the hinata diaries

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Hong Kong recap part 2

Damn, food blogging is hard work, I'm almost spending more time writing about meals than I spend eating them :)

Saturday in Hong Kong was filled with greedy anticipation, as I'd booked Christmas Eve dinner at Hutong three weeks ago and was looking forward to the special degustation menu that was prepared for Christmas. So lunch was really light - we had taken a day trip to Macau, and as I was the only one who was hungry at lunch (Philippe's family eats breakfast with almost religious fervour while I tend to skip), I thought the proper touristy thing to do would be to stuff myself on Portugese egg tarts. Again, these disappeared too fast to be photographed, but they really do look exactly like they did in their Singapore heyday: buttery puff pastry cases filled with golden yellow custard that's caramelized at the top to a glistening dark brown. What I hadn't recalled from eating the Singapore version was the amount of oil in the pastry - my paper bag was completely soaked through with oil by the time I finished (approximately 20 seconds). Also I was a little disappointed to see that most of the egg tarts on sale weren't lovingly handmade on the premises using some centuries-old family recipe, but supplied from some central manufacturer and cased in the same metal displays as the lousy baos you find at hawker centres here.

And then, dinner!

HUTONG, One Peking Road

Will try to let the photos do the most of the talking. Menu:

First course (named "Winter Passage"): Marinated dou miao, drunken chicken slices and an abalone/spring onion salad

The dou miao was simple, blanched, rolled and served cold with a dollop of fresh wasabi on each. Great palate-opener that I'll keep in mind for home entertaining. Drunken chicken rolls were amazing, sweet and alcoholic to the point of practically being flammable. Abalone salad was again very simple, with practically zero dressing but great flavours. If I were to make this at home, I'd probably just drizzle the abalone and spring onions with some olive oil and be done with it. And toss in a few arugula leaves to balance the spice of the onions.

Next ("First Frost"): Double boiled deer horns soup

I have to admit, I was incredibly skeptical at the thought of drinking deer horns soup, but when the soup arrived the meat looked and smelled comfortingly of chicken. Then we realized that it was really a chicken soup (that black blob in the photo is a knob of black chicken) and that the deer horn was limited to the odd spongy looking thin discs that made an occasional appearance when scooping out the soup. No-one in our group actually dared to eat the deer horn pieces, but honestly I don't think we were missing much. It didn't appear to impart any discernible flavour in the soup anyway.

Winter Flurry: Fried prawns in garlic and long leg crab fillets in capsicum sauce

These dishes were unfortunately fairly average, despite the particularly pretty presentation of the first. I don't recall ever being a fan of the small prawns you find in Cantonese cooking, as they usually come in some dodgy cornstarch thickened sauce and tend to taste recently defrosted. And unfortunately for these prawns, the garlic topping was probably more a mix of garlic and some random soggy cereal, which lacked fragrance and crunch. As for the crab legs, both mom-in-law and I independently came to the conclusion that they would have been much better without the starchy, rubbery batter that encased them. Wrestle off the batter and voila, fresh, thick, sweet crab meat. What a waste! The capsicum sauce also tasted like a run-of-the-mill sweet and sour sauce that reminded me of Chinatowns all across the US.

Winter Solstice (what is the point of these names?): Crispy de-boned lamb

This is apparently the house specialty - crispy lamb de-boned and served Peking duck style with pancake, spring onions and a soy sauce laced with chilli pieces and shallots.

This dish managed to be delicious and disturbing at the same time. Primarily because we asked our waitress what the crispy layer on the top was and she replied skin. Which seemed perfectly normal until the thought occurred to me, what on earth is lamb skin??? Apologies for the unsophisticated question, but isn't that what wool is stuck to??? So while it had the texture and taste of perfectly roasted pork crackling, I kept imagining I was eating a mouthful of wool. Very bizarre. Being a traditionalist, I would've also been happy to have this with plum sauce, given that the soy sauce dip did nothing to balance the smoky and somewhat strong lamb smell.

Delicate Cold: Wok-tossed garoupa fillet

In a word, yum! Basically the fish version of kung pao chicken but worked so much better. A while ago, Philippe and I discovered the joy of cooking and eating fish fillets bulgogi style (we had run out of beef and pork in the fridge), and this kung pao fish is another great substitute.

Seven Herbs: Kai lan in ginseng broth

Simple and very refreshing after all the meats and strong sauces. Presumably good for you too, although the seven herbs were nowhere in sight. Another 'to make at home' dish.

Bitter Cold: Hashima in sweet soup

Here we were given a choice of desserts. Once I explained to my in-laws what hashima was, they readily opted for the ice cream topped with bird's nest. This turned out to be a coconut ice cream garnished with white fungus and, yes, a miniscule dollop of bird's nest. My hashima soup came in a generous bowl and was dense with the innocent-looking white lumps:

The pleasant surprise was that the soup was coconut based, which made it taste like an upscale bobor chacha. No complaints from me there - I would be quite happy if hashima cooks around the world settled on this as the default way of serving hashima.

Will end the meal recap with a parting photo of the view from the restaurant, which was pretty amazing... the same unfortunately can't be said for the choice of band for the night - Chinese girls singing evergreen pop songs while playing traditional Chinese instruments, ugh:

VONG, Mandarin Oriental Hotel

This one's short. Christmas lunch was a buffet at Vong. International spread with the usual suspects - omelette station, sashimi, dim sum, turkey carving cart, cheese, little desserts etc. Almost all the dishes were faultless and the atmosphere was festive with happy families and friendly staff. A couple of photos, more of the environment than the food, which can easily be imagined. Btw, the cutlery was gorgeous too, with their scalloped edges. I want!

And that's the end of my Hong Kong culinary adventure. Some big hits and some equally big misses, but lots of ideas for dishes to try at home. Looking forward to hitting the kitchen again soon.


  • Yes, I've never understood why, but whole steamed live fish always seems to cost a fortune in Hong Kong. I can't make any sense of it. Dishes containing fish, even big chunks, don't seem to cost nearly as much. It's probably cheaper to take a ferry to Cheung Chau, or a taxi to Lei Yue Mun, and eat the fish there.

    Those Yung Kee century eggs are one of my favorite things in the world to eat, runny or not. I've accounted for two full dishes at one sitting myself. Thanks for the picture, which makes me very hungry.

    By Anonymous SoupNoodles, At 1:44 AM  

  • Stumbled upon this site looking for what is hashima. I need to know for work... It would be much appreciated if you could reply (here or my email) thanks!

    By Anonymous Carla, At 11:04 PM  

  • Hi Carla,

    Hashima is a bit of a mystery even to its biggest fans (I thought it was just jelly till I was 18! probably wouldn't have eaten it otherwise). As far as I'm aware, hashima is a gland from winter frogs, from which part of the body or what the gland does I don't really know. It's usually sold dry then soaked and double boiled for either a savoury or sweet soup. When cooked it looks like little chunks of jelly and is essentially tasteless. It's meant to be especially good for regulating women's health. A good bowl of quality hashima in a fine Chinese restaurant can easily set you back US$20 or more. Hope that helps!

    By Blogger hinata, At 2:43 PM  

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