I grew up loving roast goose. Although my first trip to Hong Kong, the mother lode of the succulent bird, wasn’t until 1997, I was quite familiar, and very enamored with the delicacy since the ‘80s. You see, my mom was an executive at Philippine Airlines, and whenever she’d fly to Hong Kong for work, she’d always come home with one whole goose. It was, of course, at the behest of my dad, Atty. Enriquez, an unabashed gourmet. Mrs. Enriquez would have no choice but to handcarry the magnificent, massive goose; too fragile, and too precious, to risk damage or loss if it was checked in as baggage.
It’s not a tiny beast: in terms of size, it’s second only to a butterball turkey. And the average weight of a whole goose? Three kilograms. Imagine lugging that unwieldy package – the elongated bony neck and the bulbous bottom heavy body – through the long and winding Hong Kong airport terminal, lifting it up to the overhead compartment of the plane, and finally, through the long last stretch of the NAIA arrival area. Not a walk in the park, definitely. I have to belatedly credit and thank my mom for the effort and sacrifice for her family’s table.
The goose was purchased fully cooked, wrapped in foil, encased in double layers of heavy plastic. At home, mom would pop it into the oven to reheat, and in seconds, the aromas would waft through our kitchen. The succulent meat’s natural juices would pool with the luscious layer of fat at the bottom of the pan; these drippings, set aside to be enjoyed during the meal, spooned over steaming hot white rice.
In the oven, the goose’s soft and wrinkled skin would once again tighten and crisp up to a golden brown. It was always magical to behold. My siblings and I would tear open the packs of sweet plum sauce that came with the goose, and dad would produce a bottle of thick, pungent hoisin. Apo Cion, our family cook, would chop up leeks into two inch strips. With their mild onion flavor and crunchy freshness, they were the perfect side dish to avoid umay (cloy), and offset the absolute richness of the roast goose. Those were some of my most memorable family meals ever. Exotic, sumptuous, epic. We’d all be stuffed silly, and best of all, since there was so much ceremony involved in the preparation and presentation, it was always an extended, unrushed dinner with the whole family. Good times.
On my first trip to Hong Kong, exactly 20 years ago, I had one major itch I had to scratch. Obviously, it was to have the best roast goose in the territories. And that’s how, at the dawn of the internet era in the Philippines, I HotBot-ted, and found out about Yung Kee, considered then, as now, one of the best roast goose restaurants in the world. Fred Aguilar, my gallant host during my trip, made sure that it was ticked off my bucket list. There’s always a bit of trepidation when I dine at a restaurant whose reputation precedes it, a restaurant I’ve dreamed of for a long time: will it live up to the anticipation, or will it burst my bubble? For example, Les Halles in New York, famous for a certain Anthony Bourdain: it wasn’t bad at all, but it didn’t blow my mind. But Yung Kee sure did. It was everything I’d imagined. I was not disappointed. To this day, I still remember the thrill of that evening. The taxi ride to Central, walking through the elaborate doors to the halls of Yung Kee, and me, smiling through the whole meal, and profusely thanking Mr. Aguilar afterwards. I was hooked. I spent the rest of that trip entering every restaurant with a roast goose displayed in the window. I had it for lunch and dinner for three more days. I was young, and I was in love.
That love has withstood the test of time, and maintenance meds. On my most recent visit to Hong Kong, in December of 2015, I snuck out of my hotel room in Wan Chai for a late night San Miguel Blue Ice Beer run, and upon exiting the 7-Eleven, I turned left instead of turning right, and found myself in front of Keung Kee, a “roasted meat” restaurant. One that just happened to be listed in the Michelin Guide for Hong Kong. I was confronted with a line of fine defeathered fowl, glowing golden, as if lit from within. I believe I fairly trembled, with desire, and with gratitude to the generous gods of geese, for serendipitously leading me to one of the city’s best roast goose restaurants, literally just seconds away from my hotel. And so I went in, and reacquainted myself with the Best. Rice. Topping. Meal. Ever.
You can guess what happened over the next couple of days. Yes, as I did eighteen years earlier, I went back to Keung Kee again and again, and just as my mother used to do three decades prior, I handcarried a whole goose home for the family. And our roast goose dinner then was as grand as it has always been. And always, extra special, because roast goose is a rare treat. It was still not available in any restaurant in the Philippines, as far as I knew.
In November of 2016, Marriott Manila’s Man Ho Chinese restaurant quietly opened. A few weeks later, a friend e-mailed this photo:
That gleaming, lacquered skin. That unmistakable “bump” on the head. That proud, puffed breast.
Thanks to the vision and ambition of Chef Law Wui Wing, for the very first time, authentic roast goose, imported from Hong Kong, was finally available in Manila. I made my way to Marriott in early December, and I’ve been back to Man Ho twice since.
Memories come rushing back to me, wave after wave of them, every time I’m there: carefully removing the foil from a goose my mom’s brought home from Hong Kong; the silly grin on my face as a whole roast goose was placed on our table at Yung Kee; a lost foreign diner, yours truly, pointing to a picture of a roast goose rice topping in a local haunt in Kowloon side; the charming curmudgeon at Keung Kee who chatted away merrily as he wrapped up my goose for safe transit on my flight back.
So I sit at Man Ho, look out the picture windows, and see the planes come and go, and I smile a quiet smile. Content, pleased, that I don’t have to get on one anymore and fly out, just to sate my cravings.
Love’s come home, baby. And it’s here to stay.
Man Ho Chinese Restaurant
Marriott West Wing, Marriott Hotel Manila
2 Resorts Drive, Pasay City
02 988 9999 (reservations are recommended)
Open daily: 11.30am – 2.30pm; 6pm – 10.30pm