In Hong Kong: one of the best eggs I’ve ever had the pleasure of putting into my mouth, and one of the top 5 steaks I’ve eaten in my life. Ever.
But first some ramen. Ippudo has five stores in Hong Kong but that doesn’t preclude the fact that we still have to queue for a table. Still, I’m happy to be here not least because of the stories told to me in reverential tones about the almost mythic quality of its ramen. To allow ourselves to be fully indoctrinated into Ippudo, we keep it simple: two orders of ramen and a plate of gyoza.
The Karaka is made with a tonkotsu broth, its mouth-coating creaminess slicked with a tongue-tingling miso. The chili has a forward flavor, forefront on tongue mitigated only by bites of the chashu (BBQ pork) and rings of scallions.
Ippudo is the first ramen store that I’ve been to where choices are asked to be made. My Bin leaves it up to the kitchen for his bowl of Karaka but I like options. For my Sapporo Miso ramen, I want a thin (not thick), hard (not soft or normal) noodle with normal (not light or heavy) oiliness. I also ask for sides of black fungus, and a hot spring (poached) egg. A lighter miso is used here so its flavor is more delicate, not as salty as the Karaka’s. The noodles are practically al dente, the just-set egg sliding down their surfaces, staining the soup, which is a chicken-based broth. It’s a complex, incomprehensible mix of ingredients, probably proprietary, an alchemy better savored than dissected. I peer into the murky mass and inhale deeply. My Bin and I slurp, suck, and swallow. Ramen is definitely not food for a first date.
I like Ippudo enough but I’m not blown away by it. I feel that this kind of ramen sophistication, if you will, has already reached Manila’s shores.
My Bin and I lose one another inside Harbour City, Hong Kong’s largest mall. A maddening mash-up of what’s actually three malls in one – Ocean Terminal, Ocean Centre and Gateway Arcade – it’s a retail rumble that boggles the mind and burns through my wallet. Like a homing pigeon, I redirect myself back to my husband via my mobile, and once reconnected, I obey the lure of the sweet at Maison Eric Kayser.
Eric Kayser is an illustrious French baker with outposts all over the world. Especially renowned for his croissants and artisanal breads, his Hong Kong flagship features a “Fast Gourmet restaurant and Bakery Grab & Go.” The doughy marvels do indeed look marvelous but at 4pm, sugar is my succor.
The restaurant itself serves sandwiches and other quick-order food but I’m allowed to “grab and go” from the bakery as long as I order a drink. So I see and select a trio: a lemon tart, raspberry macaron with pistachio filling, and because I can never get enough pistachio, a pistachio macaron. They go nicely with my pot of black Darjeeling tea.
The lemon tart is almost a misnomer. Nary a hint of eggy cloy, it’s just a flash of tang set on a barely-there shortbread crust. Masterful and almost upstaged by the raspberry macaron.
I adore raspberries, in part because my encounters with them are so infrequent. I pick at the fruit, savoring each juicy drupelet, thrilling at the crunch and ooze of macaron and cream when I bite down.
The pistachio filling in the raspberry macaron finds resounding glory in the pistachio macaron. Not too crispy, it’s almost soft but its filling is exquisitely flavored. I nibble and sip my tea and feel a honeyed glow of happiness run through me.
One of the best egg dishes I’ve ever had in my life
The roast goose at Yun Kee is one of those dishes I can’t forget even three years later and I want it again. So I have it again, along with all the requisite components for a satisfying dimsum brunch. I can say with utmost certainty however that I’ve come across something at Yun Kee that may trump that roast goose.
It’s stated simply on the menu: smoked duck egg. That almost offhanded plainness however, couldn’t have prepared me for what I deem to be one of the best egg dishes I’ve had in my life. On the plate, these orbs immediately compel with their glittering middles, they seem to bathe and bask in the restaurant’s yellow light. Propped slightly askew on skeins of seaweed, the position assumed threatens an overflow captured as if in a suspended state: the forward pressure looks like a tongue, lush and lickable. It mirrors my own, I think, as I put one egg half into my mouth, eagerly, hungrily.
Bite. Teeth collide on cooked egg white rousing a river of yolk, golden and slow, to flow and fill. I taste the sun, seduction, then smoke. It souses on my tongue, sitting, waiting, but I don’t want to swallow. I want to press pause and suspend this flavor forever. But swallow I do and simplicity – in design and taste – being its own reward, rewards me with a final, pleasurable immersion: a cloak of smoke and yolk lingering, caressing, a last, lusty lick goodbye.
One of the best steaks I’ve ever eaten
I thought that I enjoyed the bistecca alla Fiorentina that I ate in Florence when I was in Italy last year, but would it be sacrilege to say that I enjoy more this bistecca that I eat in Hong Kong? A massive Porterhouse fired over a charcoal flame, the recommended way to eat this meat is cool blue, or “…’til it doesn’t moo” – bluntly put.
Bistecca Italian Steak House is my new mecca for meat. Coming so quickly after eating one of the best egg dishes of my life, I’m now eating what’s proving to be one of the five best steaks I’ve had. Ever. The fact that we’re allowed to have it cooked medium – in Florence we ate it rare – makes a difference, and the fact that this slab of succulence is crusted over in smoke – it’s an unabashed expression of abundance, exuberance, and carnivorous desires set on fire. My mind short-circuits at the memory of it. I’m only sorry that the lighting is so bad – it makes taking decent pictures almost impossible.
That we are shamelessly eating steak with sides of roasted bone marrow speaks of our ardor: at a meal like this, you either go all the way or get out of the way. My Bin peers down at the bones. “My god, honey, the marrow’s still boiling!” Two eaters, hot and bothered and already out of register – but pleasurably so – we remember to relish our side orders of new potatoes with bacon, and broccoli slathered in Fontina cheese. Both are so piled up with gloriousness – the potatoes: starchy and steamy insides, crusty outsides, smashed with bacon – that it’s difficult to remember now quite how they tasted. It’s because of the marrow, I say. And that god-blessed steak.
Best pork pastry
Everyone has a favorite pork pastry, here’s mine. On Fa Yuen Street in MongKok sits Hoixe Cake Shop. On the shelves and behind glass displays, other pastries will tantalize but I’m drawn to one: Barbecue Pork Puff. Its triangular shape surrenders a clutter of crumbs, a fluff of flour in mouth and nose, and then the unmistakable flavor of lard. Porky, fatty – yes, but consider what this magic ingredient does for texture, an almost flouncing lightness of crumb disintegrating and highlighting the slightly sweet, very barbequed pork filling. Hoovering up two in immediate succession and barely pausing to breathe in between, I have to ask my Bin to forcibly restrain me from buying more. Abundance is wonderful and welcoming, embarrassing composure due to gluttony is not. I look down and giggle at the mess of crumbs we’ve made.
Hoixe also serves a wonderful egg tart but if the crowds at the store beside it are an indication, then Sakurashima Bakery does them better. A choice of either a flaky or shortbread crust, Sakurashima’s egg tarts – whatever my choice may be – offers delightful mouthfuls in various permutations. Realizing now that the egg tarts I’ve eaten in the past were too sweet, these custards hold only a suggestion of sweet – shimmering masses bound by only eggs, milk, and sugar, maybe vanilla essence too. They are lovely, to behold and to consume, and I buy some for the trip back home, edible mementoes of my passion for pastry.
G/F, 7 Fa Yuen Street, MongKok, Hong Kong.