Monday, December 16, 2013

[香港] The pork liver instant noodles that captured Hong Kong - 維記咖啡粉麵 Wai Kee Cafe in Sham Shui Po

If you were to tell a foreign visitor thinking about planning a meal in Hong Kong, the last thing on their mind would be something like....well....pork liver instant noodles! Sure, you can find innards in the cuisines of European countries, but they are usually braised and stewed to the point where there's a lot of flavor and is mixed in with some thick sauce.

But made into a sweet delicate soup, to the point where the liver tastes decent, that captured the hearts and minds of a lot of locals? It's pretty hard to comprehend, until you actually come here for yourself.

From a small storefront that expanded to two additional locations on the same block (to accommodate the ever increasing crowds of locals and visitors from other Chinese speaking countries), the cafe's success can be attributed to just taking some very simple things and doing them well and right, on top of being efficient.

It's pretty simple, you wait in line until some space is freed up, and you join in the fun at an available seat. Communal dining, but you pay your own share of the bill.

Can't decide? Here's the menu from January 2013. No doubt with some inflation the current prices will be 5% to 8% more than what's listed. First, choose your carb of choice. Macaroni, instant noodles (they use the Doll noodle brand here apparently), spaghetti, or rice noodles (mai fun).

Probably 99 out of 100 customers in here order the signature, and that is pork liver with pork liver soup in instant noodles 豬潤麵. The cooking process is somewhat of a trade secret, but the broth comes out tasting very clean and sweet, despite the uhm "floaties" from the blood and gore.

Don't like liver because the cholesterol? Well you can have the same broth, but put in the typical fried egg and spam if you like (complete with blood bubbles, who needs molecular cuisine here?)

The iced coffee here is quite splendid, although I would recommend asking for it less sweet. It is way better than the one at Australian Dairy Company

Still got room? Well then get their Kaya French Toast 咖央西多士. It is one of their other must try signatures. Think of it as dessert, if you are not having this early in the morning. This is done quite refined compared to other cafes out there (where the HK style French toast is typically deep fried and clogs your arteries). The Kaya jam is made in house, and has a nice coconut and almost pandan like accent to it, and is quite a delight.

So either you get it, or you don't, and that is ok. But the fact remains is that it started with pork liver instant noodles that turned into a household name. Would I do this again instead of ramen? Very much likely so!

維記咖啡粉麵  Wai Kee Noodle Cafe
G/F, 62 & 67 Fuk Wing Street / Shop D, G/F, 165-167 Pei Ho Street , Sham Shui Po   

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

[香港] - Ishiyama (izakaya 居酒屋) 石山 - Raison d'être

Izakaya - a way to unwind and relax

Izakaya 居酒屋 is a truly wonderful type of Japanese dining establishment. Much like dai pai dong, it is extremely accessible, personable, and somewhat affordable. It's all about the atmosphere, good food, and good drink, and with the right company it is an unbeatable experience. You go in times of happiness, or even in times of sorrow. It was for the longest time, the Japanese salary man's last stop before going back home to an even more stressed out wife and to his kids (unless he stopped by the cat house on the way home). But nowadays, it is also the working person's meal of choice, perhaps a place to bond with coworkers, and also to vent about upper management, or to gossip about others in the company. And izakaya is not just for men anymore.

Ishiyama 石山 is tucked away on Lockhart Road, not too far away from the Wanchai side, but still considered Causeway Bay. When you walk up, you might see some "members only" sign, but anyone can come in. The counter seats are probably where you want to be, and maybe the best is in front of the chef. Looking up, there are rectangular sheets of the various dishes (many of which are also on the Chinese only menu)

Lots of varieties to choose from

And just like most great izakayas, there are a variety of small dishes to choose from, as well as grilled items (yakimono), fried items (agemono), the requisite sashimi section (no sushi here), and some yakitori...but honestly this is not a strong point of the restaurant since I they do not appear to use Japanese charcoal (binchotan)

Decent beverage selection too.

Even if you choose not to drink here, the food and service are very good. You may find some Japanese expats here, in addition to local Cantonese speaking customers.

Menu in Chinese, no surprises here

Chef's recommended dishes, I highly recommend focusing your ordering based on these as well!


Grilled items

Let's get started.

Koya Tofu 高野豆腐
This is a rather interesting preparation. 高野豆腐 (Koya tofu) they say was discovered by a monk in Japan who left a piece of tofu outside the temple a little too froze and rather than wasting it, he took it back inside and tried cooking it. To his surprise, the lower temperature compressed the interior, and changed the molecular chemistry. The tofu was a lot more firm, compacted, and soaked up flavor like a sponge, that apparently became the basis for making tofu have the texture of meat (well you can interpret it any way you like). For me personally, I very much enjoyed this texture. This is one of the simpler things in Japanese cooking and ingredients, and perhaps it is not widely appreciated globally, let alone in Hong Kong. For a version that is not served in warm dashi or some other broth, this is simplicity that works.
Koya tofu is different from frozen tofu used in places like Little Sheep Mongolian Pot, because Koya Tofu adds another process of drying after the freezing.


I can't remember the exact name of the dish, but it was a mixed green with thin slices of daikon radish, with a Japanese themed dressing that was a cross between ponzu and ginger. There was nothing spectacular about this dish, but it was a good way to make the meal more vegetable based (and healthier).

Ni-daikon, or simmered daikon in dashi. This piece was very smooth and had no rough fibers in it. Japanese mustard on the side provided a nice counterpoint to the light sweetness, and the dashi was good.
A very textbook but delicious rendition of monkfish liver. If you have more than 2 people in your party, this would not be enough. The addition of thin slices of Japanese cucumber (kyuri) added a nice crunch to the dish, along with seaweed and momiji oroshi.
I was curious about their onsen tamago (warm springs egg) so gave that a shot. At HK$10 this was a no brainer. Unfortunately it was served cold to my dismay, and pretty much a textbook soft boiled egg in dashi with hon wasabi on top. 
This onsen tamago is nothing like those great hanjuku tamago simmered eggs at your favorite ramen shop. Certainly interesting, but at least did not hurt so much :-)
There is a Japanese dish of stewed simmered sinews (Gyu Suji Nikomi), and theoretically it is supposed to be beef tendon in some soy sauce mirin sugar base. In the USA this dish would be a mix of fatty beef or tiny pieces of fatty short rib or shank that has some tendons in it. Here this is the true Hong Kong rendition, because we love beef tendons in their purest form so much. This was pretty glorious, a Japanese approach, to no nonsense beef tendons. This rendition would be a complete shocker in the USA. Perfect on cold nights.

This was one of the best side dishes hands down. Japanese "baigai" which look like the spiral babylons 東風螺  found in fish markets (particularly in Southern Hong Kong like Ap Lei Chau). Here this dish is served cold, in a richer marinade that was also likely soy sauce mirin maybe dashi and of course sugar.
The shellfish was simmered long enough that the marinade penetrated into and around the shell, and the meat was surprisingly tender (and juicy). The perfect companion with sake (or soju). I could have polished off a few more of these easy, but had to restrain myself.

Pictured above are standard yakitori (thigh with soy sauce) and nankotsu (soft knee bone cartilage). Not bad for an izakaya that does not specialize in yakitori (and likely not grilled with binchotan/charcoal due to the lack of intense grill marks). Obviously not their strength here.

Overall a very pleasing meal and significantly cheaper than a mid to higher end sushi restaurant in Causeway Bay. $300 to $400 ish a person which is not reasonable, and comparable to many izakaya restaurants in San Francisco Bay Area (and in some cases far superior depending on the dish).

Ishiyama 石山
1/F, 513-515 Lockhart Road, Causeway Bay                                                    

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

[香港 HONG KONG] - Roasties near the Horses 永祥燒臘飯店 Wing Cheung Restaurant (Happy Valley)

Happy Valley is not known to be a food destination for international travelers. To the locals it is a place where you can go to the Jockey Club, where if you are a member you can do a number of things. For the average person, this is their legal Las Vegas, where people can bet on horse racing and try their luck. Not sure if this is still true, but apparently if you win big at the races, you essentially remain anonymous, no matter the size of the jackpot (unlike the Super Lotto in the USA, if you hit the mega millions, your mugshot becomes the theme for worldwide wallpaper).
But there is a surprising variety of interesting eats in that have their own unique characteristics.
Today we visit this neighborhood roasties shop, Wing Cheung. It has been around probably 30 years or more and has been often visited by celebrities (e.g. "has been" pop singers, but still hold some level of wealth and power) according to tabloids who have nothing better to do, than to report singer X dropped by for some roasties take out while he battles reports of infidelity, or that he knocked up a starlet while his kids were at school.
This is a pretty good reliable standby kind of place. While it does not have the level of success and fame like Joy Hing, it's a reasonable no nonsense effective and delicious establishment that does the goods quite well. Here the roast goose and cha siu/bbq pork rice plates hits the spot. The only setback for those seeking value is that they do not include a house soup like some of the other roasties restaurants (e.g. Joy Hing).
Nonetheless, recommended if you are in the area and want to get some roasties to go, or dine in with a rice plate.
永祥燒臘飯店  Wing Cheung Restaurant
G/F, 2 King Kwong Street, Happy Valley 



Friday, November 15, 2013

[香港 HONG KONG] - A Temple of Roasties 再興燒臘飯店 Joy Hing Roasted Meat (Wanchai)

Joy Hing 再興燒臘飯店 really needs no introduction. It has already been put on the map, thanks to Anthony Bourdain: Layover Hong Kong and probably numerous other write-ups by local bloggers and reviewers.

But despite all that, Joy Hing still maintains that low key neighborhood feel that doesn't seem to be overrun by tourists. No nonsense, efficient, great food, and best of all an affordable price.

Rather than mincing on words, I'll let the photos do the talking.

While waiting in line, the butcher's window provides plenty of photo ops and teases 
Looks like a battlefield. All good stuff I'm sure! 
 "Welcome to the jungle, we've got fun & games! And roasties!"
Action packed in here. 
The secret sauce. Self help for coloring your white rice to your heart's content! 
 Included with your meal, house soup. This one is watercress with pork bones
Upgrade your lifestyle with an entrée plate of cha siu!
Heaven in a plate. No need for wagyu all the time right?
Let's get a closer look at the goodness, shall we? 
Roasties so fine it even makes the butcher cry. (I have no idea how I managed this shot...) 
What are you waiting for? Head here now! 
再興燒臘飯店 Joy Hing Roasted Meat
Block C, G/F, 265-267 Hennessy Road, Wan Chai 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

[香港 HONG KONG] - Smooth slippery greasy carby saucy wetty goodness from Hop Yik Tai 合益泰小食 (Sham Shui Po)

Hop Yik Tai 合益泰小食
So one Taiwanese author once wrote that when she goes overseas, and returns to Taiwan, the first thing she craves as soon as she gets off the plane, is beef noodle soup 台灣牛肉麵. Craig Auyeung in one of his 2007 books mentioned that for him (and perhaps other Hong Kong expats), his equivalent craving after returning to Hong Kong would be won ton noodles 雲吞麵. As wonderful as a writer Craig is, I believe he has it wrong.
Because one of the things I was craving this whole trip, was plain cheung fun with sauces 豬腸粉!!
Plain cheung fun 豬腸粉 with lots and lots of sauces is a childhood snack food engraved into the memory of many homesick Hong Kong expats (local and overseas), at least those who grew up in the 60s/70s/80s. If you asked me when I was 11 or so if I preferred HK style spaghetti (stir fried with ketchup, sausage/ham/onions) or HK style with meatsauce, or 豬腸粉....the answer would be blatantly obvious!
And what is there not to like? A multitude of textures and much more exciting than eating al dente pasta or big ass stupid name American sushi rolls!
So some years back when this place was put on the social media blogging map as the temple of 豬腸粉, it was time to pay them a visit. Easy to locate and get to, since it was right outside the MTR station in Sham Shui Po, with a very easy walk. Can't find it? Walk inside and follow the crowds until you see the crazy lines.
You can of course order other things inside Hop Yik Tai, and even dine in. But if you want a taste of the streets, old school style....just stand up like a true Hong Konger, and eat. Standing noodle bar? Well perhaps. The line moves fairly fast, as it is a pretty much one woman operation when you eat standing up.
Very simple. Tell the lady with the scissors how many rolls of 豬腸粉 you want (there is a price sign around the corner somewhere...with constant inflation who knows how much this is now). Lady takes a plate, cuts the rolled rice noodles into mini bite sized pieces, then asks you what you want on it.
See those squirt bottles? It's a medley of sauces of varying flavors. For the full experience, just say you want everything. And do not forget the sesame seeds, a critical component. 
See how fast homeboy in the cap quickly dives down and starts slurping that shit after purchasing? Like he is snorting cocaine and had withdrawl issues? :-)
Now before you come flocking here, be aware that these 豬腸粉 rice noodle rolls are outsourced to some factory, so Hop Yik Tai does not make them in house. But you are guaranteed freshness, since the turnover is so high.

If you are facing the cart and look to your left, this is the alley. Not exactly the best of all environments, but there's something primal about enjoying this right there.

Ahh the challenges of food photography. So much better to hold a cel phone camera in one hand, and hold the plate of goodness in the other. Not fun trying to do this with a big digital SLR camera.

So what are you waiting for? Wolf down that stuff like a lion in a bacon shop!

Slippery, smooth, wetty, a wee bit greasy feeling, spicy, savory, a tinge of sweetness, and fairly hot.
And it goes down so well.

HOP YIK TAI 合益泰小食  
G/F 121 Guailam Street, Sham Shui Po