Answer to previous post’s question: compressed dried wood ear 木耳.
My dining companion was my aunty, whose husband’s relatives own this restaurant. Like I said before, my mother’s family’s heritage is Chiu Chow, and I don’t know if it’s because it’s ingrained in my genes, or because anybody with a tongue would concur, but Chiu Chow cuisine is awesome. It seems like most Chiu Chow people have still remained connected to their roots: of the many of my Chinese friends, I only know the heritage of those who hail from this region (even if the ancestry was a hundred years ago!)! And indeed, why wouldn’t you be proud of such heritage, especially when it boasts subtle and delectable food that is also espoused as being one of the healthiest of Chinese cuisines ?
You’d expect that with two dining companions, there wouldn’t be much variety, yeah? We actually ordered, in much excess, six dishes and, amazingly, we managed to stuff more than half of that into our stomachs. Located a distant walk from the MTR station, in an unassuming street of Yau Ma Tei, this small restaurant has a cosy feel with warm-tinted decor. The menu is filled with an extensive array of authentic Chiu Chow dishes, and we sampled the most famous ones.
First up were the appetisers, which technically speaking, aren’t really Chiu Chow exclusively: jellyfish and chicken salad, and goose liver. Very tasty and light as they were cold, and the goose liver was, fortunately, not as pungent as I had remembered; perhaps the slight tang of the sauce countered the richness (which would usually be overemphasised in a dish like foie gras). Then came the deep-fried tofu, which I don’t think words can do justice. I don’t know what the batter they used was, but it was so crisp and crunchy, unlike any other ordinary batter I’ve tasted that goes soggy after a while. Have a look at the picture, the patterning is so cute, it’s like a coral! The dish came with a bowl of ‘broth’ (maybe it’s just salty water with spring onions) with which the tofu is dipped in, much like tempura; probably to reduce the 熱氣 (‘yit hei’: heatiness). Even after dipping the tofu in the stock, the batter retained its unique crunchy, ridgey texture, and actually made it taste nicer since the tofu itself was quite bland, and the salty spring onion broth gave it more body (the juices exude out from the crunchy skin that gave depth to the taste and mouthfeel). This was my favourite dish, and even though it’s a well-established fact that anything deep-fried will taste great, this version puts all other batters in the world to shame.
Next came the congee (潮州糜 Chiu Chow mue). I’m very familiar with this since my mum often created her own rendition by putting rice into Chinese soup, and I sometimes liked to do that too. Chiu Chow mue is different from Cantonese congee in that the rice still maintains their integrity and the soup is not as viscous: basically, just like putting cooked rice into soup, as apparently many Chiu Chow families do! But the soup that was served was much more full-bodied and flavourful with a delightful combination of meaty baby mussels, gobbets (oh my gosh, don’t accuse me of being the bio nerd I am, but I accidentally typed in ‘goblet’, as in the goblet cells of the respiratory tract that secrete mucus…yeah, just ignore all that 😉 ) of mince pork, dried salty fish, some kind of preserved vegetable and spring onion, all of which infused flavour throughout the soup while the character of each still remaining intact and not boiled to death like many Cantonese people like. I do not like congee, but this delicious dish might just make me a convert.
And yes, the most well-known and integral dish of any Chiu Chow banquet, oyster omelette (蠔烙). I had actually tried it before, in Brisbane! I also really like this dish, but I can’t really put my finger on what was missing in this one, maybe not enough herb? Nevertheless, with the texture of the omelette and generous servings of succulent oysters, I still loved it.
The last dish we had doesn’t quite share the same acclaim as the oyster omelette, but not deservingly so! 潮州糖醋麵 (Chiu Chow sugar vinegar noodle) are orange-coloured Chinese egg noodles (伊麵 yi mein) pan-fried to crisp perfection and sliced much like a pizza, then topped with dark vinegar and granules of sugar (very typical Chiu Chow idiosyncrasy: a friend of mine also of this heritage said her family also sprinkles sugar onto everything! (eg. toast, bread, yam…)). The flavours don’t sound right but it complements each other in a strangely appetising way, and the sugar granules gives an extra nice crunch to the crispy noodles. This is probably a dish that could be easily made at home (and I will!)
Some other samples from the menu which looked enticing include 韭菜餜 chive dumpling, which are chopped garlic chives enclosed in wrapping shaped like a disk and always cutely stamped with a pink dot, other varieties include radish or peanuts: steamed and sauteed for crispiness. I believe this was my mum’s family’s favourite childhood snack, and my uncle still goes back to Hong Kong to buy these from markets to bring back to Australia. Google searching this (as I do), I was surprised to find no pictures so I decided to upload this from my Sydney trip (after my uncle transported them, of course). I never knew this was such a rare delicacy!
A dessert dish I remember is the taro coated in sugar (very nice, and it is easy enough to be cooked yourself). And the cost? Honestly I don’t remember, but it ranged somewhere between $HK30-$70 per dish.
This may not be the most renowned Chiu Chow restaurant in Hong Kong, but if you’re just craving for a little pecking for this wonderfully delicate and hearty cuisine at reasonable prices, I would recommend it (but then again, I’ve never given a bad review. If you’re a picky eater, you’d know by now I make a terrible food critic :D).