Glutton Abroad: HK if you’re hungry

Yes, it happens. There are times when you just don’t wanna. So in an attempt to get back that elusive mojo, that ever-flickering desire to inflict myself onto the blogosphere again, to throw myself once again into that fathomless void of nothing — I went away. Specifically, to Hong Kong.

Hong Kong seems full of mojo. While Europe flounders and the U.S. seethes, Hong Kong appears to be soaring, buzzing, full of brio and activity. Sidewalks are teeming, hotels are fully booked, and, yes, restaurants are full. So, while I’ve seen my Hong Kong and my HK friends’ Hong Kong, I thought it was time to see the HK that my friends Cha and Nat (of the wildly popular website catandnat.com) like to see.

Of course, that involved a good helping of Cantonese food. Let me tell you about Cantonese food. I don’t know so much about it. All I know about it I gleaned from dozens of faceless Cantonese restaurants scattered across the American Midwest, at countless lacquered wooden tables where I cursed the gods and my fate and the people who invented this food. I know that’s a funny thing to think for a person who likes to go to Hong Kong so much. But HK is full of all types of great cuisines. Until now, it was something that was easy to avoid and dismiss as something that I just didn’t get. Just like I don’t get classical music. Or the Stone Roses. When some (inevitably British) person starts to wax nostalgic about the genius of the Stone Roses, and we actually have to listen to something by them, it’s like my brain goes “Okay, let’s find something interesting about thi-aw drat got me againzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz”. You know it’s supposed to be good, you know you should appreciate it, but damned if you can get through a couple of minutes of it. It’s like the musical equivalent of reading The Economist.

A lot of Cantonese food is also like The Economist. It’s full of finesse, and subtlety. Fresh ingredients are paramount, because there is nothing to hide bad stuff behind. It’s one of those cuisines that, like French food, require great technique. Except that French cuisine has butter. Cantonese food is a rich person’s food, where only the best will do. It doesn’t have to hide its protein behind a layer of chilies or coat it in a sauce mounted with a stick of butter or stuff it into sausages to carry it long distances. Cantonese food just is.

Green beans coated in egg yolks at Xia Mian Guan

Although I had only one night in Hong Kong (devoted mainly to a wine-soaked 11-course dinner at Caprice), we managed to snatch up some time to explore some great Cantonese dishes. Such as these fresh green beans sauteed with egg yolk, giving them a rich, hefty savor perfectly complemented by a bean-y crunch. Or this:

Crab congee at Chee Kei

A smooth, unctuous rice porridge dotted with crab meat, crab claws and — best of all — globs of crab roe, punctuated with bits of ginger and green onion and just the slightest hint of saltiness. I really, really wanted to add stuff to it — chili oil and black vinegar and whatever else I could get my hands on, the way a Thai would add condiments to his jok — but it ended up changing the flavor, obscuring what had been rich and even slightly sweet. Consider that a lesson learned. Next time, Hong Kong. I’ll be back.

4 Comments

Filed under Asia, Chinese, food, Hong Kong, restaurant, rice porridge

4 responses to “Glutton Abroad: HK if you’re hungry

  1. If you love crab congee the best place to have it is Wong Chi Kee. The crab is fresher, bigger, and tastier at Wong Chi Kee than at Chee Kee. I love crab congee as well and went to over 10+ congee places in search of the perfect crab congee. =) My review of Wong Chi Kee here: http://thehungryegghead.com/2012/03/16/the-best-congee-in-hong-kong-wong-chi-kee-黃枝記/

    I love Caprice as well.

  2. Thank you for the interpretation of Cantonese cuisine. I too lace my congee with chili oil and vinegar and pepper, while well aware that nobody around me does. But next time I will hunt down the crab congee and take it neat. There is so much to love in this piece–

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