How time flies and we are into the last quarter of the year already. Mid-Autumn Festival was just over a week back and I’m glad to have finally found time to make some mooncakes this year after a long hiatus for a couple of years. Thankfully this year’s mooncakes turned out alright. As I’d mentioned before in my old blog post 4 years back, I’d always looked forward to the Mid-Autumn Festival because it was always a time for family to come together and enjoy a meal. Pomelo are my favorites from this festival’s delectables, more so than mooncakes! I bought 3 large pomelos before the festival for a song and they are still sitting quietly, waiting to be pried open. And for me, there is no better way to enjoy pomelo than in the classic dessert, 楊枝甘露 Mango Pomelo Sago. (more…)
港式鮮蝦雲吞蝦籽撈麵 Shrimp Dumplings with Shrimp Roe Noodles is a must-eat for me whenever we visit Hong Kong. My usual joint would be Lau Sum Kee 劉森記 at Sham Shui Po, together with his uber yummy braised beef brisket, not forgetting the wonderfully braised pig trotters… My oh my, I can feel my salivary glands churning up some juices already as I recollect my dining experiences there when I pen this. Incidentally, here is also one of the few places in Hong Kong where one can still find traditional egg noodles known locally as 竹昇麵 zhuk sang meen, whose dough is manually compressed and plied using a thick bamboo pole with someone applying his own weight by sitting on it. We’d eaten shrimp dumpling noodles umpteen times over our countless trips to Hong Kong from the earliest ones more than a decade ago to popular tourist traps like 池記 and 沾仔記，to the other more local joints like 麥文記， 麥奀雲吞麵世家 and 何洪記, not to mention the very many “nameless” stalls all over the territory. Oddly, I’d never mustered enough courage to try and make it my own, probably because after eating the noodles at so many joints, we’d somewhat formulated our own benchmark of what good shrimp dumplings should taste like, seemingly unattainable by my then-understanding of the ingredients for making it. But after observing the workers prepare the filling and wrap the dumplings right before our eyes during our numerous visits to these noodles shops found all over Hong Kong, chatting up with some of the cooks with my impoverish Cantonese trying to steal a trick or two in the process, and of course, reading up some credible recipes from various blogs and books, I think I’m ready to give it a shot. So here’s my rendition of the dried form of the ever-popular 港式鮮蝦雲吞蝦籽撈麵 Shrimp Dumplings with Shrimp Roe Noodles.
Of all the Chinese regional cuisines, I especially love Cantonese-styled cooking. One thing which attracts me to it is the wide variety of dishes cleverly whipped up by the Cantonese chefs, be it the morning fare of 粥品 porridge, 肠粉 cheong fun, 点心 dim sum, a quick luncheon of 雲吞竹昇捞麵 shrimp dumpling noodles to the late night street hawker stir-fry，colloquially known as 大排档 dai pai dung. Some of these are very challenging and tedious to re-create at home, like a good 干炒牛河 Beef and Rice Noodles Stir Fry，without adequate 火力 ” fo lek aka fire power” in our kitchen stoves to produce the 镬气 “wohei” which characterises good Cantonese stir fry. But some are more home-kitchen friendly, like my favorite 柱侯牛腩焖萝卜 Braised Beef Brisket with Daikon in Chu Hou Sauce which I’d cooked umpteen times to the pleasure of family and friends who had tried it. Despite the simple procedure, it does take quite a bit of patience for the brisket to be cooked down to become uber soft and fork tender. Hence, when I want to cook something fairly quickly but no less gratifying, I would whip up yet another Cantonese classic, 柱候酱焖鸡 Braised Chicken with Chu Hou Sauce instead.
Odd it may seem, my favorite dish to order whenever I walk into a traditional chinese noodle shop in Hong Kong is not a bowl of 云吞麵 wan tan meen or 水饺麵 shuei gau meen. For years, it has always been 柱侯牛腩麵 ngau nam meen aka braised beef brisket noodes for me. Not sure why but I’d always preferred this over the popular pork or shrimp dumplings for its robust flavours and the melt-in-your-mouth bites of beef brisket as well as succulent chunks of beef tendon which had been braised to the right texture and consistency. It was until more five years ago when I first visited 劉森記 in Sham Shui Po where I found another love. Their 南乳焖猪手 Braised Pig Trotters with Nam Yu Fermented Beancurd was cooked to perfection I thought. Delightfully aromatic and with flavours which are strangely familiar and yet alien to me at the same time, it was love at first sight… or taste rather. Since then I’d been going around trying out various noodle joints not only for their 柱侯牛腩麵 but also their 猪手麵 whenever possible. We braise pig trotters at home all the time, from 卤猪脚，the traditional dark soya sauce version which is prevalent in local Hokkien and Teochew cooking, to 猪脚醋, the richly vinegared version for the occasional indulgence of sweetness and tang. It didn’t take long for me to try and cook 南乳焖猪手 at home for myself, to satisfy my own cravings for this dish whenever I could, whenever I want.
每次到香港，我们必定得走深水埗一趟。深水埗在旺角以北，较少外国和内地游客的喧嚣，多了份香港在地人的味道。二三十年前的深水埗是造就香港成为当时世界成衣王国的一大功臣。想当年，拥有一件 “Made in Hong Kong”的T-桖是极为普遍的事。但随着劳工成本的提高，许多当地商人已经移资到大陆内地去设厂发展。那些之前以成衣公司为主的大夏已经被其他企业所进驻，而以往车衣声此起彼伏的工厂也随着人去楼空沉寂下来。走在长沙湾和荔枝角的街道上瞭望年久失修，残壁斑驳的高楼，这座成衣工业大城昔日的繁华和如今的沧桑形成了强烈的对比。当然，我们来深水埗追寻老香港的足迹，不仅仅是为了这些大楼。更重要的是在深水埗的许多街道上和店铺里尘封了旧时香港的味道。当然，我们说的是美食。像是“合益泰小食”的肠粉和艇仔粥，或是“劉森記”的蝦子竹昇麵，每每吸引着我们造访的应该是隐藏在食物中的那种上一代，再上一代和现在新的一代一起过日子的味道。简单而鲜美，朴实而率真。平民美食，老铺传统继承了华丽外衣下的香港，里头包裹着那一层层的老味道。
We love to have desserts whenever we are in Hong Kong. The Cantonese folks are very much dessert lovers like us, and they are extremely well-known for their assortment of 糖水 “tong shueis” which are both delicious and therapeutic at the same time. The desserts are available all year around, with a menu that changes with the seasons. Summer welcomes the ice blends and chilled items, most notably being 楊枝甘露 Mango Pomelo Sago which is immensely popular especially with the young to combat the heat. For those who are looking for more traditional desserts, there is 南北杏木瓜炖雪耳 Double-boiled White Jelly Fungus with Papaya which is not only sweet, but boast to have a hoard of beneficial properties like soothing the throat and clearing phlegm. As the weather turns cold, the hot desserts become immensely popular, be it the “paste-based” desserts like 芝麻糊 sesame paste, 花生糊 peanut paste, 核桃糊 walnut paste, 杏仁糊 almond paste or even a simple bowl of 番薯姜汤 ginger soup and sweet potatoes with 汤圆 glutinous rice dumplings to warm the tummy.
As such, dessert parlours and tong shuei stalls are found literally everywhere in Hong Kong. Strange it may sound however, one of the places to enjoy these sweet numbers is not at dessert joints like 許留山 Hui Lau San and 大良八記 Dai Leung Pak Kee, but at 牛奶公司 “dairy companies”. And to further bewilder the already perplexed, these “dairy companies” do not produce milk but are actually tea shops or cafes affectionately known to the locals as 茶餐厅 “cha tzan teng“. Now are you confused already?
I remember eating at 麥文記麵家 Mak Man Kee Noodle Shop once many years back and it was seriously good. But in Hong Kong, one is literally spoilt for choices when it comes to wantan mee. Noodle shops selling wantan mee can be found practically every other street! But when it comes to getting to know the “reputably good”, one must mention the 香港5大雲吞麺家 “Wantan Mee Famous Five” in Hong Kong, 麥奀雲吞麺家 “Mak An Kee” in Sheung Wan， 麥奀記 (忠記) 麵家 “Mak An Chung Kee” Noodle in Central， 麥文記麵家 “Mak Man Kee” in Jordan, 何洪記 “Hung Man Kee” in Causeway Bay, 正斗 “Tasty Congee and Noodles” in Happy Valley. Their roots can be traced back to the original 池記 “Chee Kee” in Guangzhou China, where all of the “founders” of Famous Five apprenticed. Since then, they have been highly regarded and held as the benchmark of wantan mee in Hong Kong. But are they really that good?
劉森記麵家 Lau Sum Kee Noodle Shop is an old icon of Sham Shui Po Hong Kong, an area which is well-known as a wholesale centre for clothing and apparel. Throughout the years of annual visits to Hong Kong, it has become a favorite which we visit for a quick fix whenever we are in the area. Wantan dumpling noodle shops are found all over Hong Kong in practically every street corner but what distinguishes Lam Sum Kee from the other joints is the liberal sprinkling of shrimp roe on the noodles. And this is only one of the things which sets them apart from the other run-in-the-mill shops.
We used to have an eathern stove at home when I was young, fueled by charcoal that could be kept warm for hours, as the hardened chunks of ebony slowly wasted away to become a crumbly ivory, until all that’s left was a disintegrated heap of cinder and ash. But using it could be quite a hassle to use, especially to kickstart the burning. But me ain’t no boy scout, so it was usually my father who “did the honours” to get the fire started. Once started, it served for a myriad of purposes, i.e. toasting belachan (fermentted shrimp paste) to make sambal, maintaining a large pot of broth for steamboat refills, or simply transferring out the charcoal pieces from that stove into a longish rectangular metal trough which was used to prepare kueh belandah (nyonya egg rolls) for chinese new year . In fact, steamboats in the past where fueled by charcoal which were “preheated” using the earthern stove as well! While some of the uses of an earthen stove were somewhat ritualistic, others remained very practical, and for me, the most practical and personal favorite “use” of the earthern stove has to be cooking 煲仔鸡饭 Cantonese Claypot Chicken Rice!