Wong Chi Kei

After our little detour via the wet markets, @eatnik and I headed up the hill to the ruins of St Paul’s. Not really because we wanted to see the ruins – I’d seen them twice before – but more because I wanted to show @eatnik the wonder that is Jerky Street, which leads up to the historical church facade.

Jerky street (Rua de Sao Paulo) is lined with, well, jerky vendors. Predominant here is the bak gua style of jerky, though you can find the other ‘dried beef’ style too. Along this street, you can also find many almond cookie shops, and shops selling Portuguese egg tarts. It’s all very touristy, but in a tasty way.

After sampling our way up and down Jerky street, we wandered back down to Senado Square, and headed for Won Chi Kei. Again, this was another recommendation from Petite Crystal, who posted about a crab congee. As a self-respecting Chinese man, I could hardly bypass that!

The place was pretty easy to find – it’s right opposite the McDonald’s – but we weren’t sure as we walked in if it was the right place, mostly because the ground floor seating is pretty limited, and I was under the impression it was a pretty big place. But there’s more seating upstairs. You’ll still probably end up sharing a table with strangers if you’re less than a group of four, however, because it’s pretty busy. I guess the crab congee’s no secret, though Wong Chi Kei is pretty well known for its noodles too, apparently.

While we waited for our food to arrive, @eatnik and I sampled the chilli oil, something that was fast becoming a team #fatty habit. We were most impressed by the chilli oil here. It was salty and smoky, with a nice slow burn, but not too much initial heat.

@eatnik had the gon loh mien (dry-style egg noodles) with pig’s trotter. She wasn’t too impressed with the dish, and having tried a bit, I don’t quite understand where Wong Chi Kei’s reputation for noodles comes from. It was pretty lacklustre. And the pig’s trotter, though it had good flavour, was a bit on the tough/dry side.
When the bowl of congee came, it didn’t look like much. The crab was almost completely submerged, and I had to dig around before I found any of its bright orange shell.
There was what I’m pretty sure was an entire miniature crab in this bowl. There’s not a lot of meat going on, and it was pretty fiddly, but the crab meet was wonderfully sweet. The good thing about crab as a main dish is that you can go in with you hands; it’s a little more difficult when there’s no plate, and you don’t want to get hot congee all over your fingers.
The congee itself was nice and smooth. Years ago, a friend told me one of the secrets to good restaurant-quality congee: evaporated milk. It makes the rice porridge smoother, and well, more creamy. I’m not sure whether Wong Chi Kei use evaporated milk, but the congee was certainly very smooth and creamy, with that tendency to stick to your lips which good congee has.

Eyes bigger than our stomachs – read greedy here – we also made the mistake of ordering the ‘Eight treasures’ – what looked on the menu like a mixed entree platter. And it was, after a fashion… though there was nothing fried about this mixed entree selection.

Instead, it was a selection of braised and boiled items, pretty much all of which you could order with noodles. Chicken wings, shiitake mushrooms, sui gao, wontons, cuttlefish, and more of that not-so-great pig’s trotter. In the end, in a performance heaped shame upon my family, and would have saddened my mother to tears, we managed only to eat about a quarter of what was on this combo platter. I felt very guilty leaving that much food as we left.

Zhu pa bao

Continuing our adventures in Macau, @eatnik and I thought it might be prudent to go for a walk in between breakfasts. Because after the cheong fun we were cruising for crab congee. So we wandered across Senado Square, and down a side street, where we stumbled upon Ying Dei market (opposite St Dominic’s Church).

We wandered through three storeys of market stalls, sort of like a multi-leveled department store version of your average market. The first two floors were butchers of all sorts, including those selling live poultry and fish. This fellow was searing the hairs off a pig’s trotter, with the most impressive kitchen/butcher blowtorch we’d ever seen! He very obligingly posed for a shot when he saw our pyromaniac delight.

Photo courtesy of @eatnik

We wandered through another two floors of fruit and vegetables, and fresh tofu, which brought back memories of the markets in Sai Gon. There’s a slightly off-putting smell about a tofu stand, but the fresh stuff tastes so good, it’s worth it.

Finally, we reached the top floor, which was a cooked food centre – pretty much like a food court or hawker centre. There was a large range of food on offer – soup noodles, fried noodles, congee and various types of dim sum. But on our way in, I had spied an old lady, who looked like she worked in the market, biting into what looked like a pretty scrumptious zhu pa bao; that’d be Mandarin for PORK CHOP BUN.

Macau’s Pork chop buns are regionally famous. To be honest, I hadn’t heard of them before I went to Macau a couple of years ago, and at that point I didn’t get around to trying one. It sounded a bit pedestrian and McDonald’s-esque. Basically, it’s a deep-fried or pan-fried pork chop, in a bun. From what I understand, it should be no more, no less. Although it’s common to have the option – as with most things in Asia – of adding a fried egg to that.

Anyway, the little old lady was happily munching on her zhu pa bao and chatting with the owner of the stall from which she bought it. Another little old lady, though she wasn’t nearly as ancient as her customer. The fact that the older, munchier lady didn’t have all her teeth bode well, I thought, for the tenderness of the pork. So I ordered one, sans egg, and we sat down to see if I’d made a mistake.

The zhu pa bao arrived on a little homely plastic plate, resting on a serviette. The bun was soft and dusty, and like most bread in Asia, a bit sweet. The inside had been toasted and lightly buttered, and the pork chop itself was covered with just enough oil to make it glisten. This pork chop had been pan-fried, in case you were wondering.
The pictures really don’t do it justice, but every bite of this puffy morsel was pure joy. Cushioned by the fluffy, sweet bread, the pork chop would yield at the moment my teeth made contact with it, resisting only slightly, before succumbing to my toothy embrace, and giving up a moisture which neither @eatnik nor I could really ascertain one way or the other as meat juice or fat. But at that point, we were both beyond caring.
The pork chop was well seasoned, but not overly salty. The overall flavour impression I got was of pure pork. Not in that heavy, dry roast pork way, but in a sweet, tender, juicy, only-just-cooked way. I’m salivating just remembering the joy of that pork chop.

Sometimes it’s the little detours which you take, unexpectedly and on a whim, that lead to the greatest experiences when you’re on holiday. While we hadn’t planned our Hong Kong/Macau trip down with military precision, we had a pretty jam-packed google map of places we were aiming to hit. This tiny little stand in a local wet market wasn’t one of them. It also isn’t one of the places in Macau famous for zhu pa bao, but I’m oh-so-glad we found it!

Macau Cheong Fun Joint

Big props go to Petite Crystal of My Little World for posting about this place. Not really knowing where to go for food in Macau, I googled ‘macau breakfast’ and came up with a great entry on her blog.

So following her advice, @eatnik and I went down to Senado Square, and followed the map to Rua Dos Mercadores (see map below). About 20 metres from the intersection with Ave de Almeida Ribeiro, is a little doorway to a laneway called Patio do Cotovelo.

Inside, is a little breakfast joint which dishes up cheong fun (steamed rice paper/noodle), brisket noodles, and congee. We were only there for the cheong fun, though the locals seemed to chowing down on everything there quite happily.

I was a little at a loss with the menu – my recognition of characters isn’t the best in the morning – until one of the little ladies working there graciously started reciting everything to me. She clearly had other customers to serve, and I was in the way! I ordered the two types of cheong fun on offer – the plain, and the zha leong (steamed rice noodle wrapped around a Chinese donut).

As you would expect from a place that is renowned for their cheong fun, the rice noodle was thin and tissue-like. The plain one unrolled at a touch, and there was none of the claggy gelatinous texture which you get at a lot of yum cha places, due usually to over-steaming, I believe?

The thin silky layer of cheong fun wrapped around the crispy donut in a good zha leong creates a great textural combination. It’s an old favourite of mine when done well, and it certainly was done well here. I like the fact that there’s also a temperature contrast here, as the donut is cold when wrapped with the hot cheong fun.

I was very lucky, because at this point, @eatnik had decided that the next week was going to be a struggle for her if she were to try to match me bowl for bowl in the eating stakes. So I got to eat more cheong fun than was equitable!

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Yo! Noodles

City of Dreams, Macau

When you’re running a little late to a show, sometimes compromises have to be made. Like eating in a casino. It’s not the first time I’ve done it – though last time I was considerably less sober – and it probably won’t be the last. I mean after all, if gamblers feel like subsidising my food with their hard earned coin, who am I to refuse?

Yo! Noodles is nestled in the City of Dreams casino, somewhere between the Hard Rock Hotel, and the Grand Hyatt. Actually, to be honest, if you asked me to find it again, I would have great difficulty. That place is like a very spacious maze. Anyway, the main draw card (I think?) of Yo! Noodles is not, in fact, the exclamation point in its name which requires you to get excited when mentioning it, but rather the fact that everything on the menu is 28MOP (that’s Macanese Patacas, roughly equivalent to the HKD). That means all the dishes are around 4AUD. That’s not necessarily cheap by local standards, but it’s pretty cheap to me! However, all drinks are also 28MOP, which is a touch on the pricey side if you’re not drinking alcohol. Luckily, we were.

So I had the seafood vermicelli salad. I think it was supposed to be Thai style. Only there was neither enough lime nor fish sauce for it to be much more than bland. It was only redeemed by the use of those sneaky-type chillies which make their presence known only halfway through eating the dish.

@eatnik had the tom yum soup, which she found quite agreeable, but she didn’t really elaborate when I asked her how it was, so it mustn’t have been that good?
Ms A, who works in the building (not for the casino) had pretty much sampled the menu in her tenure at City of Dreams, and ordered the Hainanese chicken rice. I have to admit, that chicken did look succulent and juicy, almost enough to forgive the atomic orange chilli sauce.
After the show we headed back into the casino to a bar, and after one round of sensible cocktails, we moved on to the flaming ones…