A blog about food in Thailand
and elsewhere.

Monthly Archives: November 2009

Hong Kong and Macau

Posted at 1am on 11/9/09 | read on
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Chefs at work in the kitchen of the InterContinental Hong Kong's Chinese restaurant

Chefs at work in the kitchen of the InterContinental Hong Kong’s Chinese restaurant

I apologise for my silence — I’ve spent the last several days in Hong Kong (my first time there) and Macau (my third) and have had no time to blog. I’ll be posting on some of the more interesting things I saw and ate in these two places over the next few days.

Nathan Congee and Noodle

Posted at 11pm on 11/12/09 | read on

A bowl of congee at at Nathan Congee and Noodle, Hong Kong

While in Hong Kong I got the chance to eat at some Michelin-starred restaurants (one of which I’ll blog on soon) and a few other similarly upscale places, but to be honest, what I really wanted to do was eat what regular Hong Kong people eat. I finally got my chance at Nathan Congee and Noodle, a closet-sized restaurant in Kowloon.

The place is allegedly famous with local foodies, but also apparently has a reputation among visitors, as the menu was written in, of all languages, Thai:

Diners at Nathan Congee and Noodle, Hong Kong

We started with a few classic Hong Kong-style side dishes, such as kai lan with oyster sauce:

Steamed kai lan with oyster sauce at Nathan Congee and Noodle, Hong Kong

jellyfish salad with 1000 year-old eggs:

Jellyfish salad at at Nathan Congee and Noodle, Hong Kong

and lettuce with oyster sauce:

Steamed lettuce with oyster sauce at Nathan Congee and Noodle, Hong Kong

But the emphasis here is congee, made to order by a man in a small booth:

Making congee at at Nathan Congee and Noodle, Hong Kong

I ordered a bowl of fishball congee (shown at the top of this post), and like the bowls of the stuff I’ve encountered in Thailand, it was pleasantly bland, blandly pleasant, inoffensive stuff. I’ve never been a huge fan of congee, but can see why others like it, and by all standards, this was a pretty good bowl. I particularly liked the crispy deep-fried fingers of dough, which unlike other places, were still crispy.

Despite it not being the most delicious meal of my trip, I probably found it the most memorable, simply because it seemed representative of what people in Hong Kong really liked to eat, and didn’t involve foam.

Nathan Congee and Noodle
11 Saigon Street, Kowloon, Hong Kong
2771 4285

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Yung Kee

Posted at 7pm on 11/18/09 | read on
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 Yung Kee, Hong Kong

In 2008 the Michelin guide expanded its borders to include Hong Kong and Macau. This gained quite a bit of attention in the international media, as the influential guide had previously limited itself to fine dining in Western countries. This apparently also generated a great deal of interest in Hong Kong, as in an effort to promote the accomplishment, I was taken to two Michelin-starred restaurants on my recent press trip there. Of these, the restaurant that stands out the most in my mind is Yung Kee, a nearly 60 year-old Hong Kong staple and recent recipient of a single Michelin star.

Unfortunately, we arrived at Yung Kee at the end of a day in which I’d probably eaten more than any previous in my life. In the space of a few hours we’d been to a Japanese buffet, an old-school dim sum restaurant and now this. But the food at Yung Kee was so good, I somehow found a way to make room.

Yung Kee’s most famous dish by far is its roast goose:

Roasted goose, Yung Kee, Hong Kong

I’m not a huge fan of duck or goose in general, but enjoyed this well enough — it was pleasantly meaty, oily, crispy and tender. But I was more blown away by Yung Kee’s dictionary perfect stir-fried dishes, which due to our somewhat uncollaborative ordering, comprised the remainder of our meal. These included Shredded chicken with chili:

Shredded chicken with chili, Yung Kee, Hong Kong

the chili in this case actually a very mild bell pepper, which like all of the restaurant’s ingredients, was expertly and attractively sliced, and like all vegetables to follow, was perfectly fried, retaining all of its fresh crispiness. There was Chinese sausage fried with kai lan:

Chinese sausage fried with veggies Yung Kee, Hong Kong

the sausages, which I think were a mixture of pork and goose liver, were on the waxy side, as Chinese sausages typically are, but again this was a masterpiece of deft stir-frying and subtle-yet-adequate seasoning. Sauteed sliced beef and vegetable was similar:

Sauteed sliced beef and vegetable, Yung Kee, Hong Kong

although here, for me at least, it was the meat the stood out. The beef appeared to have been pounded until tender and marinated, giving it a nearly fall-apart texture and a pleasantly salty flavour. Again, the technique took the forefront here, and the beef was simultaneously just-cooked and partially singed. Our final stir-fry was eggplant flash-fried with crab meat:

Eggplant fried with crab meat, Yung Kee, Hong Kong

I can’t imagine this dish involved more than five ingredients (eggplant, crab meat, salt, oil and perhaps a bit of corn starch), but was wonderful: smokey, well-seasoned and relatively un-oily — everything a good stir-fried dish should be.

Reeling from having consumed so much food, I sat back and looked around the restaurant and noticed that, despite the accolades, Yung Kee appeared more or less like any other upscale-ish restaurant in Asia: there were a few tourists, but most diners appeared to be middle-to-upper-class locals, including several families. The dining room was boisterous and service was equal parts professional and informal. It struck me that this is exactly what a lauded restaurant should be like — excellent food that everybody can enjoy without the baggage of formality and snobbery. I can’t wait for the chance go back to Yung Kee on an empty stomach and try a greater repertoire of dishes.

Yung Kee
32-40 Wellington Street, Hong Kong
+852 2522 1624

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Lin Heung Tea House

Posted at 6pm on 11/24/09 | read on

Old-school dim sum dishes at Lin Heung Tea House, a dim sum restaurant in Hong Kong

I’ve always liked the idea of dim sum — countless small Chinese dishes served with an endless flow of green tea (one of my favourite things to drink) sounds wonderful to me — but I’d yet to encounter a version that I truly enjoyed. My first authentic dim sum meals in Macau and Malaysia were fun, but too meaty and oily for my taste, while much of the dim sum I’ve come across in Thailand has been processed and flavourless (in addition to being meaty and oily). I thought for sure that I would finally meet my fantasy dim sum in Hong Kong, a city virtually synonymous with the dish, and to a certain extent, I did. In Lin Heung Tea House I found a restaurant that fit my preconceived notion of how a dim sum place should be: a great old hall complete with grumpy waiters, creaking trolleys, old men reading newspapers, lazy ceiling fans and lots of cigarette smoke and tea. But as with previous attempts, I was let down by the food.

Don’t get me wrong; there was nothing wrong with the dim sum at Lin Heung Tea House, but the dishes were just as meaty, oily and heavy as those I’d had before. Arriving late one afternoon we were given some of the restaurant’s ‘special’ dishes: shown above at 6 o’clock is fish maw and minced pork wrapped in tofu skin and steamed, at 9 o’clock a type of pig stomach, at 12 o’clock a type of sweet bun called ‘Malaysian cake’, and at 3 o’clock, pork liver fried in an oily garlic sauce. The volume of meat and oil made the cleansing properties of extremely strong tea a necessity:

Pouring tea at Lin Heung Tea House, a dim sum restaurant in Hong Kong

and effectively marked the end of my search: dim sum is what it is, and I should stop looking for a salad in a steak house.

Lin Heung Tea House
160-164 Wellington Street, Hong Kong
+852 544 4556

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Margaret’s Café e Nata

Posted at 6pm on 11/26/09 | read on

Pastéis de nata, Portuguese egg tarts, at Café e Nata, Macau

Despite having owned the place for five centuries, the Portuguese influence on Macau is actually quite superficial. The Macau of today is essentially a very Chinese city with a few Portuguese-style buildings, a very small minority of people of Portuguese descent, a handful of Portuguese restaurants and an abundance of azulejos (Portuguese blue tiles). Fortunately Macau is rather compact, so for those interested, seeking out the remnants of Portuguese culture, particularly those that are edible, is not difficult. And perhaps the most ubiquitous and tastiest remnant of the Portuguese colonial legacy are pastéis de nata, or more commonly in Macau, Portuguese egg tarts.

Having been denied the gene that grants one the ability to bake, I would never even dream of attempting making them at home, and am thus limited to eating them when I’m in Macau (although there is a decent vendor of the sweet here in Bangkok that I’ll blog about soon). And although they’re available just about everywhere nowadays, I’m partial to Margaret’s:

Café e Nata, a café in Macau

The shop appears to be one of the more popular vendors, particularly among tourists, and I spend a few minutes here virtually every day I’m in Macau. If you’re willing to put up with the mediocre coffee, they do an excellent egg tart (pictured above): flaky, buttery (I’ve read that the original version was made with lard), expertly scorched and not overtly sweet.

Margaret’s Café e Nata
Gum Loi Building, off Avenida do Infante Dom Henrique, Macau
+853 710 032

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 Screen shot of a BBC article on Bangkok

Art critic and mate Steven Pettifor has put together this photo essay for the BBC on a day in the life of a Bangkok soup vendor.