It has become a fixture in our agenda whenever my Singaporean friends are in town.
The famous Hong Kong under the bridge spicy crab has captured the imagination of many. With ten levels of fieriness it was easy to be overwhelmed and ordered way beyond your capacity to enjoy these awesome crabs, but the key is to always go moderate.
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When someone tells you that a particular Chinese restaurant in a certain part of Hong Kong is “popular” with locals, and “famous” for some local delicacies, you can be assured of three things – a maddeningly long queue, some probably rude and loud wait staff, and medieval queue number system.
I will be the first to admit it – I hate queuing for food. For someone who seem to spend half his salary on food, I expect service, quality and peace of mind when it comes to eating out. To take a number and wait for your turn in packed restaurants made me feel like I am begging them to serve me food.
And no one likes to beg.
But it was a weekend night in Shatin, and we wanted something local, simple and “blogworthy” for me. So I found myself at Keung Kee Seafood Restaurant, famous for its Shatin chicken porridge.
The wait wasn’t long, perhaps fifteen minutes max, but with the loud reception, merry-go-round fellow diners waiting their turns on cheap plastic stools, that wait time felt like eternity. And when we were given a table for two squashed between two larger tables, placed right smack in front of some utility cupboards, I felt outraged.
And then I looked at the menu.
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My discovery on Groupon continues at Jiang Shan Hui which offers a mix of Shanghainese and Sichuan cuisine. When I saw what’s on offer – drunken chicken by award winning chef – I was intrigued. I walked by the past often enough during my Sheung Wan days, but never thought of “popping up”. If you are like me who can’t read Chinese, you always live in the fear that this will be that restaurant where the waitresses will mock you for being an illiterate Chinese and derisively laugh off my request for an English menu. Though I am happy to report this unlikely incident seldom happens, and it certainly did not at Jiang Shan Hui.
Because it was a set Groupon menu. Hah.
Platter of appertiser.
The starters for the night were rather uninspiring. I was looking forward to a steaming bowl of hot and spicy soup; what eventually transpired was a tepid serving of gooey starch. The platter of appetiser – shredded chicken in crystal flower sheet in sesame sauce, pork jelly in Zhejiang style, cucumber – fared better. I particularly enjoyed the crystal flower sheet. Very slurpy and fragrant with the sesame sauce (which I almost mistaken for peanut sauce, LOL). The xiao long bao was just alright, nothing to shout about.
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It was a noodle bar with a name that was hard to resist. Especially when you have a friend whose name is also Maureen and you wanted to try a new place for your first dinner gathering in the new year.
Finding Maureen (that’s the name of the restaurant, short and sweet) has been more than a challenge. At least three cab drivers claimed not to know the street, and on my fourth attempt, I demanded the driver to look at my map and to get me there. Tip: To get to Hing Wan Street, you are better off looking for Stone Nullah Lane (石水渠街). That’s where the famous Blue House of Hong Kong is located at. A few doors down from Maureen is the Wanchai Visual Archive. You can’t miss it, with its patron spilling out from the bar onto the sidewalk with their merrymaking while the entire street was eerily silent.
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Sometimes the best dinner plans are the ones unplanned. There’s something about doing meals impromptu with friends on loose ends, and that’s how I spent one of my Friday nights. I remembered seeing one of these roadside place packed with people at dinner time right behind Times Square, and I was eager to return to experience everything, exhaust fume and all.
Wong Kee Restaurant (also confusingly named Fai Kee Restaurant) is one of those hole in the wall Chinese place with spilled tables all over the roadside. Tang Lung Street seemed very boisterous with families eating out with children and boisterous men enjoying beer pints after work. It’s quite an atmosphere to soak in, especially considering that you are right smack in the middle of Causeway Bay.
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Once in a while you need to break out from your normal routine to discover new experience and enjoy different food. Thanks to my relentless colleagues who were out to get me for lunch every Friday (I swear, they timed it with their calendar), I found myself surrounded by the lovely ladies from the marketing department for some great Cantonese fare at the Fullka Restaurant.
Never heard of Fullka before? Well, neither did I, until that afternoon. Apparently this place was off-radar for most foodies, which was apparent by how not full it was during lunchtime on a working weekday. Further investigation revealed that this restaurant was previously named Home Wanchai (does that sound familiar?) and was helmed by Chef Lee Yue Ching of ‘Ah Yat Abalone’ fame. The set lunch was a steal at HK$88, where you get soup, one main course with rice, and a dessert. Since the main course is rather large in portion, you can go with a few friends so that you can mix and match from its extensive menu of true Cantonese food.
And so on to the lunch.
Pig Stomach Soup
Hand’s down, the best starter soup I have ever tried in Hong Kong (and that’s saying something). The soup was intense with peppery taste and was well balanced with the meaty goodness of the excellent pig stomach. The soup burns down as you drink it, in a very comforting way. It was such a perfect, fiery soup for a cold winter day.
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Once a month the shakers (of salts) and movers (of cheese) from the #hkfoodbloggers Facebook group will gather to collectively wield our cameras at unsuspecting waiters and create comfortable, unified silence as we devour plate after plate of delicious food. I might be green to this, but I am very sure seldom you can find a whole bunch of folks who can talk about nothing else but food all night long. And that night at Manor Seafood Restaurant, we sure have plenty to talk – and complain! – about.
Sizzling claypot oysters.
Let’s just say that places like Manor will do well to learn that, in the service industry – the customer is always right. Here’s the story: We booked a table for ten, and upon arrival we were seated in a nice private room. Being the dedicated foodies that we were, we already pre-ordered some popular food items, and after some haggling over the extensive menu we ordered a few more. Halfway through the dinner, the captain came in and told us that, hey, we are $1K short of our minimum charge, and please can we please order more food?
Signature stir-fried noodles with soy sauce.
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I have been debating with myself if I should be writing additional blog posts on my recent trip to Taipei, since I have already blogged daily. While I risk the danger of repeating myself somewhat, I reckon some of my experiences were worth an entire blog post by themselves, lest I would forget about them. At the very least, they will come in handy for those seeking to experience the same joy.
Waterlily chicken soup.
Da Shan Wu Jia (大山無價) was certainly one of those priceless experience worth spending the time to write about. Encouraged by fellow food blogger Peter, I made it a point to have dinner at this place, with only a passing warning that Da Shan Wu Jia will be “slightly out of the way“.
Well, that would be the understatement of the year. We took a cab from our hotel at Xinyi Road. Upon knowing our destination, the driver looked puzzled and asked, what could you be possibly looking for at such a remote place? In broken Mandarin I told him there is this restaurant highly recommended by a friend, and he in turn wanted to know if we were after some illegal stuff. Like, you know, some sort of endangered animals which we were not supposed to eat. Language failed me to defend myself, and in my slight panic I did wonder if Da Shan Wu Jia does serve such exotic – albeit illegal – morsels of cruelty?
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Victoria City Restaurant is the third on my lunchtime to-do list of places to eat in Causeway Bay, which is where my office is located at. I have heard of this restaurant a couple of times from my colleague, but since it is located within the Crowne Plaza Causeway Bay Hotel (the same hotel where the delightful Pavilion is located at), I thought it would be too posh a place to lunch out on a normal work day. Isn’t it?
Well, if a new year is not the best time to break some rules and test some boundaries, I don’t know when is. So I threw my frugality mantra out the window and saunter down to Victoria City for a bit of posh Cantonese food.
I shouldn’t have worried about the price. The dishes, from dimsum to chef recommendations, were mid-range in price and certainly of great value for a restaurant operating in hotel. Since there were only two of us we were able to try out only a couple of dishes for the day.
Steamed Chicken Feet With Sauce (HK$19)
I wanted to say this is quite an acquired taste – not of the dish, but of chicken feet. But if you have been living in Hong Kong, eating chicken feet for breakfast is like eating raw oysters for lunch (okay, not quite good an analogy). I am not a fan of chicken feet, but often I will try this as a barometer of how good a Chinese restaurant is. This dish was a bit too oily and salty for my taste, but the chicken feet itself is succulent and easy to eat (read: not disintegrating the moment you bite into it, a definite must for those unable to wield a pair of chopsticks skillfully like yours truly). At three large claws we had enough to go for between the two of us.
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It is customary for the Chinese to start their meal with a hearty bowl of soup. When I say hearty, I mean delicious, often healthy and detoxifying, bowl of goodness usually made with some serious herbs, greens and meats.
Ming Kei Restaurant may not the best place for soup in Hong Kong, but I have been to this place often enough in the past to know that their soup is decent, served in a large claypot pot. You can usually order one large pot if your table has at least four diners. If you are unsure of what soup to order, ask for “lei tong“, which is kind of the term to use for “soup of the day”.
There are many reasons why the Chinese like to have soup with their meal. Even if the typical soup you can get from a restaurant does not usually have healing powers, a bowl of lovingly prepared Chinese soup will make us feel better, a definite comfort after a long day at work. The Chinese also believe that soup is the perfect food when your ying is out of balance of the yang. Just ask the Chinese grandma painstakingly brew endless pots of chicken soup for their ailing grandchildren. It’s a tried and tested tradition that medical sciences have only begin to understand.
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