Hong Kong: New Favorites: Part 2
Trammeled by work and sorely feeling its effects of bone-crushing fatigue and sleepless nights, this trip to Hong Kong is both a celebration and a respite for my Bin and me. There are some things I didn’t get to eat on my last trip over here, so with research in (my) hand, and a map (in his), we drop off our bags at the hotel and head off.
Spring Deer isn’t new to anybody of course. The restaurant has existed for decades staffed by avuncular waiters who express concern when my Bin and I order too much food. We want the restaurant’s specialty, Peking Duck, but only a whole bird is available. Realizing we suffer from takaw mata (eyes bigger than the stomach), we backtrack, remembering that this is just the first of many meals.
Siu kai is Chinese for roast chicken and another of the restaurant’s specialties. Once the waiter motions to another, the order is fulfilled. A chopped chicken, russet-skinned, seems to materialize from nowhere. It’s set on a metal cart possessing a deep hole, the waiter brandishes a ladle, reaches down, and out emerges a steaming brown sauce that’s poured over the chicken. The waiter then shreds the chicken somewhat perfunctorily then sets it before us.
Starved and in need of succor, we tumble into it gratefully the way only gluttons can. Alternating between chopsticks and fingers, we bite, suck, nibble, and gnaw. The meat is tender and juicy, lubricated by the sauce, it hints of five-spice powder, ginger, and soy sauce. Somewhere amidst my digging, I chance upon the wish bone. I look at it wistfully, unable to recall the last time I held one. My Bin takes one end, I take the other: eyes closed, wishes uttered only in the mind and offered to the universe, and then we pull. My Bin wins. “My wish is for you,” he says, smiling. I wonder what it is?
The crispy shredded beef with sesame pockets is a revelation. A favorite dish of ours that we eat only at Peking Garden in Manila, we realize that all others before this have been too sweet. In this one, the finely-chopped beef strips are lavished not lacquered with sugar, the ingredient providing both caramelization and crispness. Its soundtrack is muffled by the softness of the pocket, its sesame seeds punching in crunch.
Prawns in sweet chili sauce is a dish that my Bin grew up eating. Far from the candied versions usually proffered in restaurants, each nugget carries a coating cloud-like in its fluffiness and a crispy bite thanks to a mixture of flours and perhaps custard powder too. Enshrouded, the shrimp yields bounce and freshness, its sauce has a fruity sourness about it, suggestions of plum sauce and sweet chili.
Spring Deer Restaurant
2/F, 42 Mody Rd., Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong
2366-4012 / 2366-5839
Siu yuk two sudden, staccato syllables in Cantonese for crispy roast pork. Its English equivalent is longer – “five-layer roast pork,” a moniker that immediately conjures a measure of mysticism and inordinate drooling. It hews quite close to reality as the cooking of siu yuk involves everything from salting, blow-drying, frequent anointments with hot oil, and scalding. It sounds arduous and absolutely worth it so you can only imagine our disappointment when at eight this evening, we’re told that “…we’ve just run out.” It’s one of those statements that’s most crushing to food lovers, and I imagine, to fashionistas as well. My Bin wants to bolt out the door but I’m perusing the menu and I see it: Peking Duck – half, whole.
So we stay. And what transpires is my Bin discovering what he declares as “…the best Peking duck I’ve ever had.” Feast our eyes we do on burnished skin scintillating with fat and oil coddled in paper-thin pancakes, their surfaces exhaling puffs of flour. I’m charmed by the scallions, strips held in place by a hollowed-out chili pepper ring. We eat and are elated.
Steamed egg white with shrimp is one of those dishes that’s easy to love but difficult to describe. Bound by a single texture – egg whites steamed just ‘til they shimmy, it’s akin to eating the most delicate crème brûlée, but savory, seasoned with whispers of Shaoxing wine, ginger, sesame oil, and soy sauce to marinate the shrimp.
To balance out all the pleasure, we nibble on stalks of choy sum, lightly sautéed in oil and shot through with garlic cloves. I find it interesting that choy sum literally means “vegetable heart,” indeed a good vegetable and one that’s good for the heart as well.
Outlets in Wanchai, Times Square, and the location I visit:
IFC Lei Garden Restaurant
Shop 3007-11, 3/F IFC Mall, Central, Hong Kong
At Langham Place Mall, the longest and certainly the highest escalator I’ve come across. Even though I’m deathly afraid of heights, I ride on it once just to get the feel of it, and towards the top, start to feel the bottoms of my feet tingle.
Time for tea and brekkie too
Though my food travels are guided by research, I keep myself open to whim and fancy. At a dimsum place somewhere in Causeway Bay, I cool my heels with an iced milk tea and two buns: BBQ pork, and egg yolk custard. The latter is still hot, and my bite bestirs its fluid middle. Out the yolk goes and onwards it flows into my mouth. My eyes close instinctively, the salty-sweet flavor imprinting itself in my mind. The fact that my tongue gets burned seems like just punishment for such glorious reward.
Tea time treats at Majesty Seafood Restaurant. Their menu is extensive and overt stares at dishes on other tables provide temptation, but how to communicate desires? So we stick with what we know and are sufficiently sated.
Majesty Seafood Restaurant
3/F Wo Sang House
655 Nathan Road, Mongkok, Kowloon
2397 – 3822
Wan Chai seems to be breakfast central – every other place we pass entices with displays laden with all sorts of pastry. Honolulu Coffee Cake Shop is representative of this restaurant genre – cha chaan tengs – offering expansive menus and garishly lit with plenty of yellows and Day-Glo orange. Eggs in all imaginable assortments are available here – a bevy of buns, French toast, as well as shallow bowls of what appear to be instant noodles topped with everything from more eggs to ham to tomato sauce. Service is brusque and efficient and tableware are paeans to Lipton tea.
I have it on very good authority that the egg tarts served at Honolulu Coffee are some of the best in Hong Kong. Flaky as opposed to its shortbread crust counterpart served at Tai Cheong, the custard is still warm with the barest hint of sweet; every bite leaves litter on lips and surfaces.
I’m told that pineapple buns (polo bao also boh loh baau) are the best partners to milk tea, especially when the bun is embellished with a slice of cold butter (boh loh yaau). While sufficient, the one at Honolulu is cold – I can imagine how transcendent it must be while warm.
Honolulu Coffee Cake Shop
176 Hennessy Road, Wan Chai
2575 – 1823
(Another branch on Stanley St. in Central)
To feed the food lover’s kitchen
I’ve known about Pantry Magic because the owner contacted me a few years ago for some advice. Scheduling visits to the store on previous trips to Hong Kong always seemed an impossibility so I made sure nothing would stop me this time around. Somewhat difficult to find but so worth it if your domain is the kitchen like mine is, this kitchenware store is fuel for my food fantasies. During my visit, a chef is busy preparing for his demo in-store; it’s exciting to watch him set up his mise en place as I alternately browse and coo at the merchandise.