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

http://www.gov.hk/mobile/en/wifi/location/address_tphmcfc.htm

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
http://www.underspicycrab.com/

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.

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.

Hui Lau Shan

Various locations around Hong Kong
Website (Chinese)

There was one place my friends introduced me to last time I was in Hong Kong. I knew it as ‘the mango on mango on mango place’. We went to the Mong Kok outlet before karaoke, and I thought it was a one off. Little did I know that is was one branch of a pervasive ‘Healthy Dessert’ chain which can be found, often unexpectedly as you’re walking around, in most of the busy shopping districts of Hong Kong. Welcome to the land of Hui Lau Shan.

Now I’m fairly sure Hui Lau Shan is some reference to a place (shan meaning mountain, you barbarians) where they conjure up all sorts of magical healthy desserts. Desserts involving – you guessed it – mango.

In the week that team #fatty was traipsing around Hong Kong in search of wondrous eats, Hui Lau Shan was hands down the most frequently visited place. Most places only warranted one visit. Sam Tor Noodles (coincidentally as the name suggests – it means ‘three more’, you barbarians) demanded three visits. But I went to Hui Lau Shan no less than five times in seven days. And that was barely enough. What’s so good about this place? Mango. Oh, and sugar.

The first time I went, it was just a takeaway mango puree/slushie with tapioca. Gotta keep up the blood sugar levels when you’re shopping, see?

Later that evening, I introduced @eatnik to the joy of Hui Lau Shan. @alexlobov had been before, being a Hong Kong resident, and for some inexplicable reason, wasn’t that impressed. I say inexplicable, because the man has consistently good taste. Apparently not so much in the realm of ‘healthy’ desserts. Anyway, on this visit, I had the sago in mango puree, with mango pieces, pomelo and coconut milk.

An awesome balance of fresh, slightly tart mango and pomelo, with a rich sweetness from the coconut milk (and also no doubt a hefty slug of sugar syrup).

@eatnik had the black rice pudding with mango and coconut milk. This dish is a total winner, as the black rice isn’t too sweet, and gives the dessert the accent of young rice flavours, while the – as we have established – winning combination of mango and coconut does its magic.

@alexlobov had the taro flavoured Hokkaido milk pudding, after being told some other pudding he wanted, involving an oozing peach centre, was unavailable.
The pudding was studded with red beans, and was probably a bit too solid. They skimp neither on the sugar, nor the gelatin, it seems.

I went back three more times, introducing the @eatdrinkstagger kids to the wonders of the mystical dessert mountain, and sampling my way through more of the menu, though I neglected to take more photos. I can highly recommend the coconut noodles with mango and fruit salad, however.

In my uni days, I was for a short time obsessed with a movie called The Holy Mountain. It was a crazy psychedelic movie about transcendence and hallucinations. It involved plaster crucifixes and women holding chimpanzees, if that gives you any indication. Anyway, I think I found my Holy Mountain. Its name is Hui Lau Shan.

Tim Ho Wan

Shop 8, 2-20 Kwong Wa Street, Mong Kok, Kowloon.
Phone: +852 2332 2896

This was probably the most hyped and most greatly anticipated destination on the Hong Kong #fatty map. The world’s cheapest Michelin starred restaurant. There are apparently two outlets of Tim Ho Wan now – a second one opened up in Sham Shui Po – but we went to the original in Mong Kok.

We’d heard about the wait for a table, so we arrived early. Tim ho Wan (the Mong Kok one, anyway) opens at 10am. We arrived at around 9:30, to find there was already a queue! When they started letting people in, it was clear that we weren’t all going to fit in the tiny restaurant, but thankfully we got ticket number 5, so it wasn’t going to be too long a wait.

We wandered around the block, and stopped in at a herbal tea shop for something to cool our qi, after witnessing a rather heated altercation between two locals over some parking. They needed something to cool their qi too. Why the hell would people bother having a car in Hong Kong? Public transport is excellent, and cabs are dirt cheap.

We arrived back at Tim Ho Wan, and they were up to ticket number three. Another five minutes later, and we were seated. All up, about a 25 minute wait. Not too bad! Oh, in case you’re wondering, if we had’ve missed our number being called, we would’ve just been given the next available table. A pretty great system, no?

Thankfully, the place mats at Tim Ho Wan have lots of pictures of their specialties. We ticked off the items we wanted to try, after being chastised for not doing so while we were waiting outside – you can get an order form from a little box by the door – and the brusque but not unfriendly lady went off with our form. I must say, I do love a trolley service yum cha experience, but the ordering system does tend to be more efficient.

We were seated up the back near the kitchen, which was at once painful – to see all of that food in such close proximity but not on our table – and cool – too see all that food in such close proximity. But that all didn’t matter so much once the food started arriving.

First up was one of Tim Ho Wan’s signature dishes. Char siu bao (roast pork buns) with a difference. These are baked, with a crumbly cookie topping, like a smaller, filled baw law bao (pineapple buns) or Japanese melonpan.

These were AWESOME! Crunchy and crisp on the outside, and choc-ful of sugar, with a wonderfully sweet-and-salty char siu filling. @eatnik and I split the third one, because neither of us was graceful – or stupid – enough to concede it to the other.
Next up, the cheong fun with pork liver. @eatnik was a little apprehensive about this one, as she’s not the hugest fan of liver, but seeing as it was the only cheong fun on the menu, we pretty much had to order it.
It was pretty good, though I must say the cheong fun we had in Macau was slightly more delicate, and therefore better. Still, check out how translucent these puppies were. Either that’s some expert noodle making, or someone’s cheating and adding tapioca starch to their rice flour mixture!

Next up came the dumplings. First, a Qiuzhou (aka Teochew) style dumpling, with dried shrimp, peanuts and water chestnuts. I love these texturally, but I always find myself needing to dip them in soy, which I think is unnecessary when you have a good dumpling going on.

The next one was the spinach dumpling. Now I was expecting a predominantly prawn-filled dumpling, with some diced spinach. This was the other way around: mostly spinach, with bits of something (was it garlic, lardons, or prawn? I don’t remember!) to add some extra flavour. Unexpected, but kind of genius. These dumplings are full of #WIN.
Then the classic har gow, the standard b which all yum cha joints should be judged. Ant Tim Ho Wan’s were pretty bang on the money. Slightly smaller than the other dumplings, so you get four, these were delicate and yet full of flavour. I applaud the inclusion of bamboo shoot, which provides a nice textural addition to the already firm and toothsome prawn meat. I’m not sure these are the best I’ve ever eaten, but they’re pretty darned good!
Then there was the loh baak gao. I know how to make this, and therefore am unusually critical of every one I come across. Not to say that I won’t scoff them all down without prejudice.
Tim Ho Wan’s version had a nice crispy sear on it, but was a tad on the crumbly side. Which is in some ways a negative, but it’s also a positive, because the crumbling texture was due to the abundance of parsnip in the mix. Hence the flavour was overwhelmingly present, which is a nice change from most loh baak gao, where you can’t taste the parsnip because it’s barely there amongst the glutinous rice flour cement. I could have done with a little more Chinese sausage in this, but overall, it was pretty good.

Then, the chicken’s feet. A yum cha staple, which challenges novices, and some people never get the hang/point of, chicken’s feet – or more properly foong jao (phoenix’s talons) – are another means by which I like to judge a yum cha experience. The skin – it’s all about the skin, people – should be soft and slightly saggy, and have soaked up all of the flavour in which the chicken’s feet have been braised.

Tim Ho Wan’s were a little on the solid side, the collagen not having broken down enough, and the skin still sticking to the bones too much. The flavour of the braising liquid was great, but it could have done with some more time cooking. Perhaps coming for breakfast wasn’t such a great idea, as no doubt the batch of chicken’s feet would improve throughout the day.

Stuffed eggplant came out next (yong ke qie). Not to be too harsh, but I wish we’d ordered something else. There wasn’t enough oil in this dish to make the eggplant soften, and while it wasn’t bitter, the eggplant had a rather off-putting taste. The filling wasn’t much to write about either, so I won’t.

When the Haam sui gok (literally salty water dumplings, but better known as football dumplings here in Australia) arrived, I was excited, even though I was already starting to feel full. These were for a long time my favourite item at yum cha, because of the crispy shell, the yielding, gooey, sweet dough casing, and the classic salty minced pork and mushroom filling.
I was a little let down by Tim Ho Wan’s haam sui gok. The dough wasn’t that chewy, and there wasn’t much filling inside. Still, by that stage, it didn’t really matter, and neither did the pork and peanut congee we also ordered, which needed salt and wasn’t very amazing.

So yeah, overall, it’s well worth visiting, and at around $140HKD ($20AUD at the prevailing exchange rate) for two to stuff yourself stupid, you’d have to be another kind of stupid to pass it up.

Din Tai Fung

Shop 130, 3/F, Silvercord, 30 Canton Rd, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong
Phone: +852 2730 6928

While it wasn’t the one I was most excited about, this was to be my first experience with a Michelin-starred restaurant. More about the other one late … I’m guessing most of you know the one I mean.

Anyway, @eatnik, @alexlobov and I met up at the Silvercord centre, a big, shiny shopping centre, much like all of the other big, shiny shopping centres in this area of Tsim Sha Tsui. Having come in at the wrong entrance, @eatnik and I weren’t sure if we were in the right place, as all we saw were hoardings promising a newly renovated food centre, coming soon!

We rounded the corner, however, and across the atrium lay the promised land. Encased, of course, in glass. This is Hong Kong, after all.

There were already quite a few people waiting, so we grabbed a ticket and waited for our number to be called. Din Tai Fung has a clever system where the ticketing numbers are split up by how many people you have in your group, and thankfully about three groups who were waiting for tables of 3-5 people must have pulled out, because the number advanced pretty quickly after the initial twenty minute wait. You can also grab a copy of the menu to peruse while you wait, which speeds up turnover I guess, but also has you salivating in anticipation. I guess the long-ish waiting also builds anticipation, so much so that we all cheered when our number was called. Alex suggested we belt out a chorus of ‘We are the champions‘ when our number was called, but we thought that might be going a little too far.
We were shown to a table towards the back of the restaurant, and incidentally greeted by every staff member we passed – service is clearly a significant part of why Din Tai Fug is Michelin-starred here – and presented with a second menu. There were a couple of clear ‘must-try’ dishes, namely the xiao long bao and the chilli wontons, and Alex spoke highly of their signature dan dan mian (spicy sesame noodles).

But we started off with some cold dishes: green beans fried with minced pork, and cucumbers with chilli oil.

The beans were good, but a little strange, as I’m more used to this dish being served hot. But the beans were plump and sweet, and the mince was nicely salty. The cucumber chunks were great. Cucumber is such a versatile and refreshing food, and I really should be eating more of it. Here, the freshness of the cucumber married well with the richness of the chilli oil.

Then the rest of the dishes started arriving, in quick succession. There’s a strange service hierarchy at play at Din Tai Fung. Beyond the usual distinction of waitstaff/bus-person, there’s a further distinction between the type of waitstaff, which was apparently signified by whether or not the waitress/waiter was wearing a white floppy hat. Those saddled with this hat appeared to be responsible for bringing food to the table, on a tray, and then waiting while another, hatless waitress/waiter would offload the food from the tray and place it on the table. It seemed unnecessarily complicated, but it also added an amusing theatricality to the dining experience.

So the next dishes to arrive were the xiao long bao. We ordered two serves of the standard ones, as well as one of the ones with crab roe inside. There’s also a truffled xlb on the menu, but given the amount of food we were ordering for three, it seemed a little too extravagant. And truth be know, I’m not sure truffles are my favourite thing, when paired with the other Chinese tastes on the table.

These xlb are pretty phenomenal. The flavour’s just right, the skin is wonderfully delicate, and of course, they’re sufficiently soupy. Given their reputation for xiao long bao, it’s not really that surprising how good these were, but I’m still very glad the reputation is, in my opinion, deserved.

Next up was the dan dan mian. Alex insisted that we try this, though it wasn’t really to my liking. I found the tahini-like sesame flavour of the sauce too overpowering, and though it would have been better if it was a bit more salty and spicy.

I ordered the hot and sour soup, which was a bit of a mistake, because again, it lacked any real spice, and also could have done with some more umami. Perhaps the few days I’d been in Asia had already increased my MSG tolerance.
The chilli wontons were great, though I think I actually prefer the ones at Hu Tong here in Melbourne. These just didn’t seem as meaty, somehow.
Despite most of their food seeming quite Shanghainese to me, Din Tai Fung is actually a chain which originated in Taiwan. So Alex suggested we try a pretty typical Taiwanese dish – pork chop on egg fried rice.
This sounds horribly gwai lo, but in fact, it’s pretty awesome. The pork chop is perfectly fried – I’m pretty sure deep fried – and the fried rice was amazing. Soft yet not sticky, well seasoned, and not oily at all, the simple strands of lightly scrambled egg and diced spring onion were well restrained and cooked to perfection.

Oh yeah, we also ordered some other dish of vegetables – snow pea shoots with garlic, I think? – but it wasn’t so memorable. It only made it to the group shot!

This was all that the three of us left behind, in the end:
I’m glad there’s a Din Tai Fung in Sydney, as I’m not sure I can wait until the next time I get overseas to go again.

Four Seasons Claypot Rice

46-58 Arthur Street, Yau Ma Tei
(between Temple Street and Nathan Road)

Back when I visited Hong Kong in 2000, I met my mother’s cousin Suit Ying for the first time. It was one of those overwhelming love-and-admiration-for-my-family moments. She was a taller, younger, more gaunt version of my mother. She had then recently been granted residency in Hong Kong, after a few years in a refugee detention centre (she had arrived in Hong Kong from Viet Nam as an illegal alien). She has a huge smile, and was full of laughter and quite clearly excited to see my mother again, after about twenty five years.

We met up with her near Temple St Market, because she was working at one of the little claypot rice restaurants which were springing up all over Hong Kong at the time. I don’t think it was Four Seasons, but it was over a decade ago, so I can’t really be sure. In any case, claypot rice was all the rage back then. And while it’s no longer so trendy, there are still quite a lot of places that specialise in it.

When researching places to eat in Hong Kong, of course @eatnik and I asked friends (and scoured their blogs). Both Phil and Jess had whet our appetites not only for claypot rice, but also for Four Seasons’ now famous oyster omelette. Oh, it also helps that Anthony Bourdain also recommended the place.

We met up with the @eatdrinkstagger kids, who were also holidaying in Hong Kong that week. Expect to see a lot of cross-posting over the next few weeks between them and me. There was a little confusion as to where this place was, partly because google maps’ print functionality blows chunks, and partly because we were too lazy to enter addresses in our notes on our eating map. In any case, some quick smartphone usage and guidebook map referencing later, we found the place. Having been warned about a line forming pretty early in the evening, we opted for a blue-rinse special dining time of around 5:30pm. Which meant we walked into a half-full restaurant, and had an excuse later for supper.

So, of course, the first thing we ordered was the oyster omelette. We got the large, which was quite simply humongous. The picture doesn’t really illustrate it very well.

Never fear! After the previous day’s performance in Macau, I wasn’t going to let more food go to waste! Between the four of us, we managed to finish it off. The omelette is more like a fritter, really. Crisp and crunchy, with a generous serve of fresh oysters scattered throughout the batter, and a handful of spring onions  thrown in for good measure, or just to make it slightly more aesthetically appealing, I’m not sure. I love oysters, and this omelette was full of them. The only problem I had with the dish was that the chilli sauce that it was served with was really salty. I would have preferred a chilli sauce with more vinegar in it, but I’m quibbling here.

Of course, we also tried the claypot rice. We ordered (from left to right) the traditional classic:chicken with Chinese sausage, as well as frog and mushroom, and pork spare ribs with eel and soy bean paste.

They weren’t all that exciting. Though to be fair, we probably didn’t douse them with enough soy sauce. My favourite was definitely the ribs and eel, partly because soy bean paste is such an underrated condiment, but also because it was probably burnt a bit more than it was supposed to be – you want a little of the rice to burn to form a crunchy layer on the bottom of the claypot – which ended up giving the eel a great smoked flavour.

We also ordered some tung choi – a.k.a. eng cai or kangkung or rau muong depending where in Asia you are – which was simply boiled and given a quick stir fry, with a dollop of fermented bean curd as the sauce on the side. Nothing special, but great comfort food. Oh, and fermented bean curd is also another hugely underrated condiment.

The jovial middle-aged lady who took our order also suggested that we might like to get some soup, and recommended the gai choi soup with tofu, pork slices and century egg. It was a wonderfully cleansing way to end the meal, after all that oil from the omelette, and a good introduction to century egg for the @eatdrinkstagger crew.

All up, this meal ended costing us about 40HKD each. Yup, less than $6AUD. Another reason why I freaking love Hong Kong.