There had been an influx of 拉麵店 “ramen ten” opening in Hong Kong over the last couple of years. Some are “imported” like 一蘭 Ichiran while others are practically “homegrown”. Together with other related F&B joints from convenient conveyor sushi delis to haute restaurants offering more elaborated Kaiseki meals, Japanese cuisine has become integrated into the gastronomic landscape of Hong Kong and woven into the social fabric of the daily lives of the people. But way before all this Japanese food craze had begun, there are some restaurants which started way back and have since tamed the palates of the locals which helped to pave the way for those who reached the shores of the “Pearl of the Orient” subsequently. One of these early “settlers” is 橫綱拉麵 Yokozuna Ramen, opening back in 1987. This year marks Yokozuna’s 30th anniversary as the first ramen ten opened by a “ninhonjin” in Hong Kong, so here’s a timely review on them. If you have not been there, read on to find out why you probably should.
Yokozuna Ramen is opened by 山本浩一Yamamoto Koichi, a Japanese who came in search of business opportunities back in 1987, naming it after the highest rank in sumo wrestling, traditionally a national sport in Japan. Nested on 永星里 Wing Sing Lane, a very short side street along the forever busy Nathan Road in Yaumatei, the shop has gradually built a name for itself over the years attracting a steady crowd especially during the lunch and dinner peak hours. Yes we do see slightly shorter queues in recent years, given the wider range of choices available now with many more noodle joints with very similar concepts dotted all over the Kowloon Peninsula as well as on main island, there is usually still a crowd nonetheless so do expect a bit of a waiting time, especially when the small shop can accomodate no more than two dozen diners in it at one go.
We tried the signature, 九州拉麵 Kyushu Ramen whose tonkotsu broth base is most definitely up our alley. The noodles are typical of ramen from that region, Hakata style, i.e. long, thin and straight. They have a nice chew to it, cooked most timely and provided good “slurp” too. Rather generous with the toppings, very classically Hakata style too charsiu, beni shoga, and sesame seeds over poached spinach alongside corn, bamboo shoots, narutomaki and bean sprouts. Very thinly julienned negi leek, a testament to good knifework though I would have preferred it to be lesser “refined”. The broth was decent too, flavourful yet not too overwhelming. A little too “clean” and “healthy” for me though, being almost completely void of the little droplets of oil/rendered lard which one would find floating on a tonkotsu broth but still rather good nonetheless. The slices of char siu were more than just a condiment. Like the broth, the char siu is what constitute the soul of a bowl of good ramen. The char siu we had that day was very good. Wonderful ratio of meat and fat, very well braised to almost fork tender yet still able to retain their shape.
Then we tried their 味玉拉麵, also tonkotsu based with a smaller spread of toppings but makes up for it with a generous amount of char siu chunks and of course the beautifully made 味玉子 ajitsuke tamago which lends this bowl of ramen its name. The char siu chunks had considerably more bite compared to the sliced version in the earlier bowl. Also they tasted a tad more “smokey” probably from a brief “aburi” treatment given which was a nice touch. The broth is slightly more satisfying than the first bowl though, with more dimension from, yes you’d guessed it, the oil!
While the char siu chunks were very good, the stars of the bowl for us were clearly the egg halves. This ajitsuke tamago was probably the best we had eaten so far in all our ramen eating days, putting some of the others, even those we’d had in Japan to shame. The yolk was runny just the way we’d loved it and golden like a brilliant sunset. The white was firm yet wobbly at the same time, delightfully flavoured from the overnight steeping in the shoyu based marinade. In short, it was perfect, or perhaps a little more than perfect.
I’d ordered a unadon as well to share. The rice was slightly softer and a tad mushy than what I would have liked though I absolutely loved the thinly sliced omelette which obviously had a higher yolk to white ratio from the gorgeous golden hues it carries. The chunks of unagi was decent but not quite stellar. Most definitely frozen and imported rather as with most and not “kabayaki-ed” in situ but it costed only a fraction of what one would have to pay in a proper unadon ten. Only an additional HKD22, as a tag on to our bowl of ramen as a lunch set deal to be exact. What was more important to me was their devotion to details, as with that small sprig of 木の芽 kinome which seemed no more than an embellishment, not unlike curly parsley to most, was really what brought this seemingly ordinary bowl of unagi rice to possibly the next level. Kinome is the young shoot of the 山椒 sansho i.e. Japanese pepper plant. It sprouts as the days get warmer in spring, timely so as it was when we’d visited. I broke off the leaves from the stem, crushed them slightly by rubbing them between my fingertips and ate them together with the rice and grilled eel, to which those few leaves lend their unique aroma and flavours which helped set this dining experience at Yokozuna apart from my other unadon episodes, making it all the more memorable.
In summary, we’d enjoyed our dining experience at 橫綱拉麵 Yokozuna Ramen. Their ramen ain’t the best we’d tried but we loved the display of effort and attention to details to make things more pleasurable. The shop wasn’t that crowded when we went so do take it from us and try to avoid the meal peak hours when you visit.
橫綱拉麵 Yokozuna Ramen
G/F, Yun Kai Building, 466-472 Nathan Road, Yau Ma Tei
（5 min walk from exit D of Yaumatei MTR station)
12 am to 11 pm, Mon to Sun
Hong Kong, a metropolitan city often described in books as the “Far East” or “Pearl of the Orient”, is a commercial and financial hub bursting with energy from all the hustling and bustling around. Take a walk along one of the many busy streets be it Nathan Road or Times Square and one would be quick to “get lost” amdist the towering skyscrapers that loomed above while folks skirted around and scurried below, everyone seemed to be in a frantic hurry. The pace of living here is incredibly fast, so fast that one becomes easily breathless trying to stay in pace and keep up with the daily episodes that rapidly unfold, be it you like it or not. Yet just an hour or so away from all this frenzy, there is a place tugged in one small corner of this once-British colony that seemed to have been transfixed in the past and lost in time, where tourists and even the local folk would visit, especially over the weekends, to catch a glimpse of the yesteryears and also keep their sanity in check. And that place is 大澳 Tai O Fishing Village on 大屿山 Lantau Island.
Dimsum is one of those things which you would probably not wanna miss when you are in Hong Kong. It is one of those things which Cantonese cuisine is symbolically known for, amongst other dishes of course. In the past, dim sum was largely enjoyed as breakfast, i.e. a few bamboo baskets of steamy hot savory and sweet treats, alongside a pot of Chinese tea, not forgetting the daily papers and weekly gossips. This is still a common sight in many traditional Chinese restaurants for the regular Hong Konger. However, dimsum culture has extended its hours way beyond sunrise, right into the day. In fact, while many of the more traditional Chinese restaurants known for serving dimsum open really early in the morning, many of the newbies who sprung up over the last couple of years and rose to stardom as “dimsum specialists” start their daily operations only just before lunch-time!
For our recent trip, we stayed at a hotel which offered breakfast, serving croissants, scones and my favorite fruit conserves, which we have no reason to refuse. So our dimsum breakfast plans in our itinerary were conveniently shelved. But fate has it that we should be in the Mongkok area when it suddenly poured. Determined not to be deterred by the wet weather, we opted for a contingency plan, one which involves eating but of course! I remembered that there is a Tao Heung outlet near where we were and a quick navigation over GPS confirmed that we were in fact just steps away. So dimsum breakfast we were meant to have, nicely worked out to be dimsum lunch instead!
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.
We‘’d tried quite a number of patisseries in Hong Kong over the last couple of years, from those who herald from France like La Maison du Chocolat, Pierre Herme and Jean Paul Hevin, to the local names like Petite Amanda. Some were reasonably good, like Passion by Dubois but some like Paul Lafayet seem to have fallen short of something. There is a lot of room for improvement and reflection, vis-a-vis the patisserie standards of its neighbours Taiwan and Japan. Yet we remain very hopeful as the pastry scene in Hong Kong is growing increasingly exciting yet at the same time. On our most recent trip, we made a point to visit a highly raved patisserie which we’d yet to try. They have been the Number 1 choice under the “desserts” category on a local Hong Kong food guide chart for quite sometime now. Is it as good as what’s been said?
For folks who are familiar with beef noodles in Hong Kong, 華姐 and 九記 should immediately come to mind. Unlike their Taiwanese counterparts whose recipes originated from largely Szechuan and Zhejiang cuisine to become what is uniquely “Taiwanese Beef Noodles” as we know today, Beef Brisket Noodles in Hong Kong can be traced back to its ancestry in traditional Cantonese cuisine. Flavours wise, the two varieties couldn’t be more different. While Taiwanese Beef Noodles swear to be rich and robust in flavours through the liberal use of spices and condiments, the Cantonese rendition opts to occupy the other end of the spectrum where simplicity and clarity are the key notes highly played. But as most foodies would know, the simpler the dish may seem, the harder it is to get it right but I think 華姐清湯腩 Sister Wah Beef Brisket definitely nailed it. (more…)