Modern French bistro decor and soft jazz. Lots of white brick with dark wood and simple framed black and white photos. This is clearly not Chinese! We found ourselves in Nha Trang, a Vietnamese restaurant that’s becoming popular in Hong Kong. Perusing through the English menu found all our usual American Vietnamese delights like Pho and Banh Mi, plus some more Chinified dishes.
I started with my favorite Vietnamese iced coffee, but double-shot to wake me up. Also shown, a sweet drink with orange candied orange peel and candied pineapple which was too sweet and could really have benefitted from the tartness of fresh pineapple.
My wife went with a noodle soup, with a broth a little richer than typical pho. Filled with tender slices of pork, beef, fish cake, and all the usual proteins. The noodles had perfect texture and the broth savory and slightly sweet and spicy – simultaneously rich and light. I was scared by the mention of fish paste in the broth, but I found it amazing!
For myself I selected the pork chop banh mi. They warned me it would take an extra 15 minutes, which surprised me. How long does it take to assemble a sandwich? It didn’t actually take that long, probably because they grabbed pork that had already been cooked – it was clearly not “sizzling” as the menu described. Still good, with a great crispy crust baguette and crispy pork. Too much mayo though kinda killed it all leaving it a bit bland.
So how does Hong Kong Vietnamese compare to the American stuff? While I’ve had much better banh mi sandwiches stateside, I don’t think I’ve ever had pho that could top the rich stuff found here. I guess proximity does help somewhat.
Early on a Sunday morning there isn’t much available. Even Sha Tin boasts the 2nd largest mall in Hong Kong, most of the shops and dinig are closed. We stumbled into a modern diner chain called Fairwood featuring a strange breakfast fusion of food combos like macaroni noodles with grilled got dogs or vermicelli with fried eggs and toast.
I went with what turned out to be essentially steak and eggs. Black Pepper beef, 2 fried eggs and a thick piece of toast. The beef was tender and the black pepper sauce had the perfect level of spice. The eggs were simple but perfect temperature. Also came with coffee which had milk and cocoa added already. Delicious!
Pearl desperately wanted congee, the rice porridge she is so fond of complete with her favorite 1000 year egg and minced pork. It was part of a meal as well, with fried daikon cakes and coffee as well.
Both meals were pretty good, and the pest part? The entire meal was 52.5 Hong Kong dollars – that’s only US $6.75 total!!
On day 3 of our trip to Hong Kong, we started off with a very common Hong Kong dish, the butter cream bun. Found in every train station and marketplace, are shops selling filled buns. They’re even more common than the ubiquitous doughnut shop in the U.S., and fill a similar niche. Think of them as the Hong Kong equivalent to the Parisian crepe.
Unlike what you’d expect from Asian pastries, these are almost exclusively wheat-flour buns, and are baked instead of steamed or fried. For the most part, they have the consistency of Hawaiian bread, and are available with both sweet and savory fillings.
First off, my favorite of the bunch, butter cream bun. This was a sweet bun, almost exactly the same as Hawaiian bread, both in flavor and texture. It was stuffed-full with a soft, creamy, butter filling. Thankfully, not margarine, and also not heavy or oily as butter can sometimes be. Dusted over the top with shaved coconut, this was a perfect way to start the day!
We snuck in that first one as we were waiting for the train. We headed to the outskirts of the New Territories to visit my wife’s grandmother at her nursing home. We arrived just as she was finishing lunch, but she quickly joined us in the courtyard to gorge ourselves on these wonderful buns.
As I mentioned, many of the buns have savory fillings. This one had a nice stewed beef, and made for a perfect balance between a light snack and something more substantial.
Following the beef bun, were two filled with a tuna-salad mixture. These both were topped with chives, and had a hint of onion in the pastry itself.
This next one was a little different. Instead of being a bun, the “curry beef triangle” was baked in the style of a French pastry, with all the flaky crispy layers you could imagine. As you would expect from the name, the filling was a green beef curry. Slightly spicy, the contrast of texture and flavor between the pastry and the filling makes for a wonderful combination.
One last bun, appears to have been made using whole-wheat flower. Covered with sesame seeds, I can only guess at what the filling was. I apparently neglected to take a photo of the inside.
Now that I know about these buns, I can’t wait for a return trip. Apparently, there are peanut-butter filled buns, as well as sausage ones reminiscent of a bagel-dog!
So I promised the details on this fantastic banquet we had on our second day. One of the most famous restaurants in Hong Kong is Yung Kee in Central. Renowned for its roast goose recipe, the restaurant now owns the entire 14 floor building that it is located in. It’s even been awarded a star from the Michelin Guide. We had a private room on the more luxurious 4th floor to celebrate the 75th birthday of my wife’s uncle.
Starting off the dinner was the infamous dish, 1000 year egg. Some consider it a delicacy, but apparently it’s a fairly common dish and is frequently used in congee. It had a jelly-like consistency, tasted somewhat like a pickle, and had the most amazing colors to it. My photo doesn’t do the iridescence justice. Apparently it’s made by wrapping a duck egg in clay, soaked with various salts and acids for up to several months. The longer, the better.
Following the egg was a treo of appetizers representing Health, Wealth, and Happiness. First, “money purses”, small pouches of minced pork, wrapped up in a layer of rice dough and boiled. The end result looks surprisingly like a tiny purse or bag that people used to wear on their belts.
The second of the treo was fried sea cucumber stomachs. I had never had sea cucumber before, and was quite surprised. The dish was light and crispy, with a slight ocean taste, but mostly it was like eating french fries.
The third of the set was a traditional dish that apparently is very rare today. Stacked up like coins were pork-fat medallions, duck pate, and water chestnut, slathered in an egg-yolk sauce. It was incredibly delicious, even though I generally dislike patte.
The next dish of the meal is the one the restaurant is famous for. The Roast Goose was prepared in a similar style to Peking Duck. Yes, it was as delicious as it looks.
Following the roast goose was a common delicacy for Chinese banquets, shark fin soup. This was the second time I had shark-fin soup, but a very different preparation from anything I had expected. It came to the table a very vibrant orange, and had a creamy consistency, although I doubt any dairy products were used. Surprisingly, there was no fishy taste to it at all, in fact if I didn’t know better, I would have sworn it was a cheese soup.
The next dish was also seafood, so I wasn’t thrilled when it arrived. Individual stuffed crab claws were then breaded and fried, making for very attractive dishes. Perfect portion size, and the tip of the claw exposed, made these very appealing and memorable. I was pleasantly surprised with the flavor and enjoyed the light chili sauce garnishing each claw when served.
Following the crab claws was the most visually impressive dish of the evening. A huge platter came to the table, arranging several different varieties of eggplant in a light sauce.
The purple chinese eggplant arranged vertically was stuffed with crab meat, and on top was sea cucumber. The photos are deceptive, each of those vertical towers was at least 3 inches tall.
My wife was very jealous, as she’s allergic to eggplant.
Even when portioned out into individual servings, the dish was very beautiful. I have to commend the servers at their plating skills. The techniques over the course of the evening as they split up the large dishes were very antithetical to what I’ve come to expect from Chinese cuisine.
After the eggplant came one final seafood dish, lobster noodles. The noodles were cooked in a lobster broth and were clearly the focus of the dish, even though there was lobster piled on top. Again, the photos are deceptive, as the full dish brought to the table was easily 30 inches across, a veritable mountain of lobster.
Wrapping up the main dishes were a huge plate of noodles (clearly the inspiration for chow mein) and fried rice. These are typical ends to a chinese banquet, allowing people to fill up with the over abundance of food. Considering how stuffed we already were at this point, it was mostly gratuitous, but I tried some anyways. Naturally they were delicious.
That brings us to desert. Since it was a birthday, there was a cake covered in strawberries, and of course, since it was a chinese banquet, we also had the ubiquitous red bean soup and fresh fruit platter.
And finally, the icing on the cake, ( there were mini peaches in the cake decoration), we had Longevity Peaches. However, these aren’t actually fruit; they’re steamed rice buns with a lotus paste and duck egg center. Shaped and colored to resemble peaches, these are a traditional birthday dish. There is a Chinese legend about a monkey who travels to a far-off garden to eat peaches that grant eternal life. Because of this, the peach is a symbol of longevity in Chinese culture, and peaches made from gold are often gifted for long-lived anniversaries or birthdays.
Each of these “baby buts”, as my wife likes to call them, was about the size of my fist, and I have large fists.
That’s it for this banquet. Only the second day of our trip to Hong Kong, and already we’ve shot over 100 pictures just of food. Next time, some local snack and everyday dishes.
It seems all we did on our Hong Kong trip was eat, eat, and eat some more. As soon as we got back from the giant Buddha statue (via the Ngong Ping 360 aerial tramway), we met up with some of my wife’s extended family for dim sum at the Citygate shopping center in Tung Chung. I’ve had dim sum many times before, and since, but this was my first time in Hong Kong, so I was suprised at how authentic the places I’ve been in LA and New York actually are.
My wife’s family was very patient with me as I tried to snap these pictures as quickly as I could. They had started before we got there.
First off, some dumplings. These had shrimp, vegetables, and rice, and I believe the wrapper was tofu skin as opposed to the typical rice wrapper. Next was another dumpling, this one with a thick rice dough casing, similar to pork buns. I can’t remember what the filling was, but it was very attractive with the dark swirls on the surface… then the dumplings just kept coming and coming. Some shrimp, pork, and my personal favorit char siu pork buns (BBQ).
On to the fried dishes! There were some cute egg-shaped fried dumplings. I don’t remember the filling, but it was probably shrimp, and some vegetable spring rolls.
Of course, since it’s dim sum, the dishes just kept coming and coming. We had some typical egg custards and the dish that most caught my eye. It was a sweet gelatin dish, but embedded in it were tiny red berries. Very very delicious.
And of course, a few noodle dishes:
And it wouldn’t be dim sum without some turnip cakes. These are made by shredding daikon, pressing it together with shrimp, vegetables, or pork, and then pan frying them so they develop a nice crust.
I promise, we’re almost done…. Some pork meatballs, very juicy, and very delicious and served with worcestershire sauce (one of my favorites), and some chicken feet. Chicken feet are not what you’d expect. They’re actually very fatty and tender, almost having a gelatin consistency. They’re cooked in a sweet sauce and are actually quite good if you can get over the mental reservations.
Finally, some sticky rice. Take some diced marinated pork, wrap it with sticky rice, bundle the whole thing in a leaf (banana or some similar large leaf) and steam it:
Now didn’t that all look fantastic? Needless to say, I was stuffed afterwards and not particularly looking forward to eating again dinner. But dinner was so fantastic, a 5-star Cantonese banquet, featuring some very traditional foods that almost no-one makes today because of the labor and cost. Hungry yet? That meal is coming soon!