Brant Worrell, head chef of Illes Seasonings & Flavors, spent April 28 -30 exploring the flavors of Asia – specifically Seoul, Hong Kong and Singapore. In his second post for SmartBlog, he reveals his take on the flavors of Hong Kong, and what might just be the next food truck trend. Read more on Illes’ DineAround blog.
When we arrived in Hong Kong, our guide, Brad Miller, taught us the first thing we needed to know about the cuisine: “In Hong Kong the people are always eating.”
Miller is an ex-patriate living in Hong Kong who remembers – with love – each of the thousand or so meals he’s eaten across Asia, from Brunei to Burma. We did our best to catch up with him – availing ourselves of every product sold from the dai pai dongs (enclosed street stalls), tiny 12-seat alley cafes, tea shops, and obscure restaurants that peeked out from every corner.
Traditional cuisine is de rigueur in Hong Kong, as the Chinese approach to cooking is similar to the Italians: food is not merely sustenance, it’s a lifestyle passed through generations. In our three-day DineAround Hong Kong, we were treated to dishes from many of the authentic regional cuisines including Chiu Chow, Xinjiang, Sichuan and Shanghainese and were often the only “gwello” (foreign man) on premise.
Interestingly enough, part of the traditional cuisine would be considered nouveau in the U.S. It seems the Chinese have a 5,000-year head start on the expanding nutraceutical movement. This was most apparent just west of the Central District’s downtown skyscrapers in Sheung Wan, where many of the city’s Chinese medicine and tea leaf shops are located. A statue of Shen Nong (translated as Divine Farmer) overlooks the area, where, on sunny days, neighborhood gardeners spread fresh herbs and medicinal plants on any flat space to dry. While we were interested in the medicinal benefits of the dishes, many could only be described as an acquired taste.
It wasn’t just herbs that were laid out to dry in Sheung Wan – ingredients of every sort lined the back streets and alleys that handle Hong Kong’s overflow of residents. In Seoul we ate live squid – in Hong Kong we feasted on dried squid. Our favorite was a sweet dried fish bought in a back alley, but the Bird’s Nest Soup served at one of Hong Kong’s finest restaurants was also a favorite.
While we enjoyed the five-star Foo Lum, our favorite dish was served from a street vendor in Kowloon City. Subtitled “Islam Food since 1950,” the vendor delivered a Pakistani twist on Hong Kong’s standard pastry, the beef bun. Instead of the traditional fluffy pastry, this fusion dish used naan-type bread filled with gently marinated spicy ground beef. Our group was unanimous – this Pakistani-Chinese vendor could easily take on L.A.’s Kogi for best late-night beef.