One thing I haven't quite managed to blog about (somewhat to my own disappointment) is the absolutely fantastic food one can find in Hong Kong in the cooked food centres. The cooked food centres were established to house what used to be dai pai dongs, before the strict and overbearing hygiene laws made it virtually impossible to operate street food stalls.
As a result, what you get is a eclectic mix of small food stalls in a (relatively) hygenic indoor enviroment. You go up to your stall, shout your order, and sit down on one of the many tables inside. It's very similar to Singapores hawker centres, though much more local. Most menu's aren't written (most stalls specialise in 1 or 2 things usually), and if they are written its almost always in Chinese. But that shouldn't discourage anyone from trying the cooked food centres. They're mostly frequented by locals, who are mostly happy to see a foreign face coming to enjoy their culture. Everyone is very helpful. Another benefit of the cooked food centres is that all of the stalls use the produce sold by meat and vegetable vendors in the municiple building in which they're housed, meaning everything is super fresh.
Wai Kee in the Bowrington Road food market uses all ingredients freshly chopped, slaughtered, or rinsed from the vendors beneath. You could probably pick your own produce and ask them to do something with it. What sets Wai Kee apart from the rest of the stalls is that it's all Halal food, catering to the tastes of the (often) muslim domestic helpers, and the large muslim indian community living in Wan Chai. Up here you can see Wai Kee's famous chilli and onion mixture airing out in the open.
Wai Kee are famous for their curries. Lamb, Chicken, Beef, whichever. They all look and taste the same, and on looks alone it has to be the ugliest curry in Hong Kong. Get past the hideous melamine crockery and the way that the curry is placed in a bowl and kind of tossed on a mound of rice, and you're rewarded with a fantastically spicy, rich curry packed with flavour. It's semi-sweet and heavy on the turmeric, this aint no butter chicken.
The part of chicken that you're eating is dubious at best, but the thing I like about the curries at Wai Kee is they'll usually try to enhance it with random different ingredients. One day I got roast potatoes, one day carrots, and another time fried tofu. It's slapdash, whatever they feel like, and its delicious. Oh, also very cheap, HKD $29 for a very masculine sized serving.
2013/01/06 Comments Off
Hipster food has been a bit of a trend lately on my blog. Ramen, Pho, and now to top it all off, I give my thoughts on Yardbird in Sheung Wan, undoubtedly one of Hong Kong's most hottest hipster venues. I tried (quite successfully) to avoid Yardbird for some months after being having fellow hong kong foodies gush at me about how fantastic their shochu list is (snore) or how all the waitstaff are foreign (double snore) and how all the clientele are who's who of hip Hong Kong (triple snore - and not even true).
The kind of people who eat at Yardbird are a mixture of regulars (to which there are a lot of, and who'll probably get a table quicker than you or I will), and nice, fashionable and generally lovely hot people. But the regulars dominate the presence of the split level dining room (with bar and a few tables upstairs, and the open kitchen and majority of tables downstairs). The regulars are the kind of people who make a big deal out of kissing the owners cheeks twice as they walk past, and splurting out grating small talk like 'dahhling you must come to ours for our new year do, you just must'.
I hate those kind of people, but they're good for business because they're the 'in crowd' and i'm sure the owners of Yardbird are acutely aware of that fact. Keep those idiots happy, and you can rest assured that business will be strong for the foreseeable future. Anyway enough of a rant about the people. Yardbird is so popular that they purposely don't take bookings (they don't need to, they're always going to be constantly at capacity). As is a trend with trendy casual restaurants, you get there, put your name down and have a drink at the bar whilst you wait for your table. The friendly guy manning the door was quite apologetic when he said that tonight was extremely busy and the wait could be anywhere up to an hour and a half. An hour and a half, on a saturday night, in a city of nearly 9 million at one of the hottest restaurants in town? That's nothing. I've waited for 3 hours for restaurants on a tuesday night like Chin Chin and Cumulus in Melbourne, a city of half Hong Kong's population. Either way we were seated after about 40 minutes, and a drink at the bar.
Yardbird is all about Yakitori, the japanese chicken dish skewered and cooked over coals. Yakitori is a delicious thing, and in Japan, traditional yakitori involves eating and cooking all parts of the chicken. Heart, liver, tail, neck, all of it. If its edible, its cooked. Yardbird seeks to tap into this 'only-in-japan' way of eating yakitori by offering all the strange bits of the chicken, as well as some more normal cuts like thigh, breast and wings. For simplicity sake, each skewer is priced at $38 which is quite a palatable amount at first. Though after you order a few different skewers, and remind yourself that each skewer is $38, then the bill tends to inflate. Other items on the menu are a little more substantial in their size, and offer somewhat better value.
We started with salted edamame, the japanese unripened soybeans still in their pods. Covered in rocksalt, you simply squeeze the edamame into your mouth.... until it pops (oh baby...). Anyway, these are a nice simple snack to pick at in between other dishes.
Our first sampling of yakitori came in the form of Chicken Gizzard, which a crispy fried garlic garnish and a drizzle of olive oil. The gizzard is fantastic, which tastes like a slightlier chewier section of the breast. You're never in any doubt that you're eating chicken, however. These were probably the standout yakitori.
Next to our table is the Chicken Neck served with Yuzukoshō and black pepper. The Yuzu paste is absolutely lovely, and adds a nice citrusy flavour to what is a fairly gelatinous and sinewy part of the chicken.
The chicken wings are served with a housemade Shichimi Togarashi, a nice mixture of sichuan pepper, orange peel, lemon peel, dried ginger and sesame seeds. They even give you a sampling of their shichimi to take home with you, which is nice.
The chicken breast is served upon a nice wasabi and light soy sauce mixture, and the meat has a lovely smokey flavour about it (so did all of it, but the breast perhaps more so).
Of the non-yakitori dishes we had, the sweet corn tempura balls were substantial in size and a very novel way of eating corn. The corn was very sweet and juicy, which is something I haven't encountered with corn in Hong Kong. Yardbird have really managed to get themselves onto some nice corn, so well done.
The KFC (Korean Fried Cauliflower) was for me the standout dish, and according to other openrice posts, a perennially popular option. The cauliflour balls are batered and fried in a seriously tasty yuzu, chilli and plum like sauce topped with a smattering of sesame seeds and garnished with fresh lime. I love it when restaurants do interesting things with otherwise bland vegetables, and this dish reminds me of the excellent vincotto fried brussel sprouts being served up at Portêno in Sydney.
The wine list also deserved a mention, everything on the list is very new world, with Italian, Spanish and Argentinian making up the majority of the bottles. France and Australia are most likely purposefully underepresented, so you're likely to try something you've not seen before. They serve the very, very serious Besserat du Bellefon NV Champagne (and are the only ones in HK as far as I know to serve in house). I had a glass of the Italian Pechorino, which is a very seldom used/grown grape varietal in a small section of the south of Italy that has a very chenin blanc like palate profile. The drinks list is bolstered by a very impressive sake, shochu and japanese spirit list, as well as some interesting cocktails.
Another thing I should note is the atmosphere, which is loud, noisy and generally fun. The music is great, BUT it is played at a somewhat ear splitting volume making regular conversation hard unless you're shouting (which everyone else is doing anyway).
All in all, I enjoyed Yardbird. Once you get over the uber-pretentious clientele and the fairly pricey yakitori, and the silly music volume you're left with a very cool concept in Sheung Wan. Yardbird doesn't represent for me the pinnacle of what Hong Kong has to offer food wise. For me, the best food in terms of value, taste and atmosphere comes from dingy noodle shops, and congee joints. But Yardbird, is, what I hope Hong Kong's restaurant scene is turning into, especially around Pok Fu Lam & Sheung Wan. In Hong Kong, there are really two main dining options: cheap, dingy and good value, or expensive, formal and exclusive. Yardbird fits neatly in between the two. It's too casual to be a special occasion place (especially with no reservations), but not quite cheap enough to be an everyday option.
A lot of the people who go to yardbird sit endlessly at their table sipping their wine and overanalysing their dishes. They're complete wankers and they're missing the point. Yardbird is not a groundbreaking gastronomical experience, or amazing, or life changing, its just cool, and that's probably all it sets out to be.
You can't help but feel cool when dining at Yardbird, it's a cool place.
2013/01/04 Comments Off
I love Pho. But I also hate Pho. But I love Pho more I think. It's a love hate relationship that has been characterised by the dish's recent notoriety in Australia, my home country. A vietnamese classic, Pho consists of a relatively simple noodle soup dish made using flat rice noodles, raw beef, mint leaf, onion and bean shouts. On top of this sparse ingredient list is placed a rich and fragrant master stock broth made from pork bone marrow, beef tail, and all the generally unsavoury bits of animals that we don't usually like to direct towards out mouth. Combined with cardamon, star anise and other distinctly vietnamese spices you end up with a lavishly deep but healthy soup that Anthony Bourdain, the biggest food wanker in the business, has described as the dish he'd quite happily eat for the rest of his life.
But I hate Pho because of how popular it has become. A dish that has existed in vietnam for centuries is only now achieving international recognition because the worldwide food community had been too quick to dismiss vietnamese food (and south east asian food in general) as palatable to local tastes only. And now everyone loves it, and is willing to pay stupid amounts to get their lips around a bowl. I roll my eyes.
Anyway, given how Hong Kong is generally excellent with everything food wise, you'd expect decent pho to be everywhere in Hong Kong. Well, not so. Pho is still a bit of an unfounded treasure in Hong Kong, and whilst more Pho places are beginning to pop up here and there, none of them have really managed to blow my socks off (unlike some of my favorite pho joints in Australia). Pho Tai in central comes pretty close though.
The broth is rich, and peppery, and the serving size is beyond generous. I really like that you're given an unlimited amount of mint, bean shoots, chilli and lime wedges to garnish your piping hot bowl. I also like that when you order the raw beef pho (the idea being it cooks in the bowl), then they really do give you raw beef. The time from when the soup is poured over the beef and then delivered to your table, so you still get a nice pink mountain of thinly sliced delicious beef. Though the dining space is small (hey, Hong Kong!), the interior is funky and a obvious reference to vietnams colonial stylings.
-photo credit: B. Flecker-
2013/01/02 Comments Off
Food isn't impervious to the far reaching icy grasp of the hipster movement. 10 years ago, no one cared about Ramen, but these days ramen is so regular, its almost... passé. Same with dumplings, Sushi, Vietnamese Pho, all food staples which have been us with the dawn of time but have until only recently entered into the gastronomical consciousness of the forward few.
I predict, that in a few years, Wonton Noodles will similarly elevate to a hipster like status, becoming available in every new trendy corner cafe from new york to melbourne. And when it comes, it'll be rubbish, and it'll be expensive, since thats what hipsters do to food. They tart it up so it becomes inauthentic, and charge a lot for it just for the sake that it is 'in'.
For now, you might as well just enjoy it whilst its good, and aint no place do wonton mian better than Mak's Noodle in Central, on Hong Kong island.
The thing with Mak's though, is that they know they're good. I wouldn't go so far as to call this a unpretentious Hong Kong cafe. They serve their wonton mian in perfectly maintained blue China, with well dressed (older gentleman) staff and an english menu with not a single typo to be seen anywhere. The servings are small, and its actually pretty expensive. It is kinda... hipster!
What Mak's lacks in value, it makes up for in taste. The wontons themselves are plump, with the gelatinous skin tightly hugging the shrimp and chive innards. The noodles are firm, cooked al dente (as they should be) and require a decent amount of dental work to get through them.
The broth is pretty decent, not too fishy, but i've had better on Kowloon Side (for best Wonton Broth, see Good Hope Noodle in Mong Kok). For me, Mak's broth could be a little more peppery. Boiled kai lan is exactly that. Lightly boiled fresh chinese cabbage served with a giant dollop of premium oyster sauce on the side. Simple? Yes. Delicious? Also yes.
-photo credit: B. Flecker-
2012/12/31 Comments Off
No one does apologies than the japanese, who always acompany an apology with a bow. A mere social infraction, a bump on the train, and you'll get a tiny movement from the hip. A mistake on your bill, a series of small bows in rapid succession. Corporate CEO's apologising for nose-diving profits at a shareholder meeting are likely to result in tediously long and continuous deep bows, seemingly never ending and showing a level of flexibility from the hip of an old japanese man that you never quite thought you'd see out of a snuff film.
Well, I have to apologise. And if you can imagine me bowing right now, i'm the japanese CEO. Bad and confusingly complex analogy? Yeah, sorry about that. But what i'm really sorry for is not posting in a while. In the midst of exams, and starting a new job i've become a bit of a mess and food blogging hasn't been my top priority. However, i've realised the error of my ways and you can expect to see much more frequent updates over the next month or two.
Now that the apology is out of the way, lets get back to food. Right. Pancake Colours is a place that sort of confuses me in Hong Kong. Branches can be found in Mong Kok, Causeway Bay, TST and pretty much everywhere else I think, which is good because they serve a useful public utility. The pancake colours restaurants are a series of eclectically decorated dessert restaurants which teen guys take their 公主病 (princess syndrome) girlfriends to break up with them.
The appeal of pancake colours is two fold. The pancake/crepe selection is huge, they serve strange but good taiwanese drinks (think crazy lychee bubble tea with hasmar jelly), and its cheaaaaap. Above you can see my delicious white chocolate and cornflake pancake, filled with slutty mock cream (hey, dont even go there - you know you love mock cream), chocolate sauce, vanilla icecream and true to its word, white chocolate shavings and cornflakes. The second appealing feature about pancake colours, is you can eat your delicious pancake whilst watching some teen girl going nuts after being broken up by her robotic HK boyfriend. Hilarious.
2012/12/23 Comments Off