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.

Sam Tor Noodles

1/F, 30 Pottinger St, Central

Team Fatty (that is, @eatnik and I) are off and running. Merely hours after @eatnik’s 4:30am arrival – I had arrived the previous day – we headed off for our first stop in what is shaping up to be a food journey of epic proportions. Listed by CNNGo’s guide to Hong Kong as having the best chilli oil in Hong Kong, it was pretty obvious that this place was going to be high on our list of places to visit.

We arrived at around 9:30am, and the place was bustling, but not too busy for us to get a table right away. We shared a table with a middle-aged HK lady, who seemed bemused by how excited we were about the chilli oil, tasting it on its own before mixing it in with our noodles.
To call this Hong Kong’s best is a pretty big call, and I’m not sure I entirely agree. Sure, it’s very good, but it wasn’t the crazy symphony of chilli flavours which CNNGo had me expecting.It was reminiscent of the crispy prawn chilli which @msbaklover had introduced me to recently. Salty but mildly shrimpy (this sounds weird, but trust me, it’s a good thing) at the same time.

I ordered the beef brisket noodle. I like that (for me) it was the perfect breakfast size. Hearty, and satisfying, but not overly filling. And at $HK28 (around $4AUD) it’s an absolute steal. But that’s a trend you’ll be seeing a lot more of in these Hong Kong #fattyposts.

The flavour of the brisket was spot on. A good amount of five spice, but not too much. It was a tad on the oily side, but hey, when you’re on holidays, who cares!? I also love the egg noodles here in Hong Kong. They’re so much finer than the ones we get back in Melbourne, which somehow makes them better.

@eatnik had the wonton noodles (also $HK28), which came with four plump little babies sitting atop her bowl of noodles. On top of which, of course, she heaped a big spoonful of chilli oil.

Having decided early on in the piece that she wasn’t going to try to match my eating prowess bowl for bowl, she was kind enough to give me one of her wontons. They were succulent and tasty, with whole prawns inside.
It may or may not be Hong Kong’s best chilli oil – our jury of two is still out on that one – but Sam Tor is definitely worth a visit. The noodles are awesome, as are their fatboy wontons.