A taste of Hong Kong …

… sparks a quest for the perfect Hainanese chicken rice.

But before anything else, welcome to my brief round up of Hong Kong eats. Brief because when I checked my pictures, a lot of food pictures were missing due to overeager eaters … again.

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My "muni-muni" (soul-searching) pose

The picture above was a product of my recent addiction to the Filipino teleserya, an obsession that I like to make fun about. I wanted my brother to take a picture of me in “muni-muni” (soul-searching) mode as the scenery was the perfect backdrop – and boy was I having a moment. ๐Ÿ™‚

Anyway, that’s the view of Hong Kong from the Kowloon side. Kowloon, I believe, is the tourist center with shopping, food and hotels galore. A reader of mine summed up this tiny Chinese peninsula so well – "New York on steroids", I couldn’t agree more.

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Spring Deer Peking Duck

One restaurant I wanted to revisit was Spring Deer – a restaurant I visited back in 1996 where/when I had the best Peking duck of my life. Unfortunately, 14 years later, it was not the same. The duck was a bit dry and was not as flavorful.

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Peking Duck slices

Which makes me wonder – do our tastes change? Do we become more discerning as we get older and the food that tastes so fabulous to us in our youth becomes a mirage – a false memory?

Moving on…

One of our best meals in Hong Kong was at Jade Garden’s location in Star house, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon. The restaurant is a part of the Maxim’s group of restaurants and is a reliable place for Cantonese cuisine. They offer set menus that are good for two, four, 10 etc. Since there were three of us, we decide to order the set menu for two and added additional ‘ala carte dishes.

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Fabulous barbecue pork
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Marinated tofu and eggs

I finally had the pigeon of my dreams. Perfect skin, succulent tasty meat, I savored every bite and bit of it, bones sucked clean.

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Come to mama…my little pigeon!

Most surprising dish was this simple soup of mushroom, cabbage and dried scallop. The broth had the most umami of flavors. We finally decided it was the dried scallops that lent such a haunting taste that each spoonful was meant to be savored.

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One of the best soups ever!

Sometimes it’s not easy for everyone in a group to agree to one place to eat and that’s where The Food Republic comes in. It has the atmosphere of hawker street fare in a food-court type setting.
 

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The Food Republic

Yes, it’s fast food, but it was here that I ate one of my more memorable meals not because it was oozing with culinary savviness but because it was comfort food, plain and simple. After a long day of shopping (well, mostly window shopping), this is just what a worn-out soul needs. Take for example:

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Assorted marinated dish

I’m a sucker for marinated dishes in soy and star anise. It’s one of my favorite flavor combinations.

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tendon in noodle soup

I attributed my improved skin tone in Hong Kong due to my high consumption of collagen found in tendons. See…

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flawless skin? Nah…

No, that’s not a product of photoshop, it’s more like the handiwork of the experts at the Armani make-up counter, he…he. If you ever get your hands on their luminous silk foundation, you’ll know why I’m raving.

Taking a break from all the food, here are some shopping centers we visited. The K-11 is a new shopping center in front of the Holiday Inn, Kowloon.

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K-11
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More shopping…
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breathtaking interiors

Endless shopping. That’s Hong Kong. With no import tax, it’s every shopaholic’s dream (and nightmare when the credit card bill arrives).

Great noodle houses abound. There was one we went to where the hostess told us quite pointedly what time we needed to be done and out of there. And I forgot the name of the place! Sorry!

They make their noodles in-house.

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Dimsum and noodle house

You get to choose which type of noodle you want for your dish.

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Marinated pork and spaghetti

No idea why I got spaghetti for this. I wanted egg noodles! ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

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Chicken Pots de Creme?

Not really. ๐Ÿ™‚ It’s a wine-marinated chicken served chilled. Did not like it too much, but brother did.

The crispy smoked duck below was to die for.

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Smoked duck

We’re at the home stretch! For lunch on our last day we decided to go back to the Food Republic. I had been eyeing the Seargent’s Hainanese chicken rice for a while but couldn’t make up my mind because it was the most boring-looking chicken dish I have ever seen.

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Hainanese Chicken Rice vendor

But my curiosity got the better of me so I ordered it…and fell in love. "Chickeny", if that’s a word, is thy name. The texture of the skin was velvet in my mouth and the tender ginger-scented flesh teased my tongue so delicately. It was sublime! And the rice… the rice, so addictive in its garlic, ginger, sesame-oil blend of splendor, the low-carb diet can go to hell! Ah, how can I describe the experience with justice?

Anyway, enough swooning.

That evening, we felt we’ve had enough of Chinese food and decided to go Vietnamese. I forgot the restaurant name (again) but the name had "Pho" and a number. My brother said it was a chain restaurant and there is one in the Philippines but the HK one had a bigger menu.

So, I had rare-beef pho which isn’t really rare once the hot broth cooks the beef slices.

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Pho!

And a side of garlicky fried-chicken wings.

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Fried chicken wings

This is how I like my fried chicken wings, simple and unbreaded.

I love Hong Kong food! It’s the closest I could get to the dishes that my grandmother and dad prepared when I was growing up. The flavors are uncomplicated, sauces are restrained, the taste of the ingredients come through with clarity, cliche I know, but in this case so true.

Which brings me back to this obsession with Hainanese Chicken rice which isn’t really Chinese but Singaporean. Like the white cut chicken that was a regular rotation in our Cantonese family dinners, the type of chicken used here is very important. It has to be a "native" chicken that roams free and eats grass. This type of chicken has firmer but tastier flesh. My grandma and dad had regular suppliers who would bring a fine selection of chicken over. I remember the "ass-pinch" test to check if the chicken was fat and the "breastbone-press" test to check if the chicken was the right age (not too old).

Unfortunately, here in the U.S., it’s harder to find such chicken. A friend on twitter, after my not so stellar result making Hainanese Chicken using Steamy Kitchen’s recipe, directed me to Polyface farms which supplies chicken to the local health food shop Ellwood Thompson.

hainanese
Hainanese Chicken Rice

I was not able to replicate that heavenly first encounter in HK. For one thing, if you notice the chicken skin, it’s a lot paler in comparison to the obvious yellowish tinge of the one hanging in the stall in HK. That immediately told me that the chicken I used was wrong for this dish. Though the skin texture was close it was too thin compared to the HK chicken. The meat was not "chickeny" enough – meaning even without sufficient flavoring, it should still have that chicken taste. Understandably, the rice lacked flavor because the chicken broth that was used to steam the rice lacked flavor.

But there was something else lacking. For the chicken, there was that "liquor" taste that was missing and for the rice, some "richness".

In my relentless search to rebuild a taste from memory, I came across this post regarding the secrets of Hainanese chicken rice. Aniseed is an ingredient not included in the original recipe I used. For the rice, coconut milk is an added ingredient. Hopefully this would not turn into a two year quest like my duck confit, and thankfully, ingredients are cheaper!

Yes, it looks like the plainest poultry dish ever, it’s boiled after all, but all you need is that one fateful perfect encounter and you’ll be hooked!

31 thoughts on “A taste of Hong Kong …

  1. OMG. What an assortment of food. I’m a vegetarian so I’m particularly freaked out by those things that look back at you and those that have hands. I think I’d be eating a lot of noodles in Hong Kong!

  2. Great post! I love HK too and it was nice to “revist” it through your words ๐Ÿ™‚ The food is awesome and yes, I hear you on that credit card bill!

    The photo of the “fabulous roast pork” has me drooling!!!

  3. Tita….i love your play with words…so creative….i’m loving your blog….can’t wait for the next post! Hope we can travel to Hongkong…i’m sure you’ll be surprised with my appetite….hehe! Your making us hungry here! hehe!

  4. You are just so adorable, Veron. Loved spending a soul searching moment with you.

    Now, that food! What an assortment. I really had no idea there were so many flavors to experience in Hong Kong. Simply amazing!!! I too adore Star Anise & Soy, YUM!

    Chicken has certainly changed in the last 15 years or so. I’m not sure as to how or why but I know I get quite frustrated when trying to make a good flavorful stock. When I try to tell people there was a specific chicken used as “soup chicken” they think I’ve had to many clucks if you get my drift. So, when it comes to food not tasting like the familiar comforts we remember, I’m not so sure it’s the taste buds as much as it’s that food has just been hybrided (no such word I’m sure) to near extinction. Thanks for sharing your journey…

  5. The Asian chickens are surely tastier. More ‘chickeny’ as you described.

    Let me know how the quest for the perfect chicken rice turns out. My Singaporean aunt puts a lot of garlic with the rice, also pandan leaf. ๐Ÿ™‚ I think it all depends on the chicken, though!

  6. Don’t you just LOVE Hong Kong? I was there in February and I think I must have gained 10 pounds! I think I must have gained another five staring at your food pics. And oh yeah, I haven’t heard the word muni muni in AGES – but yes, you could have your own tele serye! ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. boscodogama – yes, all that collagen in chicken feet!
    El – the hubby also drew the line with the pigeon head staring at him.
    joey – yes that roasted pork was very memorable!
    Eugenio- HK is incredible, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.
    Chester – thanks, I think I’ve finally found my voice when it comes to blogging. Yes, do wish we can travel to HK together, it’ll be so much fun! I think I know how your appetite is. You and Maiel. hahaha!
    Louise – you are right about the soup chicken, there is a type of hen that is used for that. I know what you mean about hybrided – it’s a shame. A good example here in the U.S. is pork, flavor has been bred out in an effort to make it lean.
    Hi Anh – I wish I have access to pandan leaf – just the thought of the aroma and taste has me drooling. I’ll add more garlic next time.
    Trissa – I was there in February too, I wonder if we passed each other and didn’t know it.

  8. Hahaha, I recall one of those cosmetic ads… “For that airbrushed look.” Indeed. Flawless.

    It’s been a while since I’ve been to Hong Kong that one and only time, but now that I’m more well-versed in food and after seeing these, I think I should return.

    Not too fond of HCR so I don’t have any secrets of my own, but if I see more tips, I’ll let you know.

  9. thanks for sharing this trip!

    marvelous blag ๐Ÿ™‚

    would love to have a spoon of the soup ๐Ÿ˜‰
    and try the pigeon and… and .. hahahaha….

    just great!

    thanks.

    regards
    chef albino

  10. Hi Veron,

    That was a great showcase of food. My favorite – the tendon soup and the garlic fried chicken wings. It’s good you got a chance to visit HK during your trip to the Phils.

    Jing

  11. Manggy and T.W. – I regret not having tried Peking Garden, it’s on the floor below Jade Garden. Just in case you guys go.
    Jing! I remember how addicted we were to fried chicken wings and fried rice back in W.V. , we’d have our dip of soy, vinegar and chili!

  12. Hi Veron! You have to visit Singapore to try out the Chicken Rice. I think it’s much better than what i have tasted so far in Hong Kong. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m Singaporean (& inlaws are hainanese) so maybe i’m also bias..lol! And there’s definitely no coconut in the “Hainanese” version of rice btw. :))

  13. “Which makes me wonder โ€“ do our tastes change? Do we become more discerning as we get older and the food that tastes so fabulous to us in our youth becomes a mirage โ€“ a false memory?”

    a question i did ask my self several times.

    i think the correct answer is yes. our taste changes. it changes not only because we develop our taste by taste new meals, new combinations, better quality food of the same kind, but also because we tend to become older and our body has other needs witch bends our point of view to the same dish.

    also truth is that the memory changes (proven by criminal research)

    on the other hand (i like that – it’s a “lifebelt”)
    ingredient quality changes, chefs change, there equipment change, and all time for the good!
    i think you agree with that ๐Ÿ™‚

    why is it a “lifebelt”?
    because it makes us believe everything changes but not we (keeping us stable)
    and because to much questioning our self on past memories doesn’t help much (also others!)

    so i believe you: the duck was moister and had a better taste, 14 years ago ๐Ÿ™‚

    regards
    chef albino

  14. You ate really well in Hong Kong:-). I hope your holiday was wonderful. I stopped by just to say hello and stayed longer than I had intended. You have a lovely blog and I’ll be back often. Have a wonderful day.

  15. you look very cute and pretty in your shot. hmm – need to get some of those chicken rice. lately its been in almost all the blogs that i had visited. from marketman to lori baltazars blog. thanks again for the lovely hk photos.

  16. faithy – I can just imagine the delicious chicken rice you must have tasted. Singapore is definitely a destination for me in the future.
    Albino – great philosophical explanation how we hold on to some things that make us stable. And yes, in the end I do think the duck really did taste awesome so many years ago.
    mei kwei – I’ve checked out their posts on the HCR, I already emailed my brother that we need to order from Stevie Villacin when I go back to Philippines in April.
    mycookinghut – remember Peking Garden, I heard, is also good!

  17. I would agree with that “NY on Steroids” description of Hong Kong (being a native NYer)… I haven’t been there since 1988 but remember the food as divine. I’ve been dying to go back just to eat! (and some shopping would be fun, too! It’s a little overwhelming and I can be a veteran shopper!)
    BTW, wasn’t polyface farms featured in Food Inc.? I haven’t tried their chicken, but so far I have not yet found a really tasty chicken in years. I once ate a simple chicken soaked in milk, I think, in Portugal and cooked over a wood burning stove at a friend’s family country house and I am still dreaming about it! Your trip looks to have been wonderful, I’m getting hungry… ๐Ÿ™‚

  18. As much as I’d love to visit Hong Kong myself, I’m getting the sense that there wouldn’t be very much for a vegan to eat… Oh well, still looks like a great trip!

  19. You are such a riot.

    I do believe that our tastes change

    I laughed so hard at the collagen comment ๐Ÿ™‚ I have some cow-heel soup today. Have to check my skin in a day’s time ๐Ÿ™‚

  20. I haven’t been to HongKong in a long time but that place will always be a culinary heaven no matter what including shopping. And you’re funny with all your amusing pose and comments. ๐Ÿ™‚

  21. Pingback: Some eats, Baguio-Manila | Kitchen Musings

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