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Developing a palate for Chinese (especially Cantonese) cuisine [moved from China board]

All of the posts about Michelin and Top 3 in HK, etc., keep touching on a nerve between Chinese and Western gastronomic sensibility.

I think that many Chinese gourmets who also understand and appreciate Western cuisines want Hong Kong's (and China's) best restaurants to be recognized on an international stage for their excellence (and superiority?).

However, most Western folks' palates are not adequately developed for appreciating Chinese cuisine. So we Westerners go to places like Tim's Kitchen and order properly prepared Cantonese dishes like braised pomelo skin with shrimp roe -- and kind of freak out. It's slippery, spongy, fishy (more complex than that, but...). Anyway, it's *supposed* to be that way! But Westerners generally don't like slippery, spongy, or fishy. So what to do?

For those of us who are intrigued and challenged by Chinese food, I think there's a whole step of familiarization with Chinese ingredients and important dishes. Before I can tell the difference between good braised pomelo peel and bad, I have to first understand why the dish is prized and what qualities to look for. (Someone told me that braised pomelo peel was created to simulate a type of fish or meat?) After I *get* what the dish is about, then it's worth considering whether I like the dish in general and Tim's Kitchen's version in particular. (Long process...)

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. There's also... The complexity of ordering (number of people, mixture of dishes, cooking methods, ingredients, symbolism, and Chinese medicine/nutrition). Then there's dexterity with eating bone-in, shell-on/the whole hassle factor. And there's understanding Chinese aesthetic around food presentation (color, form, disguise, etc.). And there's the whole encyclopedic knowledge of seafood thing.

So the question is: What are the most important things to *get* about Chinese foods and cooking in order to appreciate fine Cantonese cuisine?

For the sake of argument, here's the pomelo peel and here's a disguised Chinese dish (taro that looks like a fish).

Also, two good articles on some basic aspects of Chinese gastronomy *in English*:
http://www.phillychinatown.com/chines...
http://kaleidoscope.cultural-china.co...

 
 
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  1. Gosh, IMO, the answer to your question would be that the Chinese appreciates: (1)quality & freshness of the ingredients used, (2) the skill of the chef in balancing the flavors & textures of the ingredients used in his cooking. In other words, the objectives you'd look for in maximising one's appreciation of Chinese food are really no different from those for Western food!

    Appreciation of various "Chinese flavors", e.g. strong smelling shrimp roe, fermented beancurd or fish sauce, or "Chinese textures", i.e. our predilection for squiggly, crunchy jellyfish or slippery fishmaw, birds nest & sharksfin, are all really a question of exposure anyway. I'm Chinese & we grew up with such flavors & textures. To me, a taste of the pomelo skin with shrimp roe at Tim's Kitchen awakened a taste memory - because Tim skilfully re-produced the traditional flavors of Cantonese cooking which we remembered from our childhood, but seldom find in the newer, evolved Cantonese restaurant kitchens in HK these days.

    Australian chef, Neil Perry, is a perfect example of a Westerner who understands fully the nuances of Chinese cooking & Chinese food. He's exposed to Chinese food from childhood and, thru the decades, developed an insight into what constitutes Chinese taste & cooking. Heck, he can cook Chinese better than most Chinese chefs in Sydney.

    1. You probably need to delete "Chinese" and just focus on "Cantonese" here. (I know it is not possible for you to do so) Sorry to say this but another very common mistake by westerners is to write "Chinese food". "Chinese food" would be too large to cover here. It is not homogeneous and cover Chiu Chow, Xiamen, Fuzhou, Shanghai, Zhejiang, Shandong, DongBei, Beijing and these are just the coastal regional food. And appreciation of Si chuan would be different from Hunan cuisine.

      There is no Chinese gourmet who push to promote HKG or China restaurant to international stage. And certainly not "superiority" as I am sure most Chinese will prefer Chinese food and most European European food. That is just common sense.

      I love Tim's Kitchen but I am not a big fan of parmelo skin though Tim's version is very good. You don't have to love parmelo skin to love and appreciate Cantonese food. There are so many dishes, so just because you don't like one dish, who cares.

      There is really nothing important to "get" it. Just keep studying and trying it. On the lower end scale, it is very easy to understand: wanton mee, brisket hor, char siu, dim sum. It is very straight forward whether you like it or not. And of course, the more you try different places, the more you know which place serves the more refined and delicious ones.

      Once it gets to very high end haute level, then it becomes more complicated for foreigners to "get" it as they are less familiar with the high end ingredients that are used in Cantonese food. Obviously, the most controversial is Shark fin soup, not just for political correctness issue, but many non-Chinese just don't "get" it, complaining tasteless etc etc. Of course, for Skyliner, Klyeoh and me who grew up tasting this, it is not "tasteless", but very sublime subtle taste and the need to appreciate its texture. And it is not an easy dish to cook, not every shark fin soup is good, in fact, most are actually not good, the ability to perfect this dish may defined a chef and a restaurant. Fu Lam Moon's reputation is perhaps best defined on this one. Quite frankly, this is simply not a dish for beginners and it is an expensive dish to learn to appreciate. An analogy to the west would be red wine, it is not easy for beginners to like but yet can be expensive to learn to appreciate it.

      Then of course, you have abalone, sea cucumber, fish stomach, goose web, bird nest all ingredients not so familiar in the west. And a common denominator is that all these dishes are not easily refined but by very good chefs. There is a very big gap between an excellent and a good abalone, and serious foodies know it. Also if you notice, texture is important here, the quality and freshness of the ingredients can be detected through its texture, not just taste, and I think this factor is much less emphasized on western food.

      And then for fish, the art of steaming is a highly culinary skill. The chef needs to know the type of fish, the weigh, and then he also needs to consider the time it took for the delivery of the steamed fish from his kitchen to the time it reached the serving table to make sure that texture of the fish is served just at the right timing of its "maturity". Serious foodies would be particularly be more critical when it comes to highly sought and expensive fish such as "Lo Shi Pan" or "So Mei" that they should be served at the perfect timing. One big difference in the west is the preferred meat is the fillet but in Cantonese context, fish head would be the most exquisite and reserved for the eldest or most respected person in the group.

      Most of the discussion here in Chowhound has not reached to this stage yet. Mainly because this is an American website and the price tag for such meal can be very expensive.

      This has been a long reply. Not sure if I did answer your question though...maybe I don't "get" your question right.

      22 Replies
      1. re: FourSeasons

        Yes, FourSeasons. You do get my question.

        The hot-and-freshness of the dish at the moment it's being eaten is something I've *gotten* since coming to HK. At first I was so irritated that in many casual restaurants, dishes come out higglety-pigglety in any order. But now I don't care so much as long as they are very fresh and hot. The food just tastes so much better. This is something my sweetheart still won't come around to... At home I cook primarily Chinese dishes (from all different regions, but many from a Cantonese homestyle cookbook). Most of them have to be cooked quickly in succession and I want him to eat them while they are fresh and taste best. But he insists on waiting for me to eat with him after I've finished cooking...so for instance, tonight, I prepared a beautiful long bean stir-fry with pork, preserved vegetable, liver sausage, coriander...and then did a quick chicken dish. In the five minutes it took me to cook the chicken dish, I watched the bean dish change color (and flavor) sitting on the counter. And it was still hot when served to him, but didn't taste as good. Oh, how frustrating. But he is stubborn. So learning to adjust cooking time assuming that a dish will have transit or sit time is an art I need to learn.

        And just yes to what you said about texture, expensive (and subtle) ingredients, and steaming fish.

        It takes time, sustained interest, and money! But otherwise, you wind up stuck in a tiny little corner of the menu ordering the same d*** dishes every time.

        Where should one go for an expertly prepared steamed fish?

        1. re: chloehk

          On top of what FS said about fish steaming, and to elaborate on "type of fish", the chef also has to take into consideration whether the fish is deep sea, or swims in shallow waters. And then identify whether it is a freshwater or saltwater species, to then decide on the steaming technique and time. Deep sea fish has thicker flesh and is easier to stir fry than steam. Freshwater fish is easier to steam but if farmed has a particular taste and texture from being fed a diet of pellets, has less room to exercise and move around in (think "couch potato" almost white fat farmed Blue Fin tuna), and has a more fatty taste but not much in the way of meaty fish flavor. Then there's the assumption the fish is taken fresh from the tank (if alive and swimming), and how to descale, clean, gut, wash it etc.

          The high end top abalone/shark fin type restaurants get top quality wild deep sea fish anyway (a price to be paid) anyway. But you can also enjoy very decent local fresh fish (much cheaper) at the fish markets (e.g. Aberdeen area) if you know what to pick, or if you go into the boonies at Lau Fau Shan for local seafood (a myriad of choices) without paying for a restaurant's real estate.

          1. re: K K

            Right, steamed fish is my fave. Wild fish is just so much tastier than farmed one, but there are less and less nowadays ! Fish like "Lo Shi Pan" almost extinct, very very hard to find a good one, even at those high end restaurant you mention.

            1. re: K K

              Interesting. Qingdao people approach seafood just a little bit differently. Since their waters are colder than in the south and the growing period for seafood longer, they believe their resultant stock in general is more tender - allowing them more leeway in their cooking methods. In essence they believe steaming is perhaps a tad overrated and not the only approach to presenting fresh seafood.

              1. re: scoopG

                Lo Shue Ban...I like translating them directly...like "mouse grouper".

                Funny how it tastes so different (and better) in HK/Asia, and whatever North American Chinese/Cantonese restaurants are passing off as "mouse grouper" or using substitutes. No doubt there are "counterfeit" versions, akin to Japanese madai.

                Too many "ban" type of fish in that family to keep track of. I also hear a lot about East Star Ban (Dong Sing Bahn) or spotted grouper. Another rarely seen specimen in USA seafood restaurants.

                Non Cantonese Chinese approaches to fish are quite interesting and versatile (as seen in "squirrel fish" for Sichuan and Hongshao Huaxi fish tails in Shanghainese), but I feel rely too much on sauces, deep frying and braising/stewing, that to do this to a grouper would be an utter waste. A Northern Chinese restaurant in the USA might use "shih bahn" or "sek ban" to make fish dumplings, but in reality it is not a grouper but perhaps a big muscular rock cod, which suits that purpose.

                1. re: K K

                  I am basing my observation from a recent eight day trip to Qingdao and my interactions with many Shandong people in Qingdao, Yantai and Weihai. My first trip back there in 21 years. They feel their approach to fresh seafood is as good or better as the Cantonese. Yes they like to steam but also are fond of other approaches and are quite proud that 鲁菜 was one of the cuisines of Imperial China. Of course this is an argument that knows no end! The highlight of my trip was a home cooked meal of 21 dishes in Qingdao. Unfortunately the China part of this board seems to focus in on the usual urban suspects: Beijing, Shanghai etc.

                  1. re: scoopG

                    So to speak 鲁菜 is one of the most official of all Chinese cuisines if not the most official. It is accounted to be the top of all Chinese regional cuisine -- officially of course. The problem with that is modern 鲁菜 is not the historical 鲁菜.

                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      Didn't know there was a problem with contemporary Shandong Cuisine...

                      1. re: scoopG

                        No no. That is not exactly what I meant. I am sure it is great. The question is "Can 鲁菜 (Shandong cuisine) still claim itself to be the champion of the Chinese eight cuisines (八大菜系之首)?"

                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                          Oh! We've now moved on to the Champion. So soon!

                          1. re: scoopG

                            "We've now moved on to the Champion"

                            What do yo mean by "NOW"?

                            I take it that you are from Shangdong area then? :) Historically, 鲁菜 (aka Shandong cuisine) has always claimed to be the 八大菜系之首 or 四大菜系之首 (champion of the eight cuisines or champion of the four cuisines) depending if we are talking about eight cuisines or four cuisines. If you are from Shangdong, you should know this. You guys always claim to be the head/champion.

                            You can find claims like this in many places... etc:

                            魯菜(即山東菜)是中國四大菜系之首
                            http://zh.wikipedia.org/zh-tw/%E9%B2%...

                            八大菜系之首当推鲁菜。鲁菜的形成和发展与由山东地区的文化历史
                            http://baike.baidu.com/view/809429.htm

                            鲁菜是形成最早的菜系,它对其他菜系的产生有重要的影响,因此鲁菜为八大菜系之首。
                            http://www.taoxoo.com/l-diet/traditio...

                            Since we are talking about Chinese foods, it is important to talk about its food history and culture. I say enough is enough. I am going to topple this ancient claim. We 粤菜 (Cantonese cuisine) will pervail :P

                    2. re: scoopG

                      Wow -- a 21-course home-cooked meal! That must be an amazing home cook. I am truly envious.

                    3. re: K K

                      Yes, most if not all "Lo shue Ban" nowadays is not even the same species as before, just a very close one which looks alike. Taste of course not the same...

                      Agree with you on the Squirel fish, I just don't quite get it. The flavor of the sauce is too strong to cover up the freshness of the fish. Sichuan is inland, its' seafood is not as famous.

                      I have seen fresh (but not alive) Star Grouper in Toronto, but it is not comparable to live one.

                      1. re: skylineR33

                        Well they have plenty of river fish as Yangtze has five major tributaries in Sichuan: the Yalong, Minjiang, Tuojiang, Jialing and Qianjiang rivers.

                        1. re: scoopG

                          For sure it has nice fish dishes, it just that they are not the forte in Sichuan cuisine.

              2. re: FourSeasons

                "There is a very big gap between an excellent and a good abalone, and serious foodies know it."

                There's also the fact that there are multiple grades of dried abalone from different parts of the world (South Africa, Taiwan, Japan etc etc etc) at the dried seafood shops in HK.

                It is also key that knowing this well will enable you to pick out the good stuff, whether from a dried seafood store or a restaurant. I would agree that to have this base knowledge is crucial to be able to differentiate the tastes and textures, on top of knowing where to spend your money wisely. This is definitely akin to appreciating the various fine wines out there (or hard liquors like the the XO's and VSOP's). Acquired tastes again, although I will pick abalone over wine or XO anyday (even though they often end up together at the dinner table).

                Chefs who are experts and excel in preparing abalone are pretty much the cream of the crop of high end traditional Cantonese dining. This is why Yeung Koon Yat at The Forum (Ah Yut abalone) is one of, if not the most respected abalone chefs in town, or at least he is the most senior, despite the fact that his name and image are being used to sell canned abalone (some for export, apparently not that great) and he seems to be still raking in his fame on local food shows (semi celebrity chef).

                A cheaper way is perhaps to go to a seafood restaurant that has the farmed stuff in the shell, live from the tanks, and have the restaurant braise/prep it (hopefully without them using a hammer to soften it up like a cheap steak). But the dried stuff....historically it has been known that it is way more expensive at a restaurant due to the fact that it is more labor intensive to prep (soaking, cooking, braising etc), and medically from a Chinese perspective, more nutritious and beneficial to the body in that form.

                1. re: K K

                  The fresh one (those you see in the tank) are very different from the dried one in (taste, smell, texture). It is very hard to master the skill especially if one wants to make it to the jelly state "tong sum" tenderness in the center of the abalone. But yeah, not too many people are willing to pay the premium for this kind of delicacy.

                  1. re: skylineR33

                    Oh yes, 溏心鮑魚 (Tong sum)...now that's the pinnacle of abalone textures. I guess the parallel equivalent for westerners would be those 63 degree molecular poached egg (not runny), Ningbo style smoked eggs at some restaurants in HK or a perfect onsen tamago/warm springs egg, that the Taiwanese call 溏心 egg but of course very different.

                    1. re: K K

                      "parallel equivalent", hmmm.... the difference is screwing up a top grade dried will cost you thousands of $. If dried abalone is not cooked properly, it is like eating rubber !

                      1. re: skylineR33

                        Oh yes very true, no doubt about it....I'm just using the 63 degree egg analogy in case others read this and don't know what to expect with the tong sum jelly abalone center texture...and chances are they can relate to the poached egg example easier.

                        But you've gotta love the places in HK that are daring enough to do salt and pepper fresh abalone and have it be a signature dish. Outrageous on the cheaper side of the spectrum.

                2. re: FourSeasons

                  I agree with FourSeasons' post. If you really want to understand Chinese cuisine, the first step is to realize that Chinese cuisine is really a group of related cuisines. The term "Chinese cuisine" would be akin to "European Cuisine," where you have similar but distinctly different cuisines, such as French, Spanish, German, Greek, Polish, etc.

                3. I would hope that a love of shark's fin is not required to be able to appreciate Cantonese cuisine. Sometimes folks just don't have a taste for it. I think it's that simple.

                  FWIW, as a kid I grew up eating shark's fin every time I visited HK - my grandfather would take us out to Spring Moon, Fook Lam Moon and the like (typically for a 9+ dish marathon including expensive fish courses, abalone etc.) at least once a week. However, I have grown up with no real love for shark's fin. I don't hate it and I appreciate its preparation to some extent, but I don't make a habit of ordering it either. My partner on the other hand fell in love with shark's fin the first time she tasted it. What can I say?

                  1. If you want to understand Hong Kong Cantonese from the bottom up, one of the best places to start, although not everyone's bag, is to observe and visit whatever is remaining of the 20 to 30 dai pai dong's in Hong Kong (that still have the license from the original owners passed down to 2nd generation). Each one has a certain specialty or set of unique items. Not talking about the cooked food indoor eateries or food courts that were former dai pai dong, or places like Tung Po in North Point, but the original ones that have stayed in their same locations for years. The largest concentration is in Central, with a few outliers in Kowloon and some in Macau (but that's another topic of deliciousness).

                    Part of the reason to eat at a dai pai dong and order some pedestrian stir fry dish (mostly made with cheap ingredients) is to taste the wok hay or wok's breath (along with the atmosphere if you can believe that...). There are far too many people who think they can taste wok hay in a restaurant and suddenly think they are experts, but not having had the proper perspective of where this term came from and why the locals say you eat wok hay at a DPD, or the old saying of "you haven't had original HK Cantonese until you've eaten at a dai pai dong, even if you have eaten fried noodles and rice and dim sum your whole life).

                    Reading up on and knowing the history of Hong Kong food culture as a baseline can also be a lot of fun. Like for example, how Causeway Bay's typhoon shelter used to be a thriving business for people who lived on boats and some turned them into essentially floating nightclubs and eateries (where the typhoon shelter crab came about, along with "under bridge spicy crab"), until the HK govt forced such places to close or move indoors. At places like these, one then discovers that roast duck ho fun noodle soup is a signature snack to go with the spicy crab, as well as a mixed cold appetizer dish containing leeks and pork intestines and a few other things.

                    Building knowledge of Cantonese food will certainly take a lot of persistence, experimentation, research, talking to others, and really going out to numerous places to eat. It is virtually neverending as there is so much to learn. There's just so much out there that I understand it will be absolutely overwhelming, but at the same time can be really fun. You guys are lucky to be in and have easy access to the hotspots.

                    15 Replies
                    1. re: K K

                      Hi K K,

                      I really like the suggestion to go eat in dai pai dongs to experience the wok hay because the food comes so quickly. The past few times I went home to SF after being in HK for stretches of six months or more -- it really seemed like people couldn't cook as well. I don't mean the cuisine part. I mean the actual athletic execution part. In HK the food comes to the table awake or alive! There, people just let it sit.

                      The technical discussion of abalone and geography/water and fish is kind of amazing. Outside of Chinese communities, I would guess that almost no one in the United States who doesn't work in the food industry would have that kind of detailed knowledge and opinion about fish.

                      That's part of the reason why I think the whole concept of "foodie" is inane. The baseline food knowledge in Hong Kong is so much higher than in the States but no one calls him/herself a "foodie." It just seems like knowing about food is part of being a civilized person.

                      It's funny, because in Latin America it seems like everyone can dance. It's part of being an adult, learning to dance salsa and merengue. And men who can really dance are considered to be very elegant not "dance crazy."

                      People who know a lot about food in HK don't call themselves "foodies" do they?

                      1. re: chloehk

                        The flipside of the food culture and history thing is that many food experts and historians are arguing that HK is so focused on innovation (and presentation) of food, perhaps maximizing efficiency of execution and delivery, alongside many economic and political factors, that is causing the old way of doing things to fade away from existence and disappear. Take Luk Yu tea house for instance, the dim sum chef there (and Lin Heung Tea House) might know how to make 200+ items the old fashioned and labor/time intensive way, but yet nobody else knows how or is willing to reproduce that exact way. Or the fact that maybe 3 to 5 places tops know how to make a proper and good sticky rice stuffed chicken (Luk Yu being one of them). Cheap ingredients bottom line, but requiring a lot of skill and time to make (despite a $500++ price tag in the end). Same with Luk Yu's famous Chinese almond pork lung stewed soup, very nourishing but so labor intensive to make sure the pork lungs are fully drained of blood and fluids.

                        If you check the CH board threads about dim sum, 99% of westerners and Asian Americans will want the cart experience, which has more or less disappeared from HK due to expensive real estate, practicality, and the fact that HK has pioneered dim sum checksheet "steamed to order" style ordering. SF and North America aren't that far behind, except when you go to some really old Chinatown like places perhaps.

                        If by SF you mean San Francisco Bay Area, the Cantonese demographic is mostly Southern China (some from Hong Kong but a majority from China). This is part of the reason why it is difficult to experience a similar flavor, and not just insufficient wok hay in comparison. There are some really good chefs and restaurants that might satisfy expats and out of towners visiting from HK to some extent, but it is the same matter of knowing what to order. There's also the fact that many Cantonese places end up doing everything (to satisfy a mixed crowd, or even expats and 2nd gen folks) but not necessarily specializing in a few dishes (thus making it hard to find out what the star dishes are unless you've done research or ask others).

                        There are people in HK who label themselves "foodie" in a loose sense, like the serious bloggers. If you look at openrice, while I don't read it regularly, I get the sense that many younger gen folks like reviewing, but perhaps are trying to be amateur food critics with a myspace sort of state of mind, and of course there are those who are doing it out of pure passion. And then there are those who are really serious and fanatical, like a hobby (live hard play hard types). Food knowledge, or basically in the local sense "sik yum sik sig" (knowing how to drink and eat/knowing how to eat) comes with bragging rights and in some cases celeb status (either online or media if you have your own TV show). Lots of people want to achieve that mastery level, and/or end up following their food heroes (TV hosts, celeb chefs etc), but of course not all food icon people types are correct, it is just another view or data point.

                        It seems that in the last 10 to 11 years there has been an increased interest and revival in HK food culture and history, a movement from within. This is seen on the internet, blogs, TV shows (mostly to cash in on the trend) and of course the HK board of tourism is making the best use of this movement in cooperation with food providers and restaurants (and hotel eateries). So if you read Chinese proficiently and speak Cantonese, there are tons of resources available online as a result, in print, youtube type clips of local food shows, and will be just a matter of filtering and figuring it all out. Part of this information overload at least over there, contributes to the increase in the baseline knowledge.

                        To appreciate extended old school non upscale Cantonese that is or has disappeared from Hong Kong, one might even need to look into the cuisines of rustic Guangzhou (a vast world up there) and of course Macau. Perhaps this is why local TV shows focusing on old school styles and food have been flocking to these locations. Those that run out of material to cover in HK, Guangzhou, and Macau might even hit up the Chinese communities in Malaysia.....Penang, Melaka, and parts of Singapore.

                        And going back to your topic, pomelo skin....while I've never had it, it seems to be a not so common, yet fairly skill and time intensive dish to prepare. We're talking soaking the skin several times for a few hours each, totally removing the bitterness, and then stewing/braising the skin for upwards of 8 hours. The chef then has to use dried shrimp, dried scallops, and of course the shrimp roe to make the dish shine.

                        In addition to using cheap material (skin) that people tend to throw away, the skin has been recognized historically to have beneficial/healing properties, including loosening up phelgm buildup in lungs (make coughs not so dry). Some claiming to even state lowering cholestrol and fat levels. The other more logical approach is that this very dish enables appetites. And of course who does not love shrimp roe....good stuff. The skin has also been used a long time ago for dishes served in the emperor's palace.

                        1. re: K K

                          Yes, this dish is not a dish everyone like as we can see in this thread, I know many people do not like it. I found this dish can be quite heavy because of the thick sauce. But the chemistry of the fruity smell mixed with the fishy-salty flavor of shrimp roe is amazing to me, somehow there is a balance point if this dish is make right.

                          For the skin you mentioned served in the emperor's palace, do you mean old-aged dried tangerine peel ? It can be really really really expensive.

                          1. re: skylineR33

                            Perhaps I jumped the gun in my research or initially misunderstood, but these pomelo's, particularly the 沙田柚 variety (Shantin pomelo, but not from Shatin) from Western Guangzhou, were offered to Qing Dynasty emperor(s) and held in high regard. As far as how the skins were used in the palace cuisine, I will have to reconfirm and find out more, if any, in case I am wrong.

                            Where is your favorite rendition of the shrimp roe pomelo skin? The purists insist that 沙田柚 skins are the best to use (supposedly Tak Lung in Sun Po Kong uses them to preserve the original receipe and flavor), and other restaurants outsource pomelos to Thailand. Then there are the sauces made with leng yu + dried tilefish stock, versus abalone sauce.

                            1. re: K K

                              I use to have it at 鳳城 (Fung Shing) in North Point, near where I live before. I think that's my favorite rendition, but I have not been there for years, wonder if it is still that good ?! But I am not sure if they use Shatin pomelo to make it or not, ha.

                              1. re: K K

                                My fave is the one at Fu Sing (Causeway Bay) - TO-DIE FOR!
                                I'd order one just for myself. If I have any lunch guests, I'll just order an extra one for them to share :-D

                          2. re: chloehk

                            chloehk: I'd skip Chinese food if I'm in SF. There is one or 2 more decent ones, e.g. Koi Palace in Daly City, but majority has a very rustic regional "Toi Shan" slant to their Cantonese cooking.
                            Oakland Chinatown's restaurants are all pretty rundown & serve very unrefined sort of Chinese food. Ditto for SF Chinatown - I'd only go to 2 restaurants there: Great Eastern on Jackson St for its steamed fish (and daily special soup) or R&G Lounge for its salt-and-pepper Dungeness crab and (for a taste of American-Chinese food) its mushu pork.

                            1. re: klyeoh

                              SF used to have its star Cantonese chef....Andy Wai, who once was chef de cuisine at the SF branch of Harbor Village in the 90s (who also used to work at Harbor Village in HK, also known as Tsui Hang Village to HK expats) with fans following him wherever he went after HV shut down in SF. Andy, if given the reins to innovate and create, was easily the best Cantonese high end dining chef around. He still is, but unfortunately he does not have an environment to do the best he can currently, nor the sponsorship of a great Cantonese restaurant. This man apprenticed under Yeung Koon Yat before moving to the US and knows how to prepare abalone right (amongst other things), but alas, SF is not HK or Vancouver or Toronto where he might thrive so much more. When former HK governor Tung Keen Wah visited SF, he would request Andy to cook for him, that's how hardcore it got.

                              There is another chef in SF Bay Area who works in Fremont who while does not have the glamorous prestige like Andy, has over 30+ years experience working as exec chef in Grand Hyatt HK, multiple high end Canto seafood restaurants in SF Bay Area, and also worked as chef in Japan and Indonesia. Next to Andy he is probably the best chef in the area, provided you know what he excels in and order his specialties. I bet he can, if given time and opportunity, even make Lu Yu Tea House's dinner greats, maybe not exactly, but at a fairly high level.

                              These two heroes are exceptions to the norm who can replicate the original flavors of HK, and those who have eaten their food and specialities can attest. Otherwise it is a general sad state of affairs.

                              1. re: K K

                                Thanks, KK - very interesting piece of recent Chinese culinary history in SF indeed :-)

                                1. re: K K

                                  Where in Fremont? We should be out to the Bay Area this year sometime.

                                  1. re: buttertart

                                    i'd also love to know the name of the chef / restaurant in fremont.

                                      1. re: K K

                                        It sounds sublime, and very reasonable for Cantonese seafood. And roast pigeon too, oh my goodness. Must get there.

                                    1. re: K K

                                      Thanks for the info. It's good to know..

                              2. I think we just have to eat a lot and then this palate will slowly developed. I don't think developing a sense or taste for any cuisine is the fundamentally the same. Eat out a few times with your friends and this will eventually be picked up. I really do not think it is something you can pick up by reading a book or two.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                  Except I do agree that some things need to be explained, not just experienced. As noted above, some foods are served for very specific reasons. Some of those things can be learned by experience (foods that are primarily textural, for example), but some are symbolic -- I had to explain to my tablemates at a Chinese New Year banquet what those slimy black filaments were (fat choi) and why it was traditionally served for New Year's banquets (because the name is a homonym with part of the traditional New Year's greeting).

                                  I can't count the number of times I've had explained to me, or explained to others, that an ingredient that "doesn't taste like much" is served for its textural qualities. And some foods seem to be served almost exclusively because they are rare/expensive and/or take special skills to prepare and not because they are delicious.