… sparks a quest for the perfect Hainanese chicken rice.
But before anything else, welcome to my brief round up of Hong Kong eats. Brief because when I checked my pictures, a lot of food pictures were missing due to overeager eaters … again.
The picture above was a product of my recent addiction to the Filipino teleserya, an obsession that I like to make fun about. I wanted my brother to take a picture of me in “muni-muni” (soul-searching) mode as the scenery was the perfect backdrop – and boy was I having a moment.
Anyway, that’s the view of Hong Kong from the Kowloon side. Kowloon, I believe, is the tourist center with shopping, food and hotels galore. A reader of mine summed up this tiny Chinese peninsula so well – "New York on steroids", I couldn’t agree more.
One restaurant I wanted to revisit was Spring Deer – a restaurant I visited back in 1996 where/when I had the best Peking duck of my life. Unfortunately, 14 years later, it was not the same. The duck was a bit dry and was not as flavorful.
Which makes me wonder – do our tastes change? Do we become more discerning as we get older and the food that tastes so fabulous to us in our youth becomes a mirage – a false memory?
One of our best meals in Hong Kong was at Jade Garden’s location in Star house, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon. The restaurant is a part of the Maxim’s group of restaurants and is a reliable place for Cantonese cuisine. They offer set menus that are good for two, four, 10 etc. Since there were three of us, we decide to order the set menu for two and added additional ‘ala carte dishes.
I finally had the pigeon of my dreams. Perfect skin, succulent tasty meat, I savored every bite and bit of it, bones sucked clean.
Most surprising dish was this simple soup of mushroom, cabbage and dried scallop. The broth had the most umami of flavors. We finally decided it was the dried scallops that lent such a haunting taste that each spoonful was meant to be savored.
Sometimes it’s not easy for everyone in a group to agree to one place to eat and that’s where The Food Republic comes in. It has the atmosphere of hawker street fare in a food-court type setting.
Yes, it’s fast food, but it was here that I ate one of my more memorable meals not because it was oozing with culinary savviness but because it was comfort food, plain and simple. After a long day of shopping (well, mostly window shopping), this is just what a worn-out soul needs. Take for example:
I’m a sucker for marinated dishes in soy and star anise. It’s one of my favorite flavor combinations.
I attributed my improved skin tone in Hong Kong due to my high consumption of collagen found in tendons. See…
No, that’s not a product of photoshop, it’s more like the handiwork of the experts at the Armani make-up counter, he…he. If you ever get your hands on their luminous silk foundation, you’ll know why I’m raving.
Taking a break from all the food, here are some shopping centers we visited. The K-11 is a new shopping center in front of the Holiday Inn, Kowloon.
Endless shopping. That’s Hong Kong. With no import tax, it’s every shopaholic’s dream (and nightmare when the credit card bill arrives).
Great noodle houses abound. There was one we went to where the hostess told us quite pointedly what time we needed to be done and out of there. And I forgot the name of the place! Sorry!
They make their noodles in-house.
You get to choose which type of noodle you want for your dish.
No idea why I got spaghetti for this. I wanted egg noodles!
Not really. It’s a wine-marinated chicken served chilled. Did not like it too much, but brother did.
The crispy smoked duck below was to die for.
We’re at the home stretch! For lunch on our last day we decided to go back to the Food Republic. I had been eyeing the Seargent’s Hainanese chicken rice for a while but couldn’t make up my mind because it was the most boring-looking chicken dish I have ever seen.
But my curiosity got the better of me so I ordered it…and fell in love. "Chickeny", if that’s a word, is thy name. The texture of the skin was velvet in my mouth and the tender ginger-scented flesh teased my tongue so delicately. It was sublime! And the rice… the rice, so addictive in its garlic, ginger, sesame-oil blend of splendor, the low-carb diet can go to hell! Ah, how can I describe the experience with justice?
Anyway, enough swooning.
That evening, we felt we’ve had enough of Chinese food and decided to go Vietnamese. I forgot the restaurant name (again) but the name had "Pho" and a number. My brother said it was a chain restaurant and there is one in the Philippines but the HK one had a bigger menu.
So, I had rare-beef pho which isn’t really rare once the hot broth cooks the beef slices.
And a side of garlicky fried-chicken wings.
This is how I like my fried chicken wings, simple and unbreaded.
I love Hong Kong food! It’s the closest I could get to the dishes that my grandmother and dad prepared when I was growing up. The flavors are uncomplicated, sauces are restrained, the taste of the ingredients come through with clarity, cliche I know, but in this case so true.
Which brings me back to this obsession with Hainanese Chicken rice which isn’t really Chinese but Singaporean. Like the white cut chicken that was a regular rotation in our Cantonese family dinners, the type of chicken used here is very important. It has to be a "native" chicken that roams free and eats grass. This type of chicken has firmer but tastier flesh. My grandma and dad had regular suppliers who would bring a fine selection of chicken over. I remember the "ass-pinch" test to check if the chicken was fat and the "breastbone-press" test to check if the chicken was the right age (not too old).
Unfortunately, here in the U.S., it’s harder to find such chicken. A friend on twitter, after my not so stellar result making Hainanese Chicken using Steamy Kitchen’s recipe, directed me to Polyface farms which supplies chicken to the local health food shop Ellwood Thompson.
I was not able to replicate that heavenly first encounter in HK. For one thing, if you notice the chicken skin, it’s a lot paler in comparison to the obvious yellowish tinge of the one hanging in the stall in HK. That immediately told me that the chicken I used was wrong for this dish. Though the skin texture was close it was too thin compared to the HK chicken. The meat was not "chickeny" enough – meaning even without sufficient flavoring, it should still have that chicken taste. Understandably, the rice lacked flavor because the chicken broth that was used to steam the rice lacked flavor.
But there was something else lacking. For the chicken, there was that "liquor" taste that was missing and for the rice, some "richness".
In my relentless search to rebuild a taste from memory, I came across this post regarding the secrets of Hainanese chicken rice. Aniseed is an ingredient not included in the original recipe I used. For the rice, coconut milk is an added ingredient. Hopefully this would not turn into a two year quest like my duck confit, and thankfully, ingredients are cheaper!
Yes, it looks like the plainest poultry dish ever, it’s boiled after all, but all you need is that one fateful perfect encounter and you’ll be hooked!