Friday, February 29, 2008

Wonton noodles Mak Man Kee, Nathans congee - mom and pop eateries in Hong Kong

I do not mind sharing table or being squashed in a mom and pop eatery like this - if it means I can eat the famous wonton noodles here!

Mak Man Kee - an old-fashioned board menu on the wall. A traditional noodle shop in Jordan district, Hong Kong.

See the numbers below those vertical string of Mandarin characters - those are the prices of the food items.

One of the best wonton noodles I've had in my life, I swear. It's in the noodles, the soup broth, and the wonton - 云吞, shui kow -水饺 . All that makes this...THE noodles I came back for, more than once, in my 2-day trip to Hong Kong. The portions come small. With a full appetite, I don't think there is any problem swooping down two bowls. What comes into the making of the soup/broth ? Are there any true-blue Hong Kongers or Cantonese cuisine pro who can tell me? Without fail, bits of Chinese chives (the white, non-chlorophyll version of its green family**) can always be seen floating in the soup.

"The egg noodles are springy and has that biting and chewing satisfication;
each dumpling - wonton or shui kow - filled generously with ingredients;
oozing out with the "juice" sensation;
when greedily savoured "

"The beef brisket noodles in a plate, comes dry or in soup;
Beef briskets braised to perfection - also good;
But we still prefer the noodles in soup "

You know how delicious is the food when you can even make your sentences rhymes...

Nathan Congee - yet another traditional mom and pop eatery at Jordan. You get to watch just that one-and-only chef cook. He is situated right at the store entrance, at his tiny cornered kitchen. A stove where he cooks the porridge/congee and then that same tiny space where the porridge/congee is poured into individual bowls. I wonder how he does that without that claustrophobic feel. Most of the ingredients must have been prepared in advanced - pre-washed, pre-cleaned, pre-cut or chop. He just needs to portion the right amount of ingredients into the pots of simmering cooking porridge/congee.

This non-flashy and non-flamboyant chef's corner is found exactly at the store entrance (on your right). There is even a lack of space that a table has to be used to place the plates of dough sticks (油条 )

Here, a good ol' bowl of mixed pork porridge 及第粥, made from all parts of the pig - typically lean pork slices, minced pork balls, pork liver and pork intestines. Full of pork flavor sans any pungent smell of innards.

Not enough Hong Kong eating? You can indulge in more desserts, get yourself stressed-up in a tea cafe or watch time pass by in a traditional teahouse.

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**Do you know the existence of white chives ? If you do, do you know why they are white and not green ? This "albino" version is created when the usual (green) chives is buried under the soil, and not exposed to sunlight in the process of growing. Without exposure to the sun, no chorophyll is produced, thus the resultant chive is white/pale yellow.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Herbal tortoise jelly, black sesame dessert soup

Black food !

Left: Herbal jelly, some say tortoise jelly, 龟苓膏 pronouned Gui Ling Gao. Right: black sesame soup/paste, 芝麻糊

Is BLACK aesthetically photo-shoot-friendly ? In some ways, it might look unappetizing and digusting but hear more of black food before you make your statement.

Herbal Jelly - typically prepared from powder (made of grinded turtle shells or not - needs more verification), with other herbal substances added to the jelly to give its bitter (medicinal) taste. To enjoy it, you are sure to find honey served alongside, so that you can adjust the level of bitterness to your own liking.

Have the jelly served cold, or warm but
not many people like this medicinal bitterly tasting dessert - an acquired taste, perhaps. If you like grass jelly, the texture of tortoise jelly is akin to grass jelly. I really want some to soothe my sore throat and bad cough now. This herbal jelly is known to have health benefits such as treating sore throats, and improving general health.

This black sesame dessert is a form of sweet soup in Cantonese cuisine. The main ingredient is crushed black sesame seeds. It is then boiled with hot water. Depending on the sesame seeds which sometimes can be already sweet, the level of sweetness is adusted during boiling by adding sugar. Those instant soup packs can't beat this, I am so sure! This one I had in Hong Kong was so smooth.

And this soup is one of those few that is known to give you beautiful, black hair, if you consume it regularly. According to sources, the Chinese black sesame seed soup helps to improve the health of the scalp, thus nourishes the hair. Black sesame seeds are high in protein, and minerals such as phosphorous, iron and magnesium. It will then be no doubt that these seeds imparts youth and darkness to one's hair. So, if you are are seeing premature greying of your hair, don't use a hair dye. Black sesame soup can be your "natural hair dye" fit for a dessert or snack :P

What other black food can you think of ?

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Desserts indulgence at Hui Lau Shan, Hong Kong

The Hong Kong trip did not end here or here. Hong Kong tea cafes and traditional teahouses were just few of them. Wonton noodles, roasted goose and quail, there're more...and I have not done my writing-cum-posting yet. Could I just post pictures? Overwhelmed by a backlog of eat-travel Hong Kong posts; and stint inTaiwan, I wish I could recommend all them to you in a few but that will be too disorganized, for me and for you.

Slowly but surely.

This is a famous dessert-chain in Hong Kong which seems to be recommended by many. 许留山 pronounced Xu Liu Shan - named after the creator, also known as Hui Lau Shan, if you were to search for it over the net in English. With 50 years history, this shop started as a herbal tea shop specializing in herbal jellies and evolved to a popular chain today with many mango specialty desserts. Spoilt with choices that I have to visit three times in a same trip and each time, feeling thrilled and enthralled about which dessert to order. You will be surprised (or at least I did) that there is even one shop located in San Francisco, California. If this is a true (not some imitation shop) sprout from Hong Kong's Hui Lau Shan and if it is still operating for business, it is known by another name - Creations Dessert, in the United States. Verifying the menu, it's not as complete as the one in Hong Kong. I am feeling iffy at this time. I don't believe there is even one in Singapore - anyone tried or reviewed it yet?

Back to the original in Hong Kong -

Mango pudding - mango fruits platter - mango puree with fresh mango cubes - mango puree with fresh mango cubes, sago with coconut milk - mango puree with fresh mango cubes and pomelo sacs - mango puree with fresh mango cubes and pomelo sacs topped with mango sherbert ice-cream. This is just 10% of number of items in the menu, maybe? Oh my goodness, call it a fantasy, a dream. Mango fantasia, mango slavery! :O

For once, I tried something non-mango-ish. Stewed bird's nest with coconut milk! I remembered this was at a promotional price (HKD40~USD5~SGD7) - so I allowed myself to indulge. :D

This warm dessert came out steaming, and was absolutely comforting on my stomach. Every scoopful of it into the entire coconut shell was floating with bird's nest. Best of all, the dessert was not overly-sweet. Hint of rock-sugar sweet in the bird's nest just perfect in that warm coconut milk. Such a pleasure.

The next time you visit Hong Kong, don't forget to plan this. If you are asking any tip from me, I'm going to give you this - keep your stomach ~20% empty after lunch or dinner, so that you can enjoy these fabulous desserts (yes, that's a tip!)

I made mango slushy dessert before, remember?

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Dim sum, people watching in Hong Kong, Luk Yu 陸羽茶室

The traditional teahouse serving dim-sum is not by push-cart?

Just when I thought push-cart dim-sum was traditional. Boy, it must be hard (and heavy) to wear that strap over the shoulder, and at the same time raising their voice calling out "Siew mai, siew mai"..."Chai Siew Bao, chai siew bao"...Har Gaw, har gaw" - dim-sum items sitting on their over-the-shoulder-tray. The waiters/waitresses have to climb steep stairs up and down, making sure customers in each level (there are two storeys to this teahouse) are served. And they are not youngsters but gentlemen and ladies in their 40s and up, perhaps.

Visiting Luk Yu Teahouse 陸羽茶室, in Central District, Hong Kong was more for the experience and not so for the dim-sum. Some say it's a reminder of old Hong Kong where teahouses were places to settle disputes harmoniously, over tea. Well, others see teahouse tradition as companionship and enjoying tea.

Whatever it is, it is not just about eating.

These were some standard dim-sum items we ordered. No fancy items available.

Pan-fried yam cake, egg tarts

Steamed pork dumpling (siew mai in Cantonese), top; steamed shrimp dumpling(har gau in Cantonese), bottom

Don't mix them up. A tea cafe is not a teahouse in Hong Kong understanding. If you have some time to immerse in the teahouse culture and tradition, do drop by:

Luk Yu Tea House
24-26 Stanley Street, Hong Kong
Nearest MTR: Central Station

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Tea eggs, tea leaf eggs, 茶葉蛋.

Tea eggs, tea leaf eggs, 茶葉蛋.

Taken from stall near Sun Moon Lake - 日月潭 (pronounced Ri Yue Tan) , a scenic attraction in central Taiwan.

If you want to make tea leaf eggs at home, you can refer to my blogging friends - Flog & Rosbif and Little Corner of Mine. In a gist, the aroma of tea leaf eggs is quite distinct (you can smell it afar) and the marble-effect design is something that mystifies me more than eating the egg itself.

How to get the marble effect - boil the eggs twice. After the first boil when the egg hardens, the shell of each egg is lightly cracked/tapped around, without peeling. Make sure the cracked shell stays intact. Then, put these "lightly cracked" eggs to a second boil. The little cracks will allow flavour of the tea into the egg. To me, this is somewhat like a traditional etching process - where parts of the egg protected by the intact shell still maintains a color of white or pale beige while the areas of crack lines are exposed to the darkening stain of the tea immersion and you get a more intense darkened brown cracked (spiderweb-ish) line pattern around the egg. THAT is absolutely ART!

Talking about tea eggs, there is the "7-eleven-type" convenience store(only in Taiwan?) tea egg; there is also the traditional kind in the larger snapshot above that calls itself "Granny's tea eggs" - 阿婆茶叶蛋. It's famous, you know. Most of the stall owners near Sun Moon Lake area swears by this name "Granny's tea eggs" - 阿婆茶叶蛋 (a power marketing brand or tool?) as apparently, there is a true story about this lady who sold special tea eggs around that area for 40+ years, from young till she became Grandma! To many people, these eggs taste particularly flavorful. Other than the typical tea + five spice aroma and flavor, there is an additional taste of nostalgia in it - what they call 古早味. It took me a while to understand. Literally, it meant 古味 or "taste of the past". Sometimes, as food and tradition get infused with too much excitement and creativity; and when we start to experience new flavors, there comes a time when we will start re-tracing to the basic roots of food and its traditionally origin taste - its authenticity and simplicity - both which are somehow partially lost when we seek ways to improve.

These "Granny's tea eggs" - 阿婆茶叶蛋 are also special because of two secret ingredients. Both ingredients which the mountainous area around Sun Moon Lake are famous for - Assam tea-阿萨姆红茶 (a tea with hint of malt aroma, rose incense, and concentrated flavor) and mushrooms! According to sources, the eggs are first cooked in assam(red) tea + salt; set aside to cool; then lightly tapped around to create the crack lines; thereafter immersed into a broth of mushroom + assam tea+ spice conconction, to slowly cook for 6+ hours!

Maybe you can try perfecting Granny's recipe at home!

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Braised pork belly, free range chicken, hakka cuisine, heartlander's food

What do the heartlanders eat in Taiwan? I have yet explored every part of it but I'm quite sure they eat a variety other than steamboats and hotpots.

This is the kind of "economic rice" I can find in Taiwan, similar to those found in Singapore, close enough to California's Ranch99 deli section ... or does it have a far resemblance to your Chinese take-outs in the United States? You's the same concept - rice + something :P

Of course, there is much more selection here (for dine-in and take-outs). And I'm quite sure the food taste better. Make a guess - how much does this cost?

Clockwise from pork belly rice: stir fry bittergourd with egg, fried fish, braised napa cabbage 卤白菜 , vermicelli (glass noodles/cellophane noodles) soup

...."economic rice"? WhAa....aaat is that? Not really sure how this name evolved but I'm guessing its origin came from the "value for money" rice set that you can usually get from these rice stalls. Typically, it's plain rice + your choice of meat and/or vegetables from a wide selection of dishes, costing S$3 and up (depending on more meat or more vegetables, and depending on inflation rate :P ). In the United States, most of you would otherwise know this as rice plate or somtimes hungryman's rice plate - you get your complete lunch or dinner meal (of rice + meat + vegetables) on one plate.

Rice topped with braised pork pelly (stall name: 李海鲁肉饭)

I prefer to draw this analogy to "economic rice" since it hangs on similar concept - just that they don't put everything on one plate. You order your rice topped with braised pork belly 鲁肉饭, then order other side dishes(as separates) to make it a complete meal. That meal above was just ~100NT (HUH? ~ USD 3 dollars! ). Best part of it - this feeds two - believe it or not!

As compared to dialects such as Hokkien, Teochew, and even Cantonese, I admit I'm not that well-informed about the Hakkas - their culture and cuisine. Taiwan has a significant Hakka population, portions concentrated in Hsinchu city and Hsinchu county. Thanks to JY and S, our friends in Hsinchu. They brought us out to a wonderful Hakka lunch, on the hills away from Hsinchu city.

Braised Pork Belly with Preserved Vegetables 梅菜扣肉

Like I said, I'm not too into Hakka culture and cuisine but I believe this Braised Pork Belly with Preserved Vegetables 梅菜扣肉 is one of their specialties. The braised pork belly has an appetizing texture of alternating layers of fat and lean meat. YUM!

The chicken is known to the locals as 土鸡 (wild chicken: chicken reared in the rolling hills). I'm thinking this may be equivalent to "kampung chicken" (literally meaning - village chicken). Or what you are familiar with in the United States - free-range chickens that are allowed to roam around instead of being caged. These chickens are generally considered to have higher nutritional value. They are not caged and have all the free space to run around. Since they do "running exercises", they have less body fat than their farmed couterparts. You do not need fancy cookwork for these chickens since by steaming them or cooking them in soups, you can clearly taste the natural flavor of the chicken. Just it. Just eat.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Hong Kong tea cafes - 茶餐廳, cha can ting

Australia Dairy Co. (澳洲牛奶公司) in Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong. It sells milk and dairies. No. Partially, perhaps. At least, one of their famed, is steamed MILK pudding.

Picture left: steamed milk pudding with egg white - a hot dessert. On the right: a similar steamed milk pudding - egg yoks added.

Steamed milk pudding - a famous dessert that deserves an almost-full-length window showcase, as an attraction, or rather temptation. Should I say this steamed milk pudding is really an acquired taste ? I found it on the sweet side and the texture is almost like yogurt. Maybe you can imagine yourself heating up a whole bowl of yogurt, and enjoying it without the tartness.

Don't ask me why a Hong Kong-style tea cafe, or cha can ting-茶餐廳 calls itself a "dairy" company when there is an eclectic and affordable menu of desserts, sandwiches/toasts, pasta, tea and coffee.

We were here twice. Once, for supper dessert, and another for breakfast. On both separate days, you see the same images of people packs in cramped aisles, and hear the same clutter chaos and noise, in this small-size cafe. If you do visit, do not be intimidated by the long queue of people waiting outside. Their turn-over is super-quick so you will be seated shortly. Once a customer is seated, the order is taken and you will be served in a matter of minutes (or seconds, depending on what you order). You will feel the adrenalin around - and this will affect you so much that you will just eat and go. No slow-munching, no laid-back-sipping. Eyes looking at you. Eager stares telling you - you're done! You won't have enough time or rather, they don't have sufficient time for you to have a slow relaxing breakfast. A reflection of how fast-pace is life in Hong Kong, once you wake up from bed.

For moments, you might even feel stressed up, eating in this cafe since they take orders so quick (as if they expected you to know what you want even before you step into the cafe). Finally, set meals saved our day. The HKD22 (USD2.80 or SGD4.00). breakfast set feeds you(one) well with macaroni soup + toast/soft bread with eggs + tea/coffee.

Macaroni soup, topped with thin strips of picnic ham

The origin of Hong Kong-style tea cafes dates back to the times of the British colony. Then, people in Hong Kong, influenced by the British lifestyle, started drinking English black tea and coffee with milk. Thereafter,the styles of the Chinese(Hong Kong) and Western, co-existed and you have a kind of eatery restaurant which combines the styles of Chinese(Hong Kong) and Western food. The Hong Kong-style tea cafe trend only started in Singapore late 2005-early 2006. There were just one or two of such Hong Kong tea cafes in Singapore back in 2005-2006. To-date, there are more. Similarly a British colony, the Hong-Kong tea cafe culture did not reach Singapore till of late. I wonder why.

Toast with fried eggs

The practice of sharing table is quite common in Hong Kong, due to lack of space and prime land. Don't be shy if you want good food. Most widely and postively reviewed eateries and restaurants are crowded. The chance of sharing table is high. On both occasions to Australian Dairy Company, we(group of two) shared seating at a four-seat table. On visits to another famous Chinese reataurant, we even shared seating at a 10-seat round table. Well, in Hong Kong...time is money. Space is money too. Prime space is so precious that they don't even want to have one seat left vacant! :O

Toast with their famous scrambles

Many reviews out there puts an absolute tick on their scrambled eggs. A must-try. Well, comparing their fried eggs with scrambles, the latter is really up to that mark. A very light and fluffy scrambled egg.

Rounding up our breakfast came the Yuanyang - a combination mixture of coffee and milk tea. Some say there is something addictive to this coffee-tea beverage. Makes me wonder the secret "ingredient" behind this famed beverage in Hong Kong. Personally, I suspect the proportion of each "liquid mixture" lies the secret. :P

No website, no formal receipts - there must be something magic about Australia Dairy Co. that earns its raves, either as good food "must-try" in Hong Kong, or as an attraction "must-visit". Service was not particularly impressive (some may even consider it rude) but again, this is a place (I am definite) where local Hong Kongers and tourists visit for their food, and "just go" - living up to the public given motto "just eat and go" :D

Bill totalling breakfast for two. Cheap or just reasonable ?

Australia Dairy Co. (澳洲牛奶公司)
47-49 Parkes Street, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong
Open from morning ~700hrs until late ~ 2300hrs

Check it out! I don't think they have any other branches in Hong Kong and rest of the world. Definitely not a cookie-cutter among the sprawling many Hong Kong style tea cafes all over the world.

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