Saturday, July 24, 2010

Nong Khai Beer House

Sunday afternoon and we’ve ventured to golden mile for lunch. We surfaced from basement car park and were greeted with the odd smell of bamboo shoots – one that I closely associated with Thailand. This basement is buzzing – prominently displayed hand phone and calling adverts, blaring Thai Music, it feels foreign to me but for the many that loiter and mill around here, this is their home away from home.

The cooking here is rather remarkable. There is a spirit of entrepreneurship and tenacity. Many of these basement shops don’t have a gas stove – chicken gets broiled by a turbo-broiler, the food is simple and very homely. Because of this slight limitation the menu is tilted towards salads but the plates come fresh and bright, delivering the classic Thai sweet, spicy, sour and salty punch. Share stack salad bites on some sticky rice then soothe the heat down with some milky Thai ice tea, and for that moment, enjoy the feeling of being foreign in your own land and finding comfort in food.

Nong Khai Beer House
5001 Beach Road, #01-73/74
Golden Mile Complex
Tel: 9188-7221


36 Hours in Hong Hong (Part 2)

As we trekked up and down the slopes of Hong Kong, we were careful to dodge the air con water dribbles but were unfortunate to be caught in the rain. The best comfort for feeling wet and miserable and to feed some late night munchies was found at another da pai dong – Yuk Yip Dessert, opposite the current Man Yuen Noodles, also the original location of Man Yuen Noodles and from what I understand still has some linkage to the original stall. Confusing? A little bit but the small bowl of noodles, without argument, good.

An alternative to slurping a slice of history at Man Yuen would be Mak’s. Over-priced for pre-war sized portions? Perhaps. The bowl size is quite odd. As someone I dined with over dinner puts it, “one is too little and two sometimes feels like you are over doing it”. Order more and share or if you are solely in Hong Kong to eat, treat it as an amuse bouche, just don’t think too much about it. Have the obligatory bowl of wanton noodles, the broth has good depth and umami, their noodles have an amazing texture and the shrimps are crunchy. Other than that, something that I like having is the noodles with shrimp roe and oyster sauce.

We weren’t expecting to get a coveted table at the The Chairman Restaurant that opened to rave reviews at the end of 2009 but we thought we’d try, and hey, who knew, they could sit a table for three, so we jumped it.

Their philosophy using on artisan and local ingredients and homemade sauces, sounds ambitious and grandiloquent but there are plates and diners who will testify that it isn’t just all talk.

We started with century eggs with homemade young ginger pickle, where the waiter kept stressing on the fact that the only use the young ginger, highlighting the use of seasonal produce and also the best ingredients. The pickle came through, the brightness of the ginger without the heat that you get with the old ginger.

crisp small yellow croacker fish

Then we picked up the perfectly fried to a crisp small yellow croacker fish that crunchy and airy to bite and then drizzled with the sweet tart balsamic dressing this got a nod of approval from everyone. The appetizer we had, pork chin with Chinese premium soy sauce served with crispy tofu, I understand what they were trying to do with the contrast in texture but was ok and paled in comparison against the croacker fish.

Steamed Fresh Flowery Crab with Aged Shao Xing Wine & Fragrant Chicken Oil

Their signatures are excellent. Steamed Fresh Flowery Crab with Aged Shao Xing Wine & Fragrant Chicken Oil, the individual elements on their own were very good - sweet fresh crab meat, mellow and inviting and (let’s face it) flavourful chicken fat. And to mop up the sauce, silky rice rolls to swish about sauce, here in Hong Kong they aren’t shy about the fat.

The Chairman’s Chicken

The Chairman’s Chicken, also a house signature, is a good demonstration of what this restaurant is trying to do. Classic and seemingly simple but executed on a higher level by concentrating on the basics of good cooking – good ingredients and homemade sauces that provide stamp their originality. The dish looks deceptively simple and the taste is has a long finish.

braised layered bean curd with morel and Chinese mushroom

The vegetarian dish, braised layered bean curd with morel and Chinese mushroom, was unexpectedly awesome. The ribbons of bean curd was stacked on top of one another to form a soft brick and coated with brown sauce which stood up against the bigger earthier mushrooms. Clean and clear tasting.

The food here is good. I like the idea of it – eat local, eat fresh and eat well, it is friendly gourmet.

Last stop before we hit the tarmac, Tai Cheong Egg Tarts, where flaky pastry meets silky custard, two dozen to go, ok, now we were good to go.

Yuk Yip Desserts
2 Elgin Street,
Central, Hong Kong
Tel: (852) 2544 3795

Man Yuen Noodles
68-70A Hollywood Road,
Central, Hong Kong

Mak's Noodles
77 Wellington Street,
Central, Hong Kong
Tel: (852) 2854 3810

The Chairman Restaurant
18 Kau U Fong,
Central, Hong Kong
Tel: (852) 2555 2202

Tai Cheong Bakery
35 Lyndhurst Terrace,
Central, Hong Kong
Tel: (852) 2544 3475


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

36 Hours in Hong Kong (Part 1)

36 hours in Hong Kong and focused on eating Hong Kong and Cantonese food. Pack light, wear good walking shoes and be prepared to be a little sleep deprived.

Off the plane and off to lunch. Starving and still clutching my hand luggage, we arrived at Fu Sing for some Dim Sum and traditional dishes that were all executed at a good to excellent level. One example is Fu Sing’s char siew had a good little of bit of everything - a sweet, crisp and charred outer layers and the pork was super succulent, hands down the best ever. (I don't think anything in Singapore comes close.)

Amongst the usual suspects of dim sum, chicken feet and har gao, we ordered other delights like deep fried fish belly with a batter that is airy and light, polo char siew pau, a little too sweet but nice and crisp on the outside and soft on the outside, good but more char siew would be appreciated. And lastly, but not in any particular preferential order, the XO stir fried Cheong Fun that was soft and chewy and coated with enough sauce.

Chinese lettuce and prawn paste in claypot

Away from the dim sum theme, two dishes that I really enjoyed that I thought were wonderfully simple but high up on the delicious scale were Chinese lettuce and prawn paste in claypot and pomelo skin with shrimp roe sauce. The prawn paste was pungent enough to make it and the heat from the claypot was enough to scorch the taste on the lettuce and to maintain its crisp without wilting it, clever cooking and excellent tasting.

pomelo skin with shrimp roe sauce

As for the pomelo skin, like most Chinese delicacies that are textural than strong tasting, the second dish - pomelo skin with shrimp roe sauce - sounds stranger than it taste, and it is really quite amazing for something that I wouldn't think twice about tossing into the bin. Our dining companions, a couple of local HK foodies, explained the pains of preparing the skins to remove the bitterness from the skins and then the braising process, the result is a texturally interesting squishy and spongy pulp that readily absorbs the braising liquid, the whole dish was strangely delicious.

Gough Street and its dai pai dongs. We first headed to Kau Kee to the awesome beef brisket noodles that most who have tasted still either a. crave b. have on a regular basis to feed the crave c. daydreams about, we headed there to, option a, feed the crave. Then we crossed over for some typical Hong Kong food, food that really only makes sense in Hong Kong and sometimes pack a tasty punch. Sing Heung Yuen, a typical da pai dong that requires some - sideways eating - sitting on an uneven ground and balancing your bowl of noodles on a downward angled table due to the hilly nature of Hong Kong has its charm. Sitting here makes you feel like part of the old and new Hong Kong and whilst you are soaking in the local feel, have some local fill - we had their popular crispy bun, a crispy hamburger bum, topped with lemon juice and honey and a bowl of instant noodles with hand squeezed tomato soup with a pork chop and fried egg (the popular choice is macaroni and beef). The crispy bun was crisp and fluffy and the lemon and honey was sweet and tangy but a tad too sweet for me. The tomato soup, I enjoyed it more than I expected, and I recommend getting a fried egg in whatever combination you choose - break the yolk and coat your noodles or stir it into your soup, extra flavour means extra yum!

The only ‘real’ dinner that we had was to be the highlight because we were sampling the seasonal local delicacy - Yellow oil crab. The locals guard this pretty tightly, well basically they eat up their own supply so very little of it gets exported or if any at all. So this is what I’ve learnt, like the hairy crab, it is yellow oil crab is roe-filled and are best eaten at the peak of its season. During the hot summer season, these sun loving crabs meet on the mouth of the Pearl River and if sun kissed at the right temperature, the fat in the liver breaks up and permeates and stains the flesh yellow. We sampled ours at Victoria City (part of the East Ocean Group) and like the hairy crab, the focus is really on the yellow oil and roe – best scooped and savoured with a tiny teaspoon - rather than its flesh, although there is more to pick through compared to the hairy crab. What we really liked was their yellow oil crab xiao long bao where the crab meat and roe is mixed with the pork and the resultant soup that is encased in the dumpling is both stained yellow, rich and creamy – great and turf in a dumpling! Good as it was, I must confess, it was a little of a let down but perhaps we haven’t hit the peak of the season.

Fu Sing Sharkfin Seafood Restaurant
1/F, 353 Lockhart Road,
Sunshine Plaza,
Wanchai, Hong Kong.
Tel: (852) 2893 0881

Kau Kee Noodles
21 Gough Street,
Central, Hong Kong
Tel: (852) 2850 5967

Sing Heung Yuen (opposite Kau Kee)
2 Mee Lun St. (between Gough St. and Hollywood Rd.)
Central, Hong Kong
Tel: (852) 2544 8368

Victoria Seafood
1 Tim Mai Avenue
5 Floor Citic Tower
Central, Hong Kong
Tel: (852) 2877 2211


Sunday, July 04, 2010

The Korean Twist: Fried Chicken & Makgeolli

Chicken wings are a really great bar food. Part of its appeal is the hands-on experience you get eating it. The chicken wing has a high skin to meat ratio makes the chicken wing seem like a choice cut. The structure of the chicken wing also sets itself up to be ideal finger food: the wing tip is a natural grip handle as you gnaw through at the wing. And the drumsticks, well, maybe that’s where man got the idea of having meat on sticks.

So what about fried chicken done in a Korean style? From what I understand, the chicken is lightly dredged in flour and twice fried till a lovely golden crisp and then lacquered with sauce. With a great sauce these crisp chicks are dangerously delicious and awfully addictive.

Unlike most of the Korean restaurants that tend to focus on BBQ, Kko Kko Nara is a small mom and pop Korean shop that has carved out its niche in Korean fried chicken and as a late night dining option.

The draw of the place is obvious from its cute plump looking chicken that it has chosen for its logo. Their fried chicken comes in three flavours: original - without sauce, with a soy garlic sauce or a sweet spicy sauce. Of the three, the clear winner is the soy garlic and just a word of caution, I had a singular piece of super spicy ones and that was more pain than pleasure.

The clincher of the night, however, was the discovery of draft makkoli. Makgeolli or makkoli – an unfiltered rice wine that is very much like a nigori sake but lower in alcohol and sweet and refreshing with the gentle effervescence. (This is one of the best things I’ve tasted this year!)

There are other gems on the menu such as the bo ssam, which is now synonymous with David Chang and Momofuku, is also absolutely delicious and accompanied by not just crisp lettuce and perilla but a variety of green leaves to mix things up a little. And the rest of what I had was a bit of hit and miss.

The menu is not for the solo-eater, it is designed for drinks and socialising. The normal-sized portions feed a minimum of three to four, so bring friends and drink some draft makkoli!

Kko Kko Nara
57 Tras Street #01-01
Tel: 6224 -8186


Saturday, July 03, 2010

More No Knead - Walnut&Raisin and less ugly!

I’ve fallen in love with this no knead method of making bread. It is no knead and less mess and the crust even crackles when I pull the bread out of oven. And above all of it, it is amazingly simple, anyone can make bread.

The only issue I have with this recipe is the long time that it takes to ferment. It takes planning. The initial fermentation takes 12-18 hours and then 2 hours for the next proof. The initial fermentation is a little tricky to plan and the only time I managed to string together enough hours and to blend my social and bread fermentation schedule was on the weekends. So I’ve been thinking about how I could work the dough into my weekday schedule and I’ve figured out a way of making this bread-work-life balance work. If I wake up 20 minutes earlier on a weekday to mix the dough and to set the fermentation process, I can shape and proof the dough when I get home from work, have a little dinner and pop it in the oven 2 hours later, then volia I’d get fresh bread for the next day! Hurray! Hurray!

3 cups bread flour
½ cup raisins
1¼ teaspoon table salt
¾ teaspoon cinnamon
½ cup walnuts
1½ cups water
½ teaspoon instant or active dry yeast
pinch fresh ground pepper
wheat bran, cornmeal or additional flour for dusting

1. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, raisins, walnuts, salt, cinnamon, yeast, and pepper, mixing thoroughly. Add the water and, using a wooden spoon or your hand, mix until you have a wet, sticky dough, about 30 seconds. If it’s not really sticky to the touch, mix in another tablespoon or two of water. Cover the bowl and let sit at room temperature until the surface is dotted with bubbles and the dough is more than doubled in size, 12 to 18 hours.
2. When the first rise is complete, generously dust a work surface with flour. Use a bowl scraper or rubber spatula to scrape the dough out of the bowl in one piece. Using lightly floured hands or a bowl scraper or spatula, lift the edges of the dough in toward the center. Nudge and tuck in the edges of the dough to make it round.
3. Place a tea towel on your work surface and generously dust it with wheat bran, cornmeal, or flour. Gently place the dough on the towel, seam side down. If the dough is tacky, dust the top lightly with wheat bran, cornmeal, or flour. Fold the ends of the tea towel loosely over the dough to cover it and place it in a warm, draft-free spot to rise for 1 to 2 hours. The dough is ready when it is almost doubled. If you gently poke it with your finger, it should hold the impression. If it springs back, let it rise for another 15 minutes.
4. Half an hour before the end of the second rise, preheat the oven to 250 degree Celsius, with a rack in the lower third, and place the covered heavy pot in the center of the rack.
5. Carefully remove the preheated pot from the oven and uncover it. Unfold the tea towel and quickly but gently invert the dough into the pot, seam side up. Cover the pot and bake for 30 minutes.
6. Remove the lid and continue baking until bread is a deep chestnut color but not burnt, 15 to 30 minutes more (It took me about 15). Use a heatproof spatula or pot holders to gently lift the bread out of the pot and place it on a rack to cool thoroughly.

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