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Hong Kong trip report and musings

ckshen Sep 14, 2013 11:28 PM

Thanks to chowhounds who provided many great pre-trip suggestions @
http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/912779
Thanks for making this trip an eating success!

First some musings before the trip report that follows.

Escalating Rent- One recurring theme I’ve heard while in HK is escalating rent making it unprofitable for many restaurants to continue operating, forcing closures, including some high profile restaurants. Its sad to see rent killing off good historical restaurants with a loyal clientele. With it, part of the character of the neighborhood and culinary history also goes away.

Unfashionable food vs latest food trends- This trip I am only focused on Chinese food. As a visitor, Hong Kong is where I can get the best Cantonese food in the world. So I focus on that. What strikes me is sometimes for younger people especially, they don’t value the quality of Chinese/ cantonese cuisine as much as whatever is the latest trend. An example is people will take issue on the size of a $33 bowl of wonton noodle in Mak’s but they will pay $100 for a bowl of ramen, not taking into account the level of care and quality that goes into making the former. Local food sometimes seems to have a harder time justifying a price premium. Certainly not all of us can fly to Tokyo to taste a proper bowl of ramen or San Sebastien to get some tapas, and even a well-crafted lo-sui ap will get old after you eat it for the nth time. Quality is still quality, especially when it’s the ‘proud local quality’.

Because of the heightened demand for ‘fashionable’ food, fewer young people want to go into the cooking profession cooking traditional Cantonese food. Someone asked a chef who does traditional Cantonese cooking whether he thought some of the elements of the cuisine is at risk of dying out, the answer was a yes.

The local food movement- In recent years, there have been a bigger emphasis on food grown locally, a similar movement as that in the US. There are now a few farmers’ markets that take place weekly in the city. Many of these farms are located in the New Territories where there is more cheap and flat land available for growing food, such as Yuen Long. With the opening of the MTR line to Yuen Long, it now only takes half an hour to go from HK island to Yuen Long. With these places now much more accessible to the city dwellers, more farmers now are selling their land to property developers for a sum that far exceeds what they can earn in a lifetime of farming.

I have not had a chance to visit one of these markets on this visit to make a comparison to my beloved farmers market in Northern California, and I hope to do that in a future visit.

Also some comments around local food restaurant in my comment around the meal at the Chairman below.

Quality milk- We tried to find fresh and quality milk for the toddler. I try to look for truly good quality milk, not just industrial organic milk but it’s a struggle. We found one HK producer, Hong Ning, that produces 4000 small bottles every day and when we went to a shop in Kowloon to try to buy some, they are out. Obviously Asians don’t drink as much milk, but I think we are truly blessed in Northern California that quality milk are everywhere, at a truly bargain price too (~US$4 for a half gallon).
Best chinese USA

What we found? The best Chinese food in the SF bay area is roughly on par with good in the city. Good in the bay area is roughly average/ pedestrian in the city. Even before this trip, I found it amazing that people spent two hours lining up for what’s supposed to be the best dimsum in the Bay Area. After this trip, we’ll just skip the waiting and save the dimsum, or any other Cantonese food for HK, until of course we are away from HK long enough that we start craving for Cantonese food.

Challenging shops to eat with toddler- Any local shop where its crowded with folding seats. We mostly left behind the stroller while out, and it would be inconvenient to bring the stroller into some small local restaurants.

Restaurant choices- Here’s the list of restaurants we ended up going. It’s a function of the location where we are staying (HK island south), Chowhound/ openrice research, friend and family’s recommendations, and ease of transportation. We tried to cover a little bit of everything of Cantonese cuisine, we also had some Shanghainese and Sichuan.

Tim Ho Wan IFC (dimsum
)Fu Sing (Cantonese)
Pak Kee @ Ap Lei Chau Cooked Food Centre (seafood)
Kwan Kee (clay pot rice)
Ming Court (dimsum)
Liu Yuan (Shanghainese)
Yee Tung Hin (dimsum)
Sang Kee (porridge)
Chan Kan Kee (Chiu Chow)
Mak’s @ Wellington (wonton noodle)
Tsim Chai Kee (wonton noodle)
Ye Shanghai (Shanghainese)
The Square (Cantonese)
Din Tai Fung (Xiao Long Bao)
San Xi Lou (Sichuan)
Tai Cheong (Egg Tart)
Honolulu Coffee Shop (Egg Tart)
Yuen Kee (dessert)
Shung Hing (Chiu Chow)
Empire Roasted Duck (Roasted Duck)
Hong Kong Old Restaurant (Shanghainese)
The Chairman (local Cantonese w/o abalone, fins, etc.)

Memorable dishes:
Fresh seafood from the Ap Lei Chau wet market prepared by Pak Kee upstairs. Wife liked the abalone, I liked the clams. We both liked the tiger grouper. I am a big sucker for hyperlocal place such as this, something that screams ‘Hong Kong’. This kind of seafood freshness is just very difficult to obtain anywhere else in the world. Chu Kee in the same cooked food market I was told cooks with a stronger flavor. So go to the one dependent on what style you prefer. Both are busy now that they are famous. Reservations are preferred on weekdays and a must on weekends. I was also told that none of the vendors during lunch hours cook seafood from downstairs.

Dace fish ball porridge 鯪魚球粥- Sang Kee made with very fresh ingredients and great quality porridge. Ginger and soy sauce came separate so flavor can be tuned. The only downside was the porridge gets more watery as the meal went on. Also wanted to try Mui Kee for its porridge but didn’t have time.

Wonton noodle soup from Mak’s on Wellington- we only had time to try two bowls of wonton noodle on this trip. Mak’s and Tsim Chai Kee’s from across the street. Mak’s won hands down. Delicate broth, al dente noodle and good wonton.

Shanghai XLB from Ding Tai Fung (TST). This is what they are famous for and for good reason. We liked the original version the best. less so with the one with crab. The noodle dishes were somewhat weak.
lo sui braised goose from Chan Kan Kee- Though we rated Shung Hing slightly higher. Place was somewhat empty at night, may be because of the price?

the stirred fried little shrimp from Ye Shanghai (TST) was simple, fresh and tasty.

the water-cooked fish from San Xi Lou was excellent and they used fresh fish. Wife is an expert in Sichuan dishes and she rated this as 9/10, one of the best renditions she has had. The tea smoked duck was not bad but could not match the better versions she had in China.

Shung Hing Chiu Chow- lo sui braised goose, also liked their oyster congee

Fish soup from Hong Kong old restaurant- I liked it for its simplicity and its very clean homemade fish taste. No MSG. in fact, the entire meal was very light. its refreshing to have a restaurant meal that doesn’t rely on salt, oil, sugar and MSG.

The chairman restaurant concept is interesting in HK. They don’t serve the expensive Cantonese dishes that is expensive because the ingredients have a limited supply, e.g. abalone, shark fin. instead they focus on seasonal ingredients sourced locally. Although its somewhat hard to figure out what the definition of local means, because e.g. veggies don’t grow that well in the HK heat. See my comments about individual dishes below.

Ginger scallion chicken from the Chairman (as part of the set menu)- very good scallion. I asked them where the chicken was from and they replied ‘fresh chicken’. Duh- for this price, it better be fresh. It looked like some kind of yellow hair chicken.

Fried shrimp- the fried shrimp head was delicious.

The set soup base was from pork bones. there was apple. the result was light, yummy, and refreshing. Apple don’t grow locally in HK.

It may sound like I am giving the Chairman stick for their local concept. They may not be totally local, but I think it’s a function of the limitations of what’s available locally. but kudos to them for trying something different, at least for Hong Kong.

Overall the meal was one of the highlight of the trip. Reservations are hard to come by. Weekdays- at least a month in advance. Weekends- 2 months in advance. Restaurant is small.

The black sesame paste and the Mistletoe seeds Egg Tea (桑寄生蓮子蛋茶) from Yuen Kee- excellent dessert that’s restrained with their use of sugar. I always think in most dessert/ pastry places pretty much everywhere in the world that sugar is overused. Also heard that they had the foresight of owning their shop space so they runs no risk of rent increase. wanted to try their almond soup but didn’t have a chance to return.

Roasted pork from Fu Sing- It is indeed excellent, better than the attempt from The Square from this trip. Fu Sing only has the 3rd floor these days.

Beef ball- Ming Court (dimsum)- made with very fresh beef. Wife liked it a lot. We think this dimsum rates the highest among others we had on the trip (Yee Tung Hin, Tim Ho Won). Fresh ingredients and carefully prepared dishes.

Also quite liked the duck at Empire Roasted Duck and the condiments.

Egg Tart from Honolulu Coffee Shop– liked this overall slightly better than Tai Cheong’s version. I think the pastry was better at Honolulu, but the custard was better at Tai Cheong. Overall, Honolulu edged out.

At the end though, too many good restaurants left out because of a lack of time. Next time. Hopefully they will still be around despite the rent hike!

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    Lau RE: ckshen Sep 15, 2013 07:54 AM

    wow you made it to quite a few restaurants!

    the trends you talked about are somewhat prevalent in alot of places in asia if you want to see the food trend (expensive foreign vs local) its more prevalent in singapore where its happening pretty badly; will be interesting how it eventually shakes out.

    next time try tak kee, their lo sui is really next level

    7 Replies
    1. re: Lau
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      AubWah RE: Lau Sep 15, 2013 08:59 AM

      I agree. In my opinion Tak Kee is the #1 chiu chow in hk, when taste, value, and ambiance are considered.

      1. re: AubWah
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        Lau RE: AubWah Sep 15, 2013 09:15 AM

        its an excellent restaurant

        1. re: AubWah
          Charles Yu RE: AubWah Sep 15, 2013 03:24 PM

          If you can somehow find a 'connection' to take you there, for Hong Kong's BEST Chiu Chow, no where beats the ' Chiu Chow Commerce Association Club Restaurant'!! in Sheung Wan.

          @ Lau. You reckon the 'Lo Sui' of Tak Kee is better than 'Hung's?! I'll settle for anywhere if they have perfectly executed goose liver, Ha!!

          1. re: Charles Yu
            ckshen RE: Charles Yu Sep 15, 2013 04:37 PM

            We almost made it to Tak Kee and Hung's. Hung's was shut for like a week when the owner went to Canton to collect some awards. What luck I have!

            Tak kee we even made reservations twice but it just didn't happen.

            1. re: Charles Yu
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              Lau RE: Charles Yu Sep 16, 2013 01:35 AM

              i thought the lo sui was slightly better at tak kee. part of the reason is that i dont know how they do it, but they keep the flesh a little pink so its much more tender than most places and it was very flavorful but not like an overkill like some places.

              Hung's is very good, has a really nice light lo sui, but end of day i gave the slight nod to tak kee

              Charles Yu - btw all your goose liver talk on the board in the last several months has made that probably the first thing im going to eat next time i go to HK

              1. re: Lau
                Charles Yu RE: Lau Sep 16, 2013 07:19 AM

                Hope your cholesterol level is OK, otherwise, you might need to bring along ' Crestor'!! Ha!

                1. re: Charles Yu
                  l
                  Lau RE: Charles Yu Sep 16, 2013 07:34 AM

                  haha i have good cholestrol so i can go on a goose liver bonanza

        2. PhilD RE: ckshen Sep 21, 2013 06:06 PM

          "Unfashionable food vs latest food trends- This trip I am only focused on Chinese food. As a visitor, Hong Kong is where I can get the best Cantonese food in the world. So I focus on that. What strikes me is sometimes for younger people especially, they don’t value the quality of Chinese/ cantonese cuisine as much as whatever is the latest trend."

          This sort of comment really annoys me. So it's OK for New Yorkers, Londoners, or residents of other western cities to have vibrant food cultures with restaurants representing the food of the world. But those living in Asian cities are only allowed historical local food, Cantonese here in HK, Hawker food in Singapore etc etc. I assume it's OK to like the trendy Beijing dumpling places, or modern Sichuan as they are at least Chinese.

          In HK we are lucky enough to have some great modern food, we have some great restaurants that are very much on trend. Like everywhere when there is a trend some are great and many are bad but I would argue when the HK ones are good they stack-up - new openings like Souvla, Chom Chom or Chacawan are great examples of this.

          1. PhilD RE: ckshen Sep 21, 2013 06:12 PM

            Glad you liked The Chairman. I think their philosophy also differed from the big Cantonese places as they have a small, limited menu rather than the hundreds of dishes that are the norm. For me it's a better bet than the big ones which can be a real lottery unless you know and stick to the one or two dishes they are famed for.

            As for ingredients I understood they had their own small-holding in the new territories which supplies much of their fresh produce. And whilst they don't do super expensive ingredients their crabs, when in season, are not cheap.

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