June 05, 2015

Foodlog: Hong Kong

While I may not have anymore pending reviews from Hong Kong, I do have some foodporn stashed away on both my camera and my trusty iPhone - so here's a recap of my foodlog while I was traipsing through the streets of a chilly winter Hong Kong.

If you think that travelling to Hong Kong during the months of Chinese New Year is not going to work out for you, you're mistaken. While there may be less shops open on the first two days of the Lunar New Year, it doesn't mean there is not hustle and bustle from the streets and by extension, their food.

So, I'm just going to let the image-heavy post speak for itself. Let me know which are your favourites, or if you need further details on any!




Now that you've survived that post - are you ready to sek fan?


May 25, 2015

Food Review: More & More Restaurant (Hong Kong)

This spot, was the very first place I went to for roast meats when I first travelled to Hong Kong.

I used to stay at a hotel nearby, which is built on this slope which is near the wet market which is near the gigantic Times Square Mall. When I exit the wet market, this restaurant is in plain view, with its many customers packing food, particularly for festivities such as Chinese New Year (any occasion in Hong Kong is a reason for a feast). In hindsight, it was a great hotel in a great location, but the hotel gave me bed bugs once and we have also since decided that staying away from Hong Kong Island is a good idea to get away from the crowd. 

You should know, that despite its reputation, it's entirely possible to stay in Hong Kong and not be swarmed by people.

This rule, however, does not apply to restaurants in Hong Kong.


I am familiar with this eatery. I am familiar with the concept of shuffling my way to the front of the entrance so the waitress will notice me waiting for a table. I am familiar with being ushered to a table by an overbearing waitress speaking putonghua until she realises we can speak Cantonese and her face finally breaks into a smile as she excitedly gestures while recommending all the best and most expensive cuts of the day to us.

I am familiar with the loud slam of cutlery presented to us, that comes with a large bowl of hot water and tea, which is decidedly not for drinking, as its for you to give said cutlery a final rinse yourself.

I am familiar with the concept of ordering within the five minutes you sit down, because a menu is not needed when they hang their meats like trophies.

In a way, perhaps this is one of the many reasons why Hong Kong remains close to my heart. There is a familiarity in her customs and her food, and even her language is familiar to me as a Singaporean. It may not make sense all the time, but enough words are caught for me to fathom an understanding of tea from coffee. Additionally, I may not be completely well-versed in Cantonese, but I know how to order food in the language which is sufficient for most my travels.


This establishment has had an increase of price, as well as customers. Its location is a prime spot for tourists and hungry stall workers from the wet market (even when the wet market's third floor holds an entire level of restaurants). This, surprisingly, does not bother me. They deserve a pay rise, and they deserve the additional customers, and most of the time, the price hike doesn't bother me as a tourist.

My parents order quickly, and the waitress scribbles it all down in her thick wad of papers, occasionally muttering and nodding as she pushes cups of tea to us and shouts at the counter to stop shouting, the guests are not waiting for a table, it's a takeaway without barely a flinch from us, or any other guests inhaling bowls of rice and spitting out geese bones in the crowded eatery. There is a silence in the noise, a small peace from the streets as you sit amongst shuffling, sniffling diners, respite from the wet and cold, and pleasant scents of cooking meats. 


Like I mentioned many times before, one always starts their meal with soup. Hong Kong restaurants take their daily soups very seriously so you're a shoe-in with the cook once you order up a serving of some delicious, good-for-you daily soup. I mean it, it's delicious as well as good for you. Their soup is not just meant to taste good it's nourishing, heartwarming, tummy-soothing soup.

We had a huge bowl of the soup of the day, sweetened by lotus roots, tomatoes, sour plums, fatty pork and dry squid. It helps to whet the appetite and also, warm you up if you happen to be in Hong Kong on a wintry, wet, breezy day.


The hot soup also makes you feel better about the impending meal, almost cleansing you for the impending meal of meats, such as the salty roast pork and sweet char siew, arranged out on the plate like a greasy, delicious, meaty, edible fan. Our waitress returns to shove us the bowls of rice, dishes of mustard and packets of sour plum sauces arrive, further escalating and acting as a prelude to the other meats that are due to arrive. 

(It's a lot of meat), but let's start with the roast pork with char siew.



The roast pork (siew yoke) will be diced into even slabs, with each chunk garnished with a single, crisp pig crackling. The meat is clearly divided into a few segments, from a melt-in-your-mouth fat layer, the moist meaty middle, and a saltier last layer of just pure, concentrated flavour and magic. It almost doesn't need sauce. Almost.

This top layer of roast pork also carpets its hoard of sweet barbeque pork, slices of sweet-savoury and amazing char siew again with its distinct layers of fat to meat ratio, with a softer texture achieved through the cooking method. 





Goose. Bigger, fatter, meatier and more delicious than its smaller counterpart, roasted and only served by the chef wielding the main knife (the chopper knife) in the kitchen. Just learning how to cut the meat in the kitchen takes years of practise, before one can be deemed qualified for the position behind the wooden block of grease and meats. Glistening almost unnaturally from its honey-brown skin, dropping goose fat from its darkened, succulent meat.

This is what the people order. Duck meat may be flavoursome and easy to eat, but goose meat is what drives people crazy, especially when the bird is at its fattest in the winter months, providing a heightened quality of meat and fat. Roasted goose, when done right, will have its fat rendered just so, falling off the bone easily without losing moisture in the flesh, with the thinnest sliver of white fat still trapped under the crisp, savoury roasted skin. 

Delicious on rice, since it can run on the salty side after a final dip in sour plum and brown jus.


If by coincidence, you, like me, tend to hate yourself after scarfing down almost half a dead bird and a disproportionate amount of pig meats cooked several ways with rice and soup, there's always the option of some healthy vegetables to make yourself feel better. 

In winter, the kai lan (Chinese kale/broccoli) is in season, and the Hong Kong chefs do this crunchy, bitter-stemmed and sweet-leaves vegetable a lot of justice with very little effort, a quick stir fry with garlic, oil, water and the very important wok-hei (wok fragrance), a mythical remnant of the blackened frying wok, aromatic and impossible to recreate without time and experience, using the same wok over years to achieve.


A short entry, but nonetheless, satisfying for me. 

Remember, always start with soup, end with vegetables. Get in and out of the restaurant as fast as you can, or risk losing your table. Hong Kong people don't have time to indulge your social media updates, they serve you your meal, expect you to love it and then get out for the next customer. 

  

多多餐厅
Hong Kong, 銅鑼灣堅拿道西10號1號舖
+852 2591 5362

More and More Restaurant
10 Canal Rd W Bowrington
Hong Kong
(Left of Times Square shopping mall, head straight and cross the public bus tunnel.)

March 30, 2015

Seven days after Mr Lee Kuan Yew's passing

I have been wearing black all week. This post was drafted on the third day since Mr Lee Kuan Yew's passing on the early morning hours of the 23rd of March, Monday. 

Truth be told, when news of his passing broke, a little bit of me was disappointed. As a product of his governance, I always thought he would live forever - realistically, of course, he was only human, like the rest of us, and he was unwell for a long time. It would have been unfair to him to suffer any longer for us to hold up the illusion that he was immortal.


I was enrolled into the government-owned PAP kindergarten as my first school, and we said the pledge and sang the national anthem every single day before classes started. We all wore blue and white uniforms to class, we had bilingual classes, and in every class, whether we were Malay, Chinese, Indian, Eurasian or Caucasian - we ate together, napped together, played together and learned together. This was also - since we then owned a tiny television - when I first saw his face, and heard his name - Mr Lee Kuan Yew. 

He was dressed in white, arms clasped behind him as he smiled into the crowd. I was instinctively afraid of him, he reminded me of my grandfather - unrelentingly strict, observant eyes, dissecting your every choice, making you feel small without even speaking.

I was only a child then, but I knew he was a powerful man. His voice was unwavering as he railed into the microphone - Singapore would not succumb, Singapore was not just an island, we would show them - all these bullies from across our borders and the seas. He snarked at the Opposition, he scoffed at silly journalists, he issued stern warnings to countries who thought they could blackmail us with their resources, he even threw out officials. Obey our rules, he warned, Obey our rules because the penalty of breaking the Singapore law will not be easy or be lifted for anyone. Law-breakers local and foreign alike were punished, he ignored calls from their countries to spare them.

His son soon stepped up - a smiling, bemused man, so unlike his father in temperament. He was gentler, less fearsome, but applied the same rules. Mr Lee and Mr Lee, the news whispered.


Years later, after finishing school in two private missionary schools (both of which made my life absolute hell with their religion and rules), I would move to Australia for university. I was then angry at him and his son - I had firmly believed that his education system had left me behind. I later learned, this was not a problem with the education system - it was me. I learned this the hard way. I never made this mistake again and studied hard, earning my university degree.

I also learned, when I was away, how important my nationality was to me. I'm a Singaporean, my mind whispered to me, when racists called me a chink as they drove by me. I'm a Singaporean, my mind screamed, as someone remarks that my English is pretty good for a Chinese person.

"I'm a Singaporean", I finally said, voice as unwavering as the one I heard years ago - and I answered their questions. Yes, we are bilingual, or more, since childhood. I study hard because my education system has showed me what will become of me if I slack off. And YES, yes i follow the rules and give you the illusion of obedience - I know what happens if I don't. No, that doesn't mean I don't know how to defend myself. "I'm a Singaporean, you don't even know where that is, scumbag!" I would yell at blubbering racists who failed their Geography.



I heard his name again when I returned to Singapore for my university break. He had lost his wife, and the nation wept with him. I saw him again - albeit on a bigger television screen - he was thin, his white shirt now hung loose on his frame, eyes sunken and a wisp of white hair atop his head. He was still an imposing figure, but I smiled when I saw him smile - I chuckled when I saw his photo with an enthusiastic member of Parliament, I laughed when I saw him dismiss an irrelevant question from a student who tried to pry into his private life.

Elections came and went, the PAP resumed their triumphs. People became more unhappy, more disrespectful. The Opposition party didn't win, they gained seats but they still didn't win. People rallied, they spat out theories and rumours of foul play. 

Remember where you came from, my mind stated to me as I swiped my passport through customs en route to Perth once again. Don't forget your home

More than once, I had considered leaving permanently. I could make Australia my home - I could make anywhere my home. All I needed to go was save up enough and give up my Singaporean status. I would be able to be free, not have to worry about not the rules, not care about not being able to own a car or a house.

I could not bring myself to. Year after year, my mind whispers, We need to go home. Home isn't here.



At the end of 2013, I returned to Singapore. Mr Lee was unwell, again, the news reported, he isn't going to last, some people murmured. People became bolder, they spoke out more, they railed against the Lee family, against the government, against every policy and every foreigner. Singapore is overcrowded, seethed the Singaporeans, Singapore was too expensive, too small, too big, we don't have enough, they don't have enough. Mr Lee Kuan Yew garnered a lot more flack, he was criticised, cursed and laughed at. It's his fault, they stated, it's his fault we can't do this or have that, that I don't have enough, that I can't have enough.

They made fun of him when he couldn't stand without assistance, and even laughed when he was hospitalised. They declared him a liability, that he was getting what he deserved for ruining Singapore.

He was hospitalised for the last time, in February of this year, 2015. 

He did not get to spend Chinese New Year with his family. His son, too, was also hospitalised for surgery. People became vicious - they wished for their deaths. I became angry, but not at them, but for them. I never agreed wholeheartedly to either side of the argument, but I became so mad when it came to wishing them an earlier or more painful death, when people stated their deaths would bring that freedom they finally wanted, even a public holiday.


Pneumonia - that was what took him. 


He was 91 - an impressive age for anyone. Even in death, he would show the world what Singapore was about. Internationally, politicians and companies mourned for him. Walt Disney, American presidents, even North Korea expressed their condolences towards us. People queued for over eight hours to pay their last respects to his closed coffin. Companies made distasteful products, rectified this with donations and giving out supplies at the never ending line. Umbrellas, personal donations, supplies of food, water, shade, all poured into the queue which started and ended in tears.The amount of pain Singapore felt was staggering - even I did not expect it.

Many discussions, overseas and local, were had regarding the onslaught of sympathy and grief, but herd mentality or not, sincere or not, we sent a clear message to the world: Don't fuck with us.

It's too late to think about what could have been. Instead, all I have left, is a few of his books, and my amazing passport, my pink Identification Card, my weird half-and-half accent - declaring me a citizen of this island. This place is my home, and it took his entire life to bring it to this point.

We don't have him anymore. The rest is now up to us.

I don't need to know what the critics will say. He's a ruler, not a leader. People suffered under him - thrown in jail for no reason or trial because they offended him, we couldn't chew gum, there is no freedom of press, rules rules rules, the death sentence is too harsh, caning is not humane, he is ruling Singapore with an iron fist.

Fuck you, my mind supplied. You want all that gone? What are you willing to give up? Your safety when you're walking home at 4am in the morning from Zouk? How about giving up your right to one of the top healthcare services in the world? Or how about taking public transport and not knowing when you'll get blown to fucking pieces? How about living in a society where you don't know if your neighbour is dealing crack or murdering prostitutes? Or maybe you would prefer to live in a society where there are so many political differences that a coup can happen anytime and you will get taken from your home, or your children will be killed on their way to school, if they even have access to education? How about that one? You tell me what you are willing to trade in for the security and quality of life we get in this nation. Boo fucking hoo, death sentences are inhumane and our society is based on strict laws and fines, and everything is expensive.


We are a civilised society, not perfect but we are a goddamned first-world country. Did you do that while you were busy talking shit out of your ass about every indignity and every injustice you think you suffered under their 'regime'? They got criticised every step of the way and they still got shit done, look at yourself whining and expecting the world to stop turning for you.


Mr Lee Kuan Yew is already gone. At least spare his resting soul the pain of your stupidity. 


March 22, 2015

Food Review: Dim Dim Sum Dim Sum (Hong Kong)

In continuation of my Hong Kong trip (this is long overdue, actually), I suppose I should actually put some effort into updating as much as I can about my trip since I am not traveling for the foreseeable future due to work constraints. I really like my new workplace, so food reviews may be reserved for work instead! );

When in Hong Kong, it's difficult to miss dim sum. It's practically Hong Kong's national dish(es), and the first time I had it, authentically, was of course in Hong Kong, way back in 2008. It blew my mind because of several reasons:

1) Price. Dim sum is ridiculously, obscenely cheap in Hong Kong. I'm saying this probably due to the exchange rates, and also because it is much cheaper in its own hometown.

2) Experience. This applies in two-folds, first being the actual experience of me eating in an actual cha zhan teng, or tea-house, surrounded by senior citizens sitting alone with their paper and a dwindling cigarette in their mouth while their tea seeps, waiting for their baskets of dim sum arrive. Second-fold being the experience of the servers. It doesn't matter which establishment you visit - they know their shit. You can be assured that they will serve you, know what to serve you and serve you fast. These ladies (and gents) have no time to dwindle or the food gets cold. Food gets cold, nobody is happy.


So, let's start this.

This is my second visit to Dim Dim Sum (DDS). In light of many recently opened, new dim sum outlets opening up all over the world (some particularly over-hyped) and particularly in Hong Kong, there remains the solid foothold of Dim Dim Sum. I could review the older tea houses but I'm not that generous.


DDS has no qualms reminding you of its crowning glory - that it made it into Time Out Magazine's top 101 places to eat in the world in 2012, and won the Best Dim Sum award in 2011, and was featured in 'Where Chefs Eat' in The Ultimate Insiders' Guide. 

Despite her accolates, DDS remains small in the branch I visited - which is in Mongkok. Tucked away next to other much bigger restaurants and cafes, she sits unassumingly, with her awards, advertisements, features and photos plastering what little glass is available at the entrance. She opens at 11am, but a queue will form at least 15 minutes before as her seating space is not plenty. 

Again, in many eateries around Hong Kong, I must warn - if the service is good, the food will be bad. That's all I will say about the service in DDS.



The standard ordering rules apply here, just tick off whatever you want on the placard provided and they will do a confirmation and let you know if any items are unavailable for the day. Most menus will provide an English translation within the menu, but there are photos available so just point if the menu doesn't work for you linguistically. 

Friendly advice: You will be sorely tempted to over-order. Stop and pause. The fact remains that dim sum here, or anywhere in Hong Kong will be steamed fresh-to-order (if you're lucky), so over-ordering only piles your table while you are still eating. This means, if you are a slow eater, your food will go cold and go cold fast. So don't. Order what you'd like to try first, the basics, if you will. 


Like Cheong Fun, or steamed rice flour rolls.  The DDS version, named Crispy Rice Flour Rolls With Shrimp, hold a crispy-hot hoard of Chinese cruller and further within, some sweet prawns. The accompanying light sauce adds a touch of saltiness which is not present in the dish, and the textures will be a lovely accompaniment to an otherwise standard dish.


My dad is partial to a good bowl of rice congee to start the day, and the family favourite is the pork and century egg congee. Lean minced pork, with pieces of century eggs, served in warm rice congee topped with light soy sauce and green scallions. Every country or city does this differently - in Hong Kong it's a pretty standard bowl with no extra stuff, but in Singapore sometimes we get pieces of crispy pork lard or chillis to go with it. 

Having this with some Chinese cruller dipped in is pretty great, especially in colder climates.


The two more standard dishes, of Har Gow, a steamed prawn dumpling and Siew Mai, a steamed prawn and pork dumpling topped with crab roe. The Har Gow is sometimes called a crystal dumpling, because they use a dumpling skin that is semi-translucent and it glistens a bit after it has been steamed. 

Siew mai is a pretty standard dim sum dish, and different versions can be found in countries like China and Singapore. Siew Mai is just called Shao Mai in Chinese, but the Hong Kong version strikes me as more delicate, lighter on the palate and not as heavy or greasy as the Chinese counterparts.


My folks are big fans of chicken feet, or as they called when translated, Phoenix claws, in Hong Kong. A lot of people get weirded out by chicken feet - the dim sum versions are often braised in soy sauce, and sometimes a redder sauce to give it a more 'Phoenix' colour. The meat is not plenty, but most folks eat this for the skin, which is delicious when paired with the sauces. Of course, if you look at chicken feet, you'll know that eating this is not an easy feat. 

As far as I noticed, a lot of senior folks love chowing down on chicken feet. Expertly chewing through the entire thing with nothing other a pair of chopsticks (never using their hands) and occasionally spitting out tiny bones, leaving behind nothing else. I eat this as well, but never as well or as cleanly as a lot of my older counterparts.


In quick succession, arrived our next three dishes - the essential Char Siu Bao (barbequed meat steamed buns), soft white buns filled with slivers of red pork. Different buns will have doughs of varying textures depending on their ingredients within. The Char Siu Bao commonly uses a beautifully white, soft dough, almost cake-like in texture, splitting open at their tops as they're steamed. 


Next up is the traditional steamed pork ribs. DDS does a great version of this, with a light sauce rendered from the fat of the pork ribs and sweetness of the added yams.

These little petri dish of meats holds a big deal of flavours - the pork ribs are chopped into bite-sized morsels so the steaming process can be quickened, and occasionally I get a treat of cartilage, which adds a delightful texture to the dish.


My personal favourite for dim sum is the Lotus Leaf wrap - a bundle of glutinous rice, filled with treats such as salted egg yolks, pork and chicken, mushrooms, chestnuts and scallops. Different countries cook this with different ingredients, but the Cantonese having these on winter days and often cook them in bigger bundles than the other variations. 

What happens is a delicious, savoury glutinous rice, scented and darkened through the cooking process with its hoarde of ingredients and almost reminiscent of tea from the infusion of the lotus leaves steamed with it. 

Crazy delicious and an absolute treat. Any version you have of this will not let you down in Hong Kong.



Rounding up the meal, are two of DDS's iconic sweet dim sums.

The first of which is the Liu Sha Bao, or salted egg custard buns.
 

The DDS version is not just adorable, but also delicious. The filling is a salty-sweet custard, that is more liquid than pudding and will be absolutely searing hot when you bite into it, so consider this both a recommendation and a warning.

To be honest, if you're served these in any establishment and they don't make you both happy and scared at the same time, you're doing it wrong.


The next of the sweet dim sum is the Polo Bun, which is a pineapple-custard filled bun, baked with a layer of sweet crumble atop its buttery bread dough. Now this, DDS does a spectacular job at - in Hong Kong, it's not difficult to find Polo Buns. In fact, many places will have specialised racks placed right outside their restaurant to sell their assortment of Polo Buns and other breads so anyone needing a quick bite or a takeaway doesn't cram up what little space they have inside the actual restaurant. 

DDS's come in a basket of three, all made with perfectly buttery rolls, holding pieces of tart pineapple and thickened custard. While the bread itself, or the filling is not particularly sweetened in anyway, its flavour is notched up with the addition of the crumble baked on top. The crumble is flakey-sweet, speckled with a sheen of butter and egg wash, and goes perfectly well with the Polo Bun in every way.



If you are ever in Hong Kong, I hope you skip the queue and head to Dim Dim Sum. I promise you, it's very much worth the visit. If it helps, they have stores in different parts of Hong Kong, making it so much easier to get your dim sum fix. 

So get your eat on! One more review coming up for Hong Kong - and who knows what else will happen.






點點心點心專門店/Dim Dim Sum Dim Sum can be located at: 


點點心點心專門店(佐敦店) Jordan Store :
21-23 Man Ying Street, Jordan, Kowloon
九龍佐敦文英街23號地下
Tel/電話: 27717766

點點心點心專門店(旺角店) Mong Kok Store:
112 Tung Choi Street, Mong Kok, Kowloon
九龍旺角通菜街112號地下 
Tel/電話: 23092300

點點心點心專門店(灣仔店) Wan Chai Store: 
7 Tin Lok Lane, Wan Chai, HK
香港灣仔天樂里7號地下
Tel/電話: 28917677

點點心點心專門店(沙田店) Shatin: 
Shop 108, 1/F, Citylink Plaza, Shatin 
沙田連城廣場1樓108號舖
Tel/電話: 2285814