but it was an interesting take on it, and I liked the relatively informal feel to it all.

20110501-114612.jpgThere were all sorts of dumplings and yong tofu-style items.

20110501-114654.jpgAnd also the typical braised items, involving bean curd skin, prawn mince, or various types of offal.

20110501-114719.jpgIt might seem greedy that we had so many har gao between two of us, but these things are tiny! Which makes them all the more impressive for the pleating skills involved, but they lacked the succulent plumpness of the more famous Hong Kong style ones.

20110502-010751.jpgWe also had a couple of char siu bao, which were pretty great, though probably not the best idea given the amount of food I was going to gorge myself on over the next 48 hours…

20110502-010844.jpgEither was this lor baak gao, which was totally awesome. No minced prawn or Chinese sausage, but the texture was pretty perfect, and look at those cripsy edges! I’m going to try this deep-frying approach next time. Mmm, hard arteries…

20110502-010905.jpgSo this morning yum cha session took place at around 10am. We then drove around a bit – there’s not much walking to be done when Mr A is your culinary guide – and before too long, it was around 1pm – time for lunch! Never mind that usually, if I have yum cha in the morning, I don’t need to eat until dinner.

Mr A took me to a little neighbourhood restaurant, so I could try some typical Hokkien food.


20110502-011015.jpgFirst up was an oyster omelette. Having just had one a week ago in Hong Kong, expectations were high. And while it’s not really fair to judge one against the other – as they’re completely different styles – I much prefer the crispy Hong Kong version. This Hokkien version was pretty gelatinous. The omelette is held together by the egg, but there’s also a fair amount of a tapioca or corn starch-based batter involved. To keep this from sticking to the wok, it seemed like they simply fried it up in more oil, which meant it ended up quite greasy and heavy. Also, I wasn’t a huge fan of the strangely sweet chilli sauce.


This was some sort of bee hoon dish, I think. Bean thread (the transparent type of vermicelli) ans choy sum stir-fried with prawns, some sort of soy, and a hefty whack of garlic. This dish was great, but a little challenging in the searing middle-of-the-day heat.

20110502-011105.jpgMr A said this was a traditional Hokkien Mee. Which was interesting, because I’d always though Hokkien Mee was more of a dry, stir-fried noodle, like Mee Goreng. To be honest, I rarely ever order it, because the size and texture of the noodle itself isn’t one of my favourites, and wherever Hokkien Mee’s on the menu, most often so it char kway teow or laksa. I wasn’t a huge fan of this dish, but I did like the little oysters peppered throughout it. Apparently oysters are a pretty common ingredient in lots of Hokkien dishes.

20110502-011127.jpgThis was another gelatinous Hokkien specialty. Little chunks of pork had been battered and fried, then cooked in thr broth. The broth itself had an odd amount of cornstarch in it, giving it a slight viscosity, but not so much as you would find in some Chinese soups, usually involving feathered egg. The end result was a little unpleasant, texturally, though the flavour was not bad.

20110502-011148.jpgA few hours off – I went for a browse around the air-conditioned malls – and Mr A picked me up again, this time to take me to the local night market near his apartment building. The markets are on once a week, and situated outside the local wet markets. It was similar to Viet Nam in that respect, where the day/night raw/cooked use of market spaces is also very common.

We wandered around, picking up various items at different food carts, and then settled down at a table to feast on the goodies we’d collected. It was not unlike visiting a hawker centre, only you could also pick up some cheap sandals, a new mobile phone cover, or some LED torches while you’re there.

This was a type of pancake/waffle/crumpet, which had sesame seeds and brown sugar sandwiched in the centre. It should have been dessert, but we came across it first, so ate it was we wandered around buying other items.

20110502-011226.jpgOne reason why Asia is the best continent on Earth: food on sticks. Everywhere.

20110502-011251.jpgMmm, satay action.

20110502-011314.jpgThese are some loh bak sausage-y things (it’s spiced pork mince wrapped in bean curd skins) deep frying.

20110502-011339.jpgOf course we were going to have some of these!

20110502-011402.jpgMr A knows the local fish ball guy. And trust me, once you’ve had fresh fish balls, anything you can buy in an Asian grocer pales into insignificance. The genuine article is light, springy and delicate, and is at once wonderfully fish-flavoured, without being ‘fishy’. And no, I have ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA what sort of fish was in these. Nor do I care. They’re that good.

20110502-011434.jpgA little chai tow kway, anyone? It’s a glutinous rice flour cake (like the lor baak gao, but without  the daikon) that’s been stir-fried with beanshoots, egg and soy, similar to char kway teow. It’s pretty great, but again – there’s a pattern here – not advised for those with limited stomach space.

20110502-011539.jpgWe walked past this weird stall…

20110502-011612.jpgThose little vermicelli nets were actually sweets. Like little coconutty hoppers.  As if that weren’t enough, Mr A insisted that I needed to try some of the Malaysian version of chin po leung/sam bo luong. It’s a sweet soup with all manner of fruits, grains and fungus in it. Sounds more scary than it actually is. It’s actually very refreshing!

20110502-011659.jpgThe next morning, we went around the corner from the hotel where I was staying, because I was staying in close proximity to Georgetown’s best har mee.

20110502-011723.jpgThis har mee is so renowned that it’s not uncommon to have to wait 20-30 minutes for it. So we ordered, and in the mean time, we ordered other things. ‘Cos you gotta have waiting food, right? Right. Like these prawn fritters.

20110502-011800.jpgAnd this char koay teow.

20110502-011906.jpgMr A wasn’t in a shrimpy mood that morning, so he had some of hte soup noodle, involving pork mince and Hokkien noodles.

20110502-011837.jpgAfter about 20 minutes, the har mee finally came, and let me tell you, this was the most intensely shrimpy broth I’ve ever tasted. Well, that might not quite be true, because there are a few Vietnamese dishes which would give it a run for its money, but what set the har mee apart is that its flavour had a lot more to do with prawn heads and shells – like a bisque – than the use of fermented prawn paste.

20110502-011945.jpgI would have finished all of the broth, except it was making me thirsty. That’s not to say it was laden with MSG, it was just very salty and rich.

20110502-012006.jpgI was left to my own devices for lunch, because Mr A was busy, and to be honest, I was hitting the food fatigue wall. I often laugh at those who claim that certain foods aren’t ‘breakfast foods’, but seriously, prawn fritters, char koay teow and har mee is a hefty challenge. I thought I should try something a little less punchy for lunch, so I headed to nearby Fatty Loh’s, a chicken rice specialist, with a cartoon chicken mascot. Never trust an animal that is selling you its own flesh.



20110502-012441.jpgThe chicken itself wasn’t great. It was a bit on the dry side, though quite tasty. The pork was much better, though the highlight was actually the chicken rice. Well seasoned and lightly garlicky, I would have been happy to eat it on its own. The sambal was also quite good, though not really sour enough, and well, the less said about the vegetables the better. Oil city.

Full, but unsatisfied, I craved more chicken rice. When Mr A picked me up for dinner and asked what dishes I’d still like to try, I told him without hesitation that I was yet to try good chicken rice here in Penang. He seemed a little surprised – chicken rice is not enough of a Penang specialty, perhaps – but he quickly knew exactly where to take me.

20110502-012539.jpgAs we walked up to the little hawker ‘restoran’, proudly out the front was its big draw: the chicken rice stand.

20110502-012718.jpgI’m fairly sure Mr A ordered me what was a double serve, as I did see other locals having chicken rice, but their servings weren’t nearly as generous as the one placed in front of me.

20110502-012604.jpgFeeling a tad guilty, I nonetheless tucked in. Oh, the joy of simple, perfectly boiled chicken. The meat was tender, moist and succulent. The texture was not so far removed from the soft, plump skin which clung to it. Yet somehow, while being oily, it didn’t taste greasy at all.  The polar opposite of Fatty Loh’s, the rice here was just plain steamed white rice. But I didn’t care; that chicken… that chicken!

20110502-012627.jpgThe sambal was also very good. Nice and piquant, though I could have done with a little more chilli heat.

20110502-012652.jpgAs if that weren’t enough eating, because it was my last night in Penang, Mrs A insisted  that I should try everything I hadn’t yet tried, pressing me to name dishes I still hadn’t sampled on my short eating tour. The only thing that came to mind was Siam laksa. So we stopped off at another local neighbourhood night market. It was starting to rain, and people huddled around tables under tarps and beach umbrellas that sprung up as the downpour got heavier.

20110502-012751.jpgWhen I had questioned her about Siam laksa earlier, and how it differed to the Assam laksa more commonly found in Georgetown, she said it was Thai style, and had coconut milk in it. I took this to mean that it was the more common curry laksa style that I was used to in Melbourne. But I was wrong! It was still very similar to Assam laksa – the use of mackerel (or sardine) was still there, as was the trademark tamarind. But this had been married with curry and coconut flavours, creating a whole other experience.

20110502-012911.jpg20110502-012936.jpg20110502-013002.jpgOf course, no meal is complete without one last char koay teow. This one was decent, but nothing to write home about.

20110502-012828.jpgSo finally that was the end of the #fatty adventure for me in Penang. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about and looking at the wonderful food I tried there as much as i did shoving it in my mouth! Next time, we’re back onto more local eateries.

Nyonya Breeze

50 Lorong Abu Siti, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

After an afternoon of, well, driving around and eating, Mr A and I went to pick up ‘his darling’, and the three of us headed off to dinner. Mr A told me that since I was in Penang, I must try the Nyonya cuisine. What he didn’t tell me was that he was going to introduce me to it in the form of a single meal – a Nyonya feast!

We stopped in at Nyonya Breeze, a pretty unassuming place. Modern, clean, and a little lacking in character. Not what I was expecting when being told I was going to try traditional food with a history that stretches back to the 16th century. But as usual in Asia, first impressions can often be deceiving.

We started off with an iced nutmeg tea. A unique flavour I hadn’t encountered before – slightly tangy, though mostly sweet. The nutmeg was present, but not overwhelming, and it was quite refreshing.
Otak-otak is a type of ‘fish custard’. Yeah, I know, that makes it sound gross. But it’s really not, if you don’t think of custard as a sweet dish, but rather as a consistency. Spiced with turmeric, galangal and lemongrass, the coconut milk custard is set around fish and kaffir lime leaves, and steamed. Wonderfully fragrant, this was great to mash into rice.
Ju hu char – stir fried shredded sengkuang (jicama), carrots and dried cuttlefish and mushrooms. I quite liked this. The mushrooms and the dried cuttlefish injected so much umami into the dish, and again, it kind of required some rice in each mouthful to temper the flavour. Are you beginning to see a trend here? No wonder I managed to gain four kilos on this holiday. So much rice!
When I’d previously heard of Nyonya food, I never bothered to investigate as to what it referred to. I just thought it was a subset of Malaysian food, and assumed because of the exotic sounding word ‘nyonya’ that it was probably more Malay than anything else. But it actually refers to a people – and their cuisine – who are descendants of Chinese migrants who South in the 15th and 16th centuries. So it makes sense that these Nyonya dishes seem like variations of Chinese dishes with which I’m very familiar.

Though of course, there are points of difference. Like in Chinese cooking, they’d tend to preserve a fish by salting it. In Nyonya cooking, they like to pickle things in vinegar. Like this acar hu, fish pickled in turmeric vinegar. Slightly sweet, and a little tangy, yet a bit salty – I think it was probably mackerel – a perfectly balanced dish in and of itself. I reckon you could probably just snack on this.

Choon peah – pretty much a pork and cabbage spring roll. The pastry was a bit thick, but wonderfully crunchy in that Chien Wah spring roll way (you know, the big ones you get at fish and chip shops).

And then there’s loh bak. Pretty common throughout Penang, it’s basically a spiced pork sausage, wrapped in dried bean curd skin, and deep fried. It’s another great snack food, but it always confuses me, because loh bak in Cantonese means carrot or daikon.
Next up was a salted fish and tofu soup. I didn’t catch the name. It was nice and pungent, and the tofu was silky smooth. Salted fish and tofu are always a great combination, as the neutral passivity (blandness?) of the tofu is a great foil for the sharp saltiness of the salted fish.
Another soup arrived at the table, this time an assam pedas, or tamarind fish.
Although it’s not really supposed to be a soup, more a braised fish dish with a lot of sauce. Which Mrs A expertly doled out into bowls for each of us. I just drank the sauce like a soup anyway, because it was that tasty. The fish itself was good, but a little fiddly – lots of tiny bones.
So yeah, that was my introduction to Nyonya food. I definitely liked it, though apparently some people didn’t think much of Nyonya Breeze. I don’t pretend to know any better. I’m a tourist, so hey, maybe he’s right when he says “Penang Nyonya?I think not. Cater To Tourist Nyonya… more likely I will agree.”
Caters pretty bloody well.

Lorong Selamat Char Koay Teow

Lorong Selamat, Georgetown, Penang

I have to put a caveat on this post, only because I was doing a little research to try to find a more precise address. This is not the (in)famous Lorong Selamat Char Koay Teow stand at Cafe Heng Huat, run by the allegedly abusive auntie. You’ll know you’ve found the right place when you see this guy working up a sweat in his scuba mask over a searingly hot wok. Oh, and if it helps, it’s directly opposite two garishly pastel peach apartment towers.

Mr A, my Penang food guide, took me here for CKT as Georgetown’s best CKT stand – which uses a charcoal fire – wasn’t open that day, being closed on Mondays. According to Mr A, this place is the next best, even though the vendor uses gas (apparently gas-fired woks are inferior for CKT?). Apparently he’s a second generation CKT master, and having learned from his father, whose eyesight was damaged by years of intense heat and smoke, he dons the safety goggles to protect his eyes from the constant smoke coming from the sizzling char koay teow. Wok hei is great for noodles, but not so much for eyes, it seems.

This was the first CKT I tried in Penang, and I was excited! CKT has always been one of my favourite dishes, Malaysian or otherwise, and I’m fairly sure the fact I ate it four times in four days had something to do with my holiday weight gain. But it was bloody worth it. Now Penang CKT is slightly different from the KL or Singapore styles – from what I can gather, I might be wrong – in that it uses a much thinner rice noodle, much like that of a pad Thai.

It’s stir-fried in a searingly hot wok, along with prawns, clams, bean shoots, Chinese sausage, chives, and egg. Mr A told me that what differentiates a good CKT from a great CKT, however, is the soy sauce used. Each vendor in Penang uses a different soy sauce concoction, usually a secret recipe, rather than something unadulterated off the shelf.
There’s an element of sweetness to the soy, like a kecap manis, but it’s not a sticky as that, and also there’s the matter of how much wok hei there is, which accents and changes the way the soy tastes. Then there’s the amount of chilli or sambal, which again, interacts with the soy, changing its flavour profile. Who would’ve imagined a stir-fried noodle with two sauce elements would be so complicated?

Anyway, Mr A was right. This CKT master served up a truly spectacular Char Koay Teow. The prawns were plump and juicy, and all the elements ‘popped’ flavour-wise, the bean shoots and chives bringing a freshness to what is essentially quite an oily dish. That’s the other thing: CKT should be inhaled as quickly as possible, as it can start to taste a bit greasy once it cools. Which is a guilty pleasure of an entirely different sort. In any case, I made short work of this one.

And then Mr A thought I should try the ice kachang. A traditional Malaysian dessert, it involves shaved ice mounded over a selection of not necessarily sweet ingredients – like kidney beans, corn and grass jelly – drizzled with some sort of sugar syrup – often rose, gula melaka or pandan – and coconut milk.
This one had rose and sarsaparilla syrup, and a little scoop of ice cream on top. The sarsaparilla was an interesting flavour, but to be honest, ice kachang really isn’t my cup of tea. It was definitely refreshing in the tropical heat, but there’s something about shaved ice with jelly and dairy that is a little off-putting for me.

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.

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.