Thursday, June 10, 2010

Eating Hong Kong (continued)

Day 5
Lunch:  Jade

   Off to my brother's house I went last night after my friend had left for home.  My flight back wouldn't be until tonight so I still had enough time to fit in one more meal.  My sister-in-law took me to an early lunch at Jade.  I was still high from my suckling pig experience so i assured her that dim sum (once again) would be just fine.  No, I haven't tired of eating dim sum yet.  How can one get tired of eating dim sum when there's so much to choose from and most if not all, are good?

     Jade is owned and operated by the famous Maxim's group of restaurants.  It's located inside a shopping mall so arriving there an hour before noon was a good idea for us since the place gets full at meal times.  One nice thing about dim sum places in Hong Kong is the meal ticket.  It's a piece of paper listing all dim sum and once you see something you like, just check the box next to the item.  When the waitress comes, just hand her the ticket.  Easy peasy.  In this case, it was all too easy I think I had a checking spree.

                Barbequed Pork Puff Pastry - flaky pastry with sweet barbequed pork inside.

Deep-fried Minced Carp Balls - one of Jade's signature dim sumIf you've had fish balls, imagine two or three times the flavor.  Had a nice firm bite to it. 

 Pan-fried Cakes (taro, turnip, chestnut) - I liked the turnip cake best. Root crop and chestnut with smooth texture.

                Crab Roe on Steamed Pork Dumpling - classic siu mai with crab roe on top.  

Purple Sticky Rice with Sweet Corn in Steamer - the rice had a slight earthy taste.  The pine nuts were a nice contrast to the softness of the rice.

Oven-baked Tartlets with Abalone - abalone is like squid:  if you overcook it, it would be rubbery.  This one was cooked just right.  In this case, combining it with tart-type pastry is quite an innovation.

Cha Siu Pork Bao - I find it a mystery how dim sum restaurants make their buns super soft and fluffy.  There's no substitute for sweet pork filling in these buns.

Steamed Flour Rolls with Scallops - scallops encased in fresh flour noodles, forming a soft roll and served with a dressing of soy sauce and sesame oil.  Flour or rice rolls are very common, hardly any table is without a plate of these.

Steamed Sticky Rice in Lotus Leaf - glutinous rice with Chinese sausage and chicken steamed in lotus leaves.

     Dim sum in restaurants like Jade certainly have a lot to offer.  Being owned and managed by a popular restaurant chain will give you good food in all likelihood since their recipes have been tried and tested over time, on a large scale.  However, the "personalization" of the food is lacking so everything becomes clinical.  You get good if not great, food - without the personality.

1st Level, Maritime Square
Tsing Yi
New Territories

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Eating Hong Kong - Part 4

Day 4
Breakfast:  The Flying Pan

     We needed a break from all that Chinese food consumed in the last three days, so today for breakfast we decided to go continental.  I am a regular at The Flying Pan - I never miss it when I'm in Hong Kong.  If breakfast is your favorite meal of the day, then have I got good news for you: they're open all day, every day.  That means breakfast 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Eggs, eggs, and more eggs.  Fried, scrambled, boiled or poached; with bacon or sausage plus 2 sides of your choice.  Omelettes, pancakes, waffles, French toasts, biscuits.  Limitless egg and breakfast possibilities.

     I was in the mood for bacon and eggs so I got the Eggs Florentine.  Two poached eggs on top of freshly made biscuits with bacon, spinach and hollandaise sauce.  The breakfast of champions. 

     They also serve burgers and other sandwiches.  Classic mouthwatering diner-style burgers that you can jazz up with cheese, bacon and/or well, what do you know - fried egg.
     Flying Pan is another concept restaurant worth a visit in Hong Kong.  When you've had a hell of a night in Lan Kwai Fong, Wan Chai or just in your hotel room, it gives you a great excuse to binge on hearty breakfast food any time of day.

The Flying Pan
3/F Empire Land Commercial Centre
83 Lockhart Road
Wan Chai
(other branches in Central and Quarry Bay)

Day 4
Lunch:  Dragon Restaurant

     We were supposed to have lunch at Maxim's Palace in Edinburgh Place but since we pretty much had dim sum enough to last us for half a year, we decided to have something else.  Wait a minute, we haven't had suckling pig.  How could we leave Hong Kong without eating it?  My friend rushed to her laptop and typed "best suckling pig in Hong Kong" in the search tab.  The number one result?  Anthony Bourdain.    As a consequence of having probably the coolest job in the world, he has devoured quite a number of roasted pork on his show so I suppose he knows a thing or two about it.  We then trekked to Central to his recommended place for suckling pig:  Dragon Restaurant.

     Located in Soho, one would expect the restaurant to have a quaint, shabby chic style.  But do you honestly think quaint and Bourdain go together?  Dragon Restaurant is in the downtown part of Soho, on a busy market street where everything but quiet happens.  Roast meats hanging on display, greasy windows, uncooked pigs and ducks air-dried in plain view of customers, wobbly stools, one sweaty cook, and an unfriendly-looking waitress make up this sort of hole-in-the-wall.  I don't think health inspectors even bother going to this place.  One uncooked pig was hanging from an electrical outlet next to the toilet.  No pretensions whatsoever, the restaurant wouldn't lose sleep should you decide to eat somewhere else.  Speaking only basic English, our waitress (who wasn't unfriendly, after all) took our orders:  suckling pig, roast duck and cha siu pork all on a bed of soft white rice.  The man behind the counter - whose apron has seen better days - started slicing the meat expertly with his dubiously washed hands.  
     Let me be cliché for a bit:  I must have died and gone to heaven when I took a bite of the pig.  Really, it was out of this world.  Thin, crispy skin and oh-so-tender juicy meat.  I don't know what Chinese juju they put in there but man, did they do it right.  I could still hear the lovely crunch it made in my mouth.  The roast duck was equally stellar.  Flavorful duck meat, it almost made me weep with happiness.  Without a doubt, Dragon Restaurant is a master of this highly specialized skill of roasting meat.  The sweet cha siu (barbequed pork) nicely complimented the saltiness of the other meats.  We couldn't get enough of the suckling pig so we ordered another round.  I  knew it then:  I would be going home happy.  

Suckling Pig and Roast Duck - if you think all suckling pigs and roast ducks taste the same, I double dare you to go to Dragon Restaurant to try this.

Cha Siu - sweet and very moist, try pairing it with roast duck to balance its salty goodness.

     More often than not, it is in the most unpretentious of places you can find great food.  It doesn't matter where the restaurant is located; people will go there to eat and eventually come back for more as long as the cooking is done better than everyone else.  At Dragon Restaurant, where the closest thing you can get to cleanliness is an apron-clad man behind the counter, what they lack in aesthetics they well make up for in their outstanding food. 

Dragon Restaurant
3 Gage Street

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Eating Hong Kong - Part 3 (Continued)

Day 3
Lunch:  Tim Ho Wan 

     There is this humble little place in Mong Kok that serves dim sum so good it didn't go unnoticed by the guys that make those famous hotel and restaurant guides, and gave it a star.  It is the cheapest Michelin-starred dim sum restaurant in Hong Kong, if not the world (we only spent HK$89 for six types of dim sum).  I didn't know Mong Kok had something like this to offer so I had to go and  taste  see for myself.
      I had been warned about the long queue and longer waiting time so my friend and I got there at half past 2, thinking there would be less people eating.  We couldn't be more wrong.  There was no queue, just a mob of people waiting outside for a table.  How were we gonna do this?  The front-of-house manager was outside giving numbers and getting meal tickets.  We asked for a number and she said, "Come back one hour, fifteen minute."  Damn.  Good thing the ladies market was just two streets away, so we went and looked around -- before we knew it, an hour and fifteen had gone by.  We should be so lucky because when we got back, new customers were being told to come back in two hours.  Must've sucked to be them.
     The place was so packed we had to walk sideways to get to our table which was at the very end right beside the tiny, steamy, hot kitchen.  Oh well, it was either leave or eat.  Guess what we did?  Yeah.
     Five minutes later, our first order comes: Baked Barbeque Pork Buns.  Okay, as soon as I took a bite I understood.  The bun had a biscuity texture - soft, moist, flaky and a bit crispy all at the same time.  Then a burst of super tasty, sweet-ish pork filling.   How did it get that way, how??

Baked Barbeque Pork Buns - try these and you'll understand why the restaurant has a coveted Michelin star.

      Next item to arrive was  Steamed Tripe with Turnip.  Slices of juicy tripe marinated and steamed until super tender with nice wrinkly texture.  I could bite the meat in half with so much ease, that was how tender it was.  I had no idea where the turnip was, though.

Steamed Tripe with Turnip - tripe marinated and cooked to tenderness.  I wonder how long it took for them to make it so tender.

     We also got the Steamed Beef Balls with Bean Curd Skin.  I couldn't get enough of bean curd skin in Hong Kong, so I didn't hesitate when I saw this on the menu.  A mixture of ground beef, salted black beans and spring onions, these balls had a taste of ginger that cut through the strong flavor of the meat.  Delicious.  

Steamed Beef Balls with Bean Curd Skin - moist beef balls with tons of flavor.  The bean curd skin was at the bottom of each ball.

     I was so engrossed in photographing and eating that I didn't notice the waitress placed three more dishes on the table:  Steamed Dumpling Chiu Chow Style, Glutinous Rice with meat, and Fried Dumplings with meat.  Food enough for six persons, to be actually consumed by two.  Ack.  This was a classic case of having eyes bigger than our stomachs.

Steamed Dumpling Chiu Chow Style - mixed minced vegetables with peanuts wrapped in translucent rice flour.  The wrapping was really good.  The texture wasn't sticky, and the nuts added a nice crunch to the dumplings.

Glutinous Rice with Meat - Rice and assorted meat wrapped in lotus leaf.  It may not look pretty when unwrapped but once you taste it, it will blow you away.  Sticky, well-cooked rice  with a hint of sweetness to it.  The saltiness of the meat was the right combination for this treat.
Fried Dumpling with Meat - Glutinous rice dumplings stuffed with meat then deep-fried.  These dumplings may be small in size but were heavy on the stomach.  I was seriously getting full by the time I took a bite of one of these, so I couldn't really say if it was good.  The dumpling was so heavy on the stomach I scooped out the meat inside to taste it.  Very good.  I'm sure I would enjoy these another time. 

     I don't think I would ever forget the taste of the baked buns.  You know it's really good food when you remember the taste.  Looking back, waiting for an hour and fifteen minutes didn't matter at all because the food was so good.  I'm glad I didn't let my impatience get the best of me.  If you find yourself in Hong Kong I truly hope that, along with your clothes and gadgets, you have brought a lot of patience to wait and brave the crowd for Tim Ho Wan's wonderful dim sum which will leave your stomach (and wallet) happy.  They didn't give it one star for nothing, you know.

Tim Ho Wan, The Dim Sum Specialists
2-8 Kwong Wah St. 
Mong Kok

Day 3
Dinner:  Hutong

    Right after Tim Ho Wan, we went back to the hotel for a much needed rest.  Dinner won't be until 8:30 so I was dying to lie down on the bed, lift my feet against the wall and nap.  All that walking, however, gave me a good dose of endorphins which kept me awake lying in bed with my feet up.  
     Aside from a great view of Hong Kong Island, I have been told that Hutong serves very good Beggar's Chicken, a staple fowl dish in Hong Kong.  A very elaborate dish, the chicken is "partially deboned, stuffed with pork, Chinese pickles, vegetables, mushrooms, ginger and other seasonings...wrapped in lotus leaves."  It is then coated with clay and baked for several hours.  Important note:  you have to order Beggar's Chicken in advance, at least 24 hours before your intended meal.  You won't get this in a few hours' notice, so do call ahead.  This cannot be emphasized enough.
     The restaurant is dark, thus affording diners a spectacular view of Hong Kong Island at night.  The restaurant was packed; dinner reservations are a must.  It was a warm night so I opted for a Lychee Delight - smooth, sweet lychee shake.  Delightful indeed.  
     In addition to the chicken, we ordered Crystal Prawns with Crab Roe and Salty Egg Yolk, and the Egg White Fried Rice with Conpoy and Spring Onion.  Conpoy is dried scallop, made from the adductor muscle of scallops.  The waiter reminded us that Beggar's Chicken is served whole, implying that we might have ordered too much for ourselves.  We didn't care much about the big serving, we just really wanted to have it.  As for the prawns with crab roe and salty egg, I had the same dish in another restaurant two years ago and I wanted to eat it again.
     The prawns came first.  Not much effort had gone into presentation but the taste - rich, creamy roe and salty egg batter coated the prawns, which were then fried.  I was bowled over, just like 2 years ago.  

Crystal Prawns with Crab Roe and Salty Egg Yolk - it's not salty as you might think it should be.  The combination of mashed egg yolks and crab roe gave a creamy, powdery texture. 

     The main dish of the evening finally arrived.  The chicken was still encased in clay and the waiter gave a mallet to my friend for her to break it.   Strike it three times for luck, he said.  The first two hits were weak but the last one finally broke the mold.  They brought it back inside to take off the excess clay, then back to our table for carving.  The chicken was so tender you could literally carve it with chopsticks.  As for the taste, it had strong flavors and aroma due to the seasonings and lotus leaves.  

 Beggar's Chicken - flavorful, fragrant chicken with meat so tender you could easily tear it off the bone with chopsticks.

Egg White Fried Rice with Conpoy and Spring Onion - not to be outshined by the two dishes, the rice was very tasty.  Soft, yet offering something to the teeth.  It was the unifier of the table, bringing both prawn and chicken dishes into harmony.

     Dining at Hutong will give you a bird's eye view of the ultra modern Hong Kong Island and the charm of old China as well - with cuisine to match.

28/F One Peking Building
Peking Road
Tsim Sha Tsui

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Eating Hong Kong - Part 3

Day 3
Breakfast:  Lin Heung Tea House

     As a result of getting back late last night from busy Mong Kok, I forced myself to get out of bed at 5 in the morning to get ready for breakfast at Lin Heung Tea House.  Let me tell you that this is a must-go-to place in Hong Kong.  This 80-year old tea house is "packed from morning till night, whether on normal days or public holidays".  That  did not deter us one bit - it only made us want to go and see for ourselves what the big deal is about.  We took a taxi from the hotel as it was still too early for the first train.  When we arrived, there were still quite a few empty tables although the place was filling up quickly.  I looked at my watch - 6:35.  We breathed our sighs of relief as we walked to our table.  The ambience of a traditional tea house is apparent, and adding to the charm of it all is the non-ability of the staff to speak English.  They make no concessions for any tourist, so you'll have to deal with hand gestures and guessing what the dim sum ladies tell you as they push their trolleys past your table.
     The main reason for putting this in our (and hopefully, yours as well) early morning Hong Kong itinerary is the legendary dai bao or big chicken bun.  Big fluffy white bun with chicken, dried mushrooms and salted egg yolk inside.  Only 100 buns are baked every morning so it'll be a shame to miss this delectable treat.   
     As soon as I spotted one of the dim sum ladies, I immediately rushed to her to see if she already had the chicken buns.  Nope, she had beef noodle rice rolls.  They looked good enough to eat, so I got a plate.  

Beef Noodle Rice Rolls - slippery between the chopsticks but the noodles are firm enough so you can bite into it bit by bit; you won't have to worry about shoving the whole thing in.  The ground beef inside was a bit bland but I suppose that's what the salty-sweet soy sauce was for.   

     Another dim sum lady came out of the kitchen, pushing a newly-replenished cart.  I rushed to her and asked if what she had were dai bao's.  Why did I even bother asking when I knew she didn't speak any English?  I opened the basket and saw three buns.  Thinking those were dai bao's, I gave my ticket for her to stamp on and rushed to our table.  Hmmm,  the buns were smaller than I thought they should be.  My friend insisted they weren't dai bao's, and true enough, when we broke a bun in half it only had pork meatball in it.  Where were the dai bao's?  Did they even make them on Sundays?  I was starting to get worried. 

Pork Buns - I mistook these for the dai bao's.  I'm glad I got these as well because they're also good.  Same soft, fluffy bun but different filling.

     Just as I was getting resigned to the fact that the restaurant didn't make dai bao's on Sundays, the dim sum lady came out, this time with a big steaming dim sum basket on her cart.  As soon as I saw the basket, I knew.  I got up, gave my ticket and picked up two huge freshly baked hot buns.  This time, I kept my mouth shut.    

Dai Bao - Supersized fluffy bun with a generous stuffing of chicken (bone intact), mushrooms and salted egg which will undoubtedly get you ready for the long day ahead.  The chicken was tender and tasted like Hainanese Chicken.  The mushroom was nicely cooked, firm, and added a hint of earthy flavor.  The egg, not too salty - it was just right.   

                                My heart jumped every time she came out of the kitchen, in 
                                anticipation of the legendary dai bao.

                                Surprise, surprise.  You never know what's cooking until a 
                                dim sum cart passes your table. 

                                                           Lin Heung's morning regulars.

     Eating at Lin Heung shouldn't be a problem even though nobody speaks English.  Their food speaks volumes and although I tried only a few, I didn't need English or any other language to satisfy my appetite.  This restaurant is highly recommended for the food and ambience that indeed lets you have a true Hong Kong yum cha experience. 

Lin Heung Tea House
160-164 Wellington Street