Friday, June 19, 2009

Best of Hong Kong: Dim Sum

Folks flock to Maxim's Palace at Cityhall (Central, Hong Kong) for good dim sum, and long holding tradition which sees trolley ladies pushing dim sum carts, hawking their fares.

Maxims is everywhere in Hong Kong - Maxims can mean anything from fast food Hong Kong style, or its numerous pervasive bakeries - and for Kelly and I on a daily basis, Maxim's fluffy pumpkin loaf which we happily get from 7-11 almost every night. Its heartening to know that they are still flying traditions high, such as those trolley ladies. (despite everything else about them being modernised!)

Its but a coincidence that we started with dessert first - beancurd with orange sugar. We had this meal during our early days in Hong Kong so we didnt know how commonplace adding sugar to your (already sweet) beancurd was - so much so that there are often bottles of sugar placed on tables of beancurd eateries, for the patrons to add as much as they please.

Picked this up from a trolley of fried items - fried prawn dumplings. Fried items do not taste as good being on trolleys making their rounds. We don't think when we are hungry.

But our subsequent fried items were superb. This fried milk was the highlight of the day. don't they look like agadeshi tofu, or fried Japanese tofu?

except they taste way more sensational. Its milk custard with a crisp batter, with no hint of tofu.

We also like the contrast of the crisp and flaky taro puff against the smooth purplish-yellow taro flesh within.
Also, beef cheecheongfan is quite commonplace in Hong Kong but we didn't know during our earlier days... Hong Kong's cheecheong fan tends to be sticky and chewy, just the way I like it. Most of the cheecheong fan is served with soya sauce, unlike Singapore's where sweet sauce and sambal chilli is served. Only a few places in Singapore serve it with soya sauce, and they tend to be those freshly made ones - like the stall in Old Airport Road (fantastic!!) or the NUH Kopitiam.

This beef siewmai was awesome!! Super juicy and potent beefiness inside this new twist on siewmai.
These custard balls were yellow inside out alright...
Sticky chewy flour with golden custard within means this is a sugar bomb!

Another sugar surge with these sweet dough fritters - they were just screaming to be eaten, I kept asking Kelly if we should take them and she got fed up and took them for me! Looks better than it tastes - or feels, since your fingers become super sticky after that. They are just long chewy biscuits with an overdosage of sugar syrup.
We found 添好運點心專門店 (旺角廣華街2-20號翠園大廈二期地下8號舖 Mungkok, Hong Kong) on, Hong Kong's food rankings website. Its opened by brothers who previously worked in famous restaurants, and decided to venture out to offer affordable dim sum. Like Singapore, Hong Kongers like to queue for good food, and the restaurant owners like to boast their media coverage by plastering much of their storefront with newspaper and magazine clippings!! Once you have this U-guide sticker, its a confirmation of gastronomic satisfaction, pretty much how Singapore grades hygenic hawker stalls with the 'SOK' labels.

Its a really small place with a seating capacity of under 50 - hence explains the insane queues. We queued for about 30 minutes - whilst smug patrons tuck in, hungry onlookers watch on... never has hunger been so cruel! You can imagine our relief when our number was called (there were 15 groups ahead of us)
Okay latest I checked, they are number one on the rankings on!
Beef balls with beancurd - huge and juicy, fantastic cos it came piping hot.

Beef with fried egg on rice provided the carb for the night - love the simplicity of the tender minced beef and soya sauce on the fried egg.

Hargao (shrimp dumpling) was average..

I had 2 baskets of this vegeterian crystal dumplings cos I loved the fresh crunchy vegetables within, especially the black fungus.

The beef cheecheong fan was smooth and melt in your mouth!

The prawn cheecheong fan was a little surprising since there was leek within!! I don't like leek so....not a nice surprise!
The following are Kelly's so I'll just let the photos roll on...what deserves a special mention is this charsiew bolor bun 酥皮叉燒包which she had 2 (or was it 3??) baskets all to herself! Bless her tummy!
I remember she said the fried carrot cake was too greasy..

She says this is like soon kueh in the form of dumplings.

She likes the siew mai here..

She also likes the 馬拉糕 here, which is brownish here due to the brown sugar used. We shared one and subsequently she had one all to herself. This cake is light and fluffy, and mildly sweet. Much like a chiffon cake, but with more air pockets and much fluffier.

清真牛肉館 Islam Food (九龍城 龍崗道 1 號 Kowloon City, Hong Kong) is a restaurant we first read about in the U-Magazine and we were dying to try its infamous beef pastry. And this place serves Halal food! Everything here is about beef and lamb. We tried the following on their dim sum menu, hence explaining its place in this post. Yes, it must be our first time having halal dim sum.
And we were lucky today, we had dinner at 530pm, beating the dinner time queues. Gotta wait outside in the cold, no joke!
This is the infamous beef pastry. Its basically a very crisp prata wrapped around succulent beef chunks.
Except that the insides were so juicy that we got a surprise when we bit in. Beware the scalding meat jus! Its so good- amazing how it didnt soak up the equally piping hot pastry.
I personally thought the lamb spring rolls stole the show though. The lamb was tender and was perfect with the crisp wrap.
We had the lamb dumplings which we thought werent as good as the fried items..
Hong Kongers have a peculiar liking towards curry and satay sauce, so it is no wonder that the lamb curry is one of the hot items here. Hot it was not, for it is not as spicy as Indian curry, to the point of it being slightly watered down. Well, we cant expect much can we, in a country whose many eateries (or at least the ones we eat at) don't have chilli sauce and ground chilli (if you're lucky you get chilli oil!)

The fried spring onion pancakes (a crispier and thinner type of prata) was fantastic accompaniment to the curry.
Dipping prata into curry with a pair of chopsticks is quite an unusual experience you don't get back home! I didn't notice how strange it was till astute Kelly quite rightly pointed out.

Next, lets cross over to the border to Shenzhen - Luohu Commercial City is just at the border. Once you take the HK train right to the border, you just need to walk across to reach Luohu, Shenzhen. Then you walk a short distance to the shopping centre - Luohu Commercial City where there are many many imitation bags, shirts galore. Tourists are known to go crazy over there (and so do those stall owners!). We lived in Shatin and its so much faster to get to China than to go to Hongkong Island Central that I wished we discovered this shopping heaven earlier.
We had dim sum at the Laurel Restaurant (Level 5, Luohu Commercial City, Shenzhen). Many Hongkongers like to come here for their dim sum fix cos of the high quality of the dim sum at a reasonable price (though its not super cheap). There was another restaurant on the same level with much cheaper prices, but we decided to stick to the more popular outlet. This group of restaurants has many outlets, even an outlet in one of the casino hotels in Macau.
Again, we beat the queue by having brunch here - we started eating around 11am, and by the time we finished the queues were alarming! The manager (whom you can spot in the photo) banned photography so I managed some shots of my own dim sum but not Kelly's.
The beef balls with beancurd here ranks the best amongst all that I've tried.
This is the first time I've tried cheecheongfan with dough fritters (youtiao) and I like it already. The contrast between the crisp youtiao and the sticky chee cheong fan was amazing. Kels found the chee cheong fan a little to sticky, but I thought they got it right. Its difficult for the youtiao to stay crisp with the steaming rice cake covering - hence this dish is not easily available back in Singapore, despite youtiao and cheecheongfan being the most common Chinese savoury snacks and breakfast food here.
Taro puff remains a favourite of mine, and it is the best amongst the other fried items which were at best, average.
Flattened fried fish dumpling.
Beancurd skin with fish meat.

I must say that Laurel do that traditional items well (and Kelly agrees) and the shrimp dumpling (hargao) is no exception. The firm skin of the dumpling holds well, and the prawn fresh and crunchy.
Similarly, the vegeterian dumpling's plus point lies in the variety of greens and fungus within..
Tried a salted egg and custard bun from Kelly and it was awesome!
I should have tried it when it first came - sweet - salty hot custard fluid flowing out of a fluffy bun..omg! custard heaven!

On the last day we went back to Little Fat Sheep to have their Dim Sum buffet. This is the place that we also had INCREDIBLE MONGOLIAN HOTPOT! So much for diversifying. Basically, you pay a fixed price (different timings like lunch and tea times have different pricing, same applies for weekdays and weekends) and you get to eat dimsum for 2 hours. Our HK friends say that they often come here after exams to feast, cos its really quite cheap, and the dim sum is at best, average.

There is a menu where you can order the dim sum which will be served to you in baskets, and there are also self serve stations (which are actually better than the served ones - more about that later) so that your hunger pangs will not consume you when you are waiting for the hot items.
We remembered that the ordering was rather confusing - poor Kelly's orders were forgotten (we handed in 2 separate sheets) and only mine was served initially. Because this place has both hotpot and dimsum, and there are SO many people in the restaurant, your orders might be misplaced but not to worry, there are still self serve stations!
Lamb spring rolls would have been nicer if it was freshly fried! the outer flour covering was way disproportionate to the amount of minced lamb within. This aesthetically pleasing dish (hence we could recall this from the blog pictures we saw) remains uneaten in many tables we walked by, maybe so it could look nice on tables =P
Beef balls with beancurd - I like this chunky beef balls. You cant really go wrong with this. I will definitely miss this back home.Hargao- shrimp dumpling. The outer covering was too thick and tough for us! Pity though, since the prawn was really fresh and crunchy. I love prawns!
Chee Cheong fan stuffed with minced beef. Chee cheong fan itself was a little too sticky for Kelly's liking, but I didn't really mind. Trying to eat more of this cos cant find beef version back home!
Chee cheong fan stuffed with youtiao - this doesnt beat the one we ate in china! the youtiao was a little soggy and the cheecheong fan again too sticky to the youtiao.
Lamb meat dumplings Would have been tastier if it had been piping hot when it was served. The vinegar added a tanginess to the salty minced lamb meat within, though the covering of the dumpling was a little too floury for us!
Mian Hua ji - chicken with fungus I tried some of Kelly's and found the chicken to be really tender.
Cuttlefish in satay sauce was chewy but not indigestable and difficult to swallow. The HK folks seem to take a liking to their version of satay sauce (think satay instant noodles, satay beef and chicken chop) which is really not spicy at all, and lacks peanuts a la the singaporean style. Their satay sauce is basically salty brown sauce.
Ox tripe - inner lining of stomach. Again I like it cos it was not too chewy (and hence difficult to swallow), and I like the furry texture of it.
Red bean cake with jelly and flowers - this consists of 2 layers - the upper dense jelly layer (with mini flowers intersparsed throughout the jelly) and a lower red bean paste layer. You should only order this if you are a big fan of red bean (itself, not just the paste).

By far the best items in the menu are the self-serve stations - special mention goes to the Lamb Bao, the Lamb stuffed baked biscuit and the fried Lamb dumplings. My dear friend Kelly had multiple servings of the malagao too so I suppose it was rather good or else its cos she'll be missing it when she comes back home to Singapore!