Thursday, June 30, 2011

My Trip to Hong Kong (Day 5): Hunan Garden

After walking for a bit, we settled down and picked a place to eat. What's interesting about Hong Kong is that they have a lot of good restaurants in the malls. In the states, malls are almost synonymous with overrated chain restaurants. Anyway, we stumbled upon Hunan Garden which was quite busy at the lunch time hour.

Hunan cuisine is usually spicy and popular in Taiwan. However, Hong Kong doesn't have too many super spicy restaurants. So when we stumbled across this restaurant, we didn't know what to really expect. Was it going to be really spicy or toned down for Hong Kong palates?

We sat in the smaller room which was actually nicer. I didn't know what the different was but maybe they served higher quality food in this room. The other room was much louder and crowded. Hmm...

Anyway, as we looked through the menu, the brought over some snacks. The left contained tofu, cucumbers, and peanuts. It was light and refreshing. The right container lightly pickled hot peppers in a soy sauce vinaigrette. I enjoyed both dishes but the hot peppers were really addicting. I really liked them and couldn't stop eating them until all were gone.
We started with a cold dish. The chicken was steamed or poached then served with a savory spicy sauce. It was really good. The meat was really tender and juicy. The sauce added really nice flavor. The chicken itself was naturally sweet. This dish was so simple and yet so good.
Next up, some noodles with pork and vegetables. Again, another great dish. The flavors were robust and covered each and every strand of noodle. Slightly spicy but mostly savory, this dish made us really happy.
Lastly, I wanted to balance out the meal with some vegetables. So I picked the 4 delight. It included button mushrooms, baby corn, boy choy, and cabbage. The vegetables were well cooked but they say in a thick sauce. I'm very familiar with this corn starch based sauce but Mr. M&P was not. He was definitely put off by this. I eventually ate this dish by myself.
The food at Hunan Garden was so simply prepared but executed really well. I was happy with the meal which left me full yet remained light. This is what Chinese food is about. Clean flavors and fresh ingredients. Although Hunan cuisine is supposed to be really spicy, I think they developed the spice level in the dishes really well. You could taste the heat but it wasn't enough to make it uncomfortable. It was really nice.

Hunan Garden
The Forum (3rd floor)
Exchange Square
Central District, Hong Kong
852/2868 2880

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Lunch Week 22: Vietnamese Salad

So every Sunday, I head over to the kitchen to whip up a big batch of food for lunch next week. Yes, I brown bag. And I almost always do it, unless I become too busy to even buy cold cuts from the deli. I do it for several reasons being health, finance, and laziness. Now, you may think that spending hours on a day off to prep and cook five meals at once is hardly lazy. But let me remind you, I hate it when the time comes to decide what to eat for lunch every day. I work in Midtown so the choices are endless. My problem, the more choices, the harder it is for me. So it's much easier for me to have my lunch ready and already decided.

So my lunch for the week: Vietnamese Salad
I was inspired to make this salad by my fond memories of Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches. The balance of bread to pickled veggies to meat & pate makes me happy every time. However, I wanted to make something reminiscent of that experience without having to eat the sandwich. So I made a salad out of the familiar flavors sans bread.

I started off with marinating some pork chops as my meat. I use soy sauce (light and dark), fish sauce, sesame oil, mirin (sweet sauce; sugar can be substituted) and sriracha. No need to salt here since the sauces are very salty already. Also, it's best to marinate this over night. When the pork has absorbed all that delicious flavor, it's time to cook them. Normally I cook the pork chops on the stove but this time I had access to a grill. So naturally, I grilled them up. On low-medium indirect heat, the chops cooked for 10 minutes on each side. I made sure they were cooked completely through. I'm not a fan of pink pork. A bad case of food poisoning would do that to you.

As for the vegetables, I sliced up some carrots, daikon (white turnip), and cucumbers. I quick pickled the first 2 vegetables in some rice wine vinegar, sugar, and water. I only pickled them for one day (not overnight). I wanted them to retain their crunchy texture but also absorb the sour flavor.

So a handful of spring mix goes into the bowl first. Then some sliced cucumbers, carrots, daikon, sliced jalapeno's, cubed pork chops, and diced pate. The last ingredient is the cilantro which adds an amazing freshness to the whole dish.
The result is something really tasty! The vegetables balance out the salty, fatty pork and rich pate. The pickled root vegetables play a good role in cutting the proteins. The jalapeno peppers add a nice additional kick of spice in random bites. Otherwise the sriracha sauce leaves a nice humming heat at the back of my tongue without making me reach for water. The cucumbers and cilantro add great freshness to the dish. My only gripe is that I wish I had added even more cilantro.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

My Trip to Hong Kong (Day 5): Island Gourmet Bakery

On the day of the wedding, we had some time to ourselves before getting all dressed up and proper. So we decided to walk around and eventually end up at the Island Gourmet Bakery at the Island Shangri-La Hotel.

They had some really nice offering there including a smaller version of the Frou Frou cake, rillets, and pate. But my eyes were held steady at the baked breads. Below is a mini brioche muffin. This buttery, flaky bread was quite nice. It wasn't as buttery as I would have liked but decent enough.

I naturally chose the croissant and it was really good. The buttery layers of bread made my mouth so happy. This was actually one of the better croissants I've had in a very long time.
Again, the Island Gourmet Bakery did it again. I would one day like to sit down and have a meal there. They have a small cafe seating area. If I could dine on that croissant, some pate, and end with the Frou Frou cake, I would be one VERY happy person.

Island Shangri-La Hotel
Island Gourmet Bakery
Pacific Place
Supreme Court Road
Central, Hong Kong
(852) 2820 8550

My Trip to Hong Kong (Day 4): Junk Boats

The day before the wedding, the wedding couple hired a fleet of wooden junk boats to take us through the Hong Kong harbor to a secluded where we could jump off and swim to the beach. While on the boat, they served us copious amounts of food and drinks. Be careful though because before you know it, they would have an ice cold bottle of beer in your hand before you can say no.

These are just randowm pictures of the snacks offered but the actual lunch meal was awesome. A nice offer of meats and vegetables. Clearly, they knew what they were doing.
On the boat ride home, the skies opened and the seas became choppy. What would a bunch of youngins do during this downpour? Why beerpong of course! The competition got so fierce that interest peaked amongst all boat riders. We had underaged players in elementary and high school and retired grandma and grandpas. The game got so big and ridiculous that it was the best time. Eventually it became girls versus boys. The girls easily trumped the boys, twice.

This was a great time and an excellent idea by the couple. Bravo!

Monday, June 27, 2011

My Trip to Hong Kong (Day 3): Island Room at HK Country Club

The next day, we headed out for more dim sum. This time, we went to the Hong Kong Country Club, Island Room. The atmosphere was serene and calm. I could have spent the afternoon here by the water sipping on drinks all day. But we were here to eat.

This time, I took a break from the ordering and let other people decide. Sometimes, it's nice to sit back and truly enjoy a meal (minus the photography, of course). We started off with a plate of jelly fish. Now this may seem a little strange to some of my readers. But don't fret just yet. Jelly fish is usually served in strips similar to thick pasta/noodles. There isn't much natural flavor to them so they absorb any sauce that you put on them. The most popular way to serves them is cold with sesame oil and hot sauce. What gets most people is the texture. I would described it resembling calamari or octopus the most without the rubberiness. It's really slippery from the oils too. It can get quite messy trying to eat this. But I rally enjoy it. I can eat a whole plate all by myself.

For the less squeamish, we also had spring rolls. These were really good. The wrapper was freshly fried and super crunchy. The fillings was a nice balance of pork and vegetables.
Spicy fried squid was also ordered. These freshly fried calamari was tender and crispy. The slight heat was welcomed to an otherwise bland ingredient.
And what is a dim sum meal without char siu baos (steamed). The bread on these were really soft and slightly sweet. It gave way to the luscious meat inside.
And here are some fried rice balls with meat. Some loosely ground pork and veggies (and sometimes peanuts) are wrapped inside some glutinous rice dough and lightly fried. The resulting texture starts with a nice crunch giving way to the chewiness of the dough. Lastly, the savory filling is the only flavor that you will taste but you will gladly welcome it.
A plate of sliced char siu was ordered because we could. Who doesn't like bbq pork? Tender, fatty piece of meat in a sweet, savory and thick sauce. So very good.
A few fried shrimp dumplings were ordered. The thin wrapper encased a shrimp filling that was similar to the patty we had at Maxim's. The accompanying mayo added a creamy and rich element.
The pork shumai was standard. Minced pork and shrimp steamed with some crab roe on top.
For something more filling, we had some chicken and egg fried rice. This was fried really well. The individual grains of rice were intact while the flavor was really good. I couldn't stop eating this. It was so simple yet so delectable.
And lastly, we had a variety of steamed dumplings. In there, we had shrimp har gow, pork shumai, vegetable dumplings, and pork dumplings.
Although dim sum can be heavy at times due to the meat and seafood concentrated dishes, this meal left me full without the heaviness. I was really happy with how they prepared each dish making sure the balance of meat to vegetable to carb was in line. I would gladly come back to this restaurant any time. Well, as long as the members keep inviting me.

The Hong Kong Country Club
Island Room
188 Wong Chuk Hang Road
Deep Water Bay, Hong Kong
+2870 6500

My Trip to Hong Kong (Day 2): Parsi Club

A few days before the wedding, the happy bride and groom held some events for the out of town guests. For one of the celebrations, they held a Parsi ceremony. We wished them good luck and gave them some gifts. After the ceremony, dinner was served buffet style.

I wasn't very hungry at this point due to jetlag but I ventured on anyway. I grabbed some biryani, shrimp, dal, naan, and chicken. I can't really remember anything at this point. Heck, if you asked me what I thought of the food after I ate it, I wouldn't be able to remember. So sleepy and so full.

So I started trying many different ways to wake myself up. This started with the ingestion of sugary foods. First, I tried some jalebi which is fried dough coated in syrup. Normally, I don't like jalebi but this version was really nice. The difference was that they were frying these to order. The dough remained crisp and delicious while the syrup sweetened it up. The sprinkle of pistachios on top were unnecessary.
It just so happened to be someone's birthday too that day. So we got a delicious (and expensive) cake from the Shangri-La hotel bakery, Island Gourmet. This is their Frou Frou cake.
The cake was chocolate mousse with praline and a macaron biscuit. The cake was AMAZING! It wasn't overly sweet at all. Instead, the richness of the dark chocolate mousse was complemented with the crunchy biscuit. I would eat this again in a heartbeat. So, so good.
It was really nice to be a part of something so special this night. Not only did I participate in lots of cultural events, I also ate a few different things. The cake at the end of the tipping point. So the sugar didn't help and I subsequently fell asleep shortly after.

Island Shangri-La Hotel
Island Gourmet Bakery
Pacific Place
Supreme Court Road
Central, Hong Kong
(852) 2820 8550

Sunday, June 26, 2011

My Trip to Hong Kong (Day 2): Maxim's at City Hall

Later that day, we all headed out for some lunch with the bride and some of the family. Dim sum was on the menu so we went to Maxim's at City Hall. It's infamous for good dim sum which was apparent at the prime lunch hour. The place was packed and a wait was mandatory for our large group. Some things are worth waiting for though. And dim sum is definitely one of them.

I really like dim sum in Hong Kong because it's always so nice. Their place settings are great and the feeling isn't crowded and rushed. Instead, it was relaxing.

One of the unique things about Maxim's at City Hall is the carts. This was one of the few (if not only) place that still pushed carts around. Most of the other dim sum places offer menu's where you check off a card for the dishes that you want. However, I love the carts. They create a unique experience for the meal. So as the cart ladies spied us, the slowly drove over offering their delicious foods. We started with some fried shrimp patties. The texture is kind of rubbery because there is a lot of filler. However, the taste was pretty good. You could definitely tell that it was shrimp.
The next dish was some har gow (shrimp dumplings). The chopped up shrimp is encased in a rice flour based wrapper. The result is slightly chewy but tender. The best har gow has almost whole shrimp inside. This one was a mixture of large pieces and small pieces.
One of my favorite dishes is the taro meat dumpling. Ground pork, eggs, and shrimp are wrapped in a thin layer of taro then batter in panko bread crumbs. The dumpling is then deep fried until golden brown and crispy. The textural contrasts and flavors are amazing. Savory and creamy yet crunchy from the fried crust. Good stuff.
This is a bbq pork pasty puff. Basically, chopped char siu (bbq pork) is wrapped inside puff pastry and baked. The result is a sweet bread but a savory filling. Quite nice indeed.
Soup dumplings are always a crowd favorite. Little doughy nuggets of seasoned pork and veggies along with rich broth all waiting to burn the inside of your mouth. But if you're a seasoned eater,  you know what to do...nibble a hole. Suck some of the broth out, then eat whole. Practice makes perfect, my friends.
One of my other favorite dishes is the pan fried rice noodles. The noodle is more like a rice cake due to its thickness. However, it's really a flat noodle that has been rolled up tightly. Sprinkled throughout the noodle are scallions. In other versions, you would find dried shrimp and Chines sausage as well. These noodle cakes are pan fried to get a nice crispy crust. A sauce of hoisin and peanut are usually presented alongside while a sprinkle of sesame seeds finish off the dish.
And here is a dim sum staple: char siu baos. These bbq pork buns are the steamed kind. I prefer the baked kind but you can't find it at all restaurants. The bread is really soft and slightly sweet. The contrasting savory pork inside sits in a gravy. It's something magical when you have a really good one.
Another staple in the dim sum world is siu mai (steamed pork dumplings). I've seen many varieties in my life so don't expect the same thing every time. This version included ground pork, minced shrimp, and crab roe on top. The filling is stuffed inside and open wonton wrapper then steamed. The result is something smooth and delicious. You mostly taste the pork but once in awhile you get a chunk of shrimp and it's a happy surprise. I think the crab roe is always a waste. You can never taste it next to the pork.
This dumpling below is quite special. It's a myriad of ingredients but the end flavor is quite delightful. You'll find mushrooms, scallions, carrots, peanuts, ground pork, and chestnuts. Those are the only ingredients that I can think of but there may be more. Anyway, the filling is stuffed inside a thinly pressed rice flour wrapper and steamed. It really is quite tasty and texturally pleasing.
One of the more "stranger" dishes we ordered was the fried octopus. I'm very familiar with octopus so it didn't scare me away at all. I know other people were more squeemish that day which is perfectly find. Octopus does have a texture that many do not agree with. However, flavor-wise it's quite bland. That's why this octopus tasted that it was fried and sprinkled with Chinese 5-spice seasoning. It was slightly rubbery probably due to being overcooked. But overly, the chewiness was nice.
And lastly a shrimp and chive dumpling in a rice flour wrapper. The chive flavor is really strong. So much so that you can hardly taste the shrimp. These chives are of the Chinese kind and are more flat. The flavor is much stronger so you have to be careful when you cook this.
Maxim's was really quite delightful. The service was attentive and the food delicious. I was most happy with the scenery since they had huge glass windows that face the harbor. If I could easily sit and enjoy my food slowly. But I like to gobble down my food so fast that my stomach, in return, aches from the sudden onset of stretching.

Maxim's at City Hall
City HallLow Block, 2nd floor (Edinburgh Pl.)
Hong Kong, China

Saturday, June 25, 2011

My Trip to Hong Kong (Day 2): Breakfast at Home

Even after the buns and proper breakfast, we still ate another one! 3 breakfasts in one day. Wow, that's a record for me. At least they were all different. At the home of our dear hosts, we enjoyed some eggs, bacon, and sausages.
I opted out of the bacon and had 2 eggs instead and an English muffin. Foolish? Nah, eggs are one of my favorite foods.
Okay, now I was officially done eat...for the morning. Read more...

My Trip to Hong Kong (Day 2): HK Airport - Ocean Empire

As we sat and waited, some more of the other restaurants opened up. We took this opportunity to eat again. Let's face it, a couple of buns didn't really fill us up. It was a stepping stone to a real meal. We looked around and ended up at Ocean Empire. Their specialties included rice noodles dishes normally found in dim sum restaurants.

After we ordered at the cashier, we were given a ticket. We sat and watched the women work. They were making fresh rice noodles for our dishes. Woah, I was really impressed. Why can't we have something comparable in the States. That's dedication to freshness indeed. Below is our dish of cruller wrapped in noodles. The cruller itself wasn't crunchy enough. I assumed it had suffered from being pre-fried earlier. However, the noodle was soft and supple.
Our next dish was a glutinous rice dumpling. The flavor was not bad and the serving was quite large. We found pieces of eggs and meat inside. What a nice, happy surprise! Unfortunately, the texture was very mushy which made it really tough to use chopsticks. Nonetheless, we were quite happy and satisfied with this dish.
On a more daring note, I ordered a rice noodle dish with fish inside. Yes, I ordered a fish dish at an airport. However, keep in mind that this is Hong Kong airport and this is a seafood restaurant. The result? Not bad at all. There was lots of ginger that countered any fishiness that may have been there. The texture of the meat was mushy but tolerable. The rice skin noodle was again soft and supple. Although I found a bone in one of the pieces, I didn't regret trying this dish.
And lastly, we had a crowd favorite: bbq pork in rice skin noodle. The pork stuffing was well seasoned and made the whole dish very flavorful. The soy sauce on top was unnecessary but appreciated. The texture was much better than the other dishes so this was definitely the favorite of the day.
We were all really happy that we had decided to grab some real food from here. It certainly made our wait go faster and we weren't as grumpy anymore. Ah, food. The cure-all.

Hong Kong International Airport

Ocean Empire
Arrivals Meeters & Greeters Hall, Level 5
05:30 - 00:30
2261 0858