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Last Friday a bunch of my friends and I headed to an interestingly-named Shanghainese eatery in Jordan. The Chinese name has nothing to do with its English name, Osama Tony. Cryptic, I know…is this the name of a new hipster band? I recall reading somewhere, though, that its meats are halal (or something like that) so maybe that’s where the “Osama” comes from? It’s also the sister restaurant of another Osama Tony in Kowloon City which, inexplicably, serves Japanese food. Ahh, the mysteries of Hong Kong.

In any case, Osama Tony caught my eye because on Openrice there were a bajillion photos of their wonderful “dim sum” selections, especially my favorites: xiao long bao (小籠包) and sheng jian bao (生煎包). They also have a variety of traditional northern and Shanghainese dishes such as stir-fried green beans with pork (乾煸四季豆) and stir-fried nian gao (炒上海年糕).

The reader’s digest version of this place is that the dishes are decent, but they’re a bit salty on their own. That being said, you must, must, MUST come here for their stellar selection of scrumptious baos and dumplings.

I went with a group of five friends and when we arrived around 7:30, the place was packed. They kind of have a front “VIP”-ish room with roomy booth seating all around the edge, but alas! I did not book. Anyways, the staff were quite accommodating and helped us cobble together a makeshift table after only about 10 minutes of waiting. We promptly ordered a variety of dishes and waited eagerly. (Side note: There is also an English menu!)

The first things to arrive were our dishes, including kung pao chicken (宮保雞丁), the aforementioned green beans, and hui guo ruo (回鍋肉), or twice-cooked pork.

The kung pao chicken impressed me because they gave us cashews instead of the traditional peanuts. I felt like that was really zhi, or good-value-for-money (it’s the Chinese in me coming out, I guess!). The green beans were pretty typical, though I wish they were a bit more burnt and crispy on the edges. The twice-cooked pork was quite salty (a problem that kept recurring, which I’ll discuss later), but the red peppers in the dish added some much-needed sweetness and tang.

Later on the ma po tofu came out, which was definitely not spicy. It was still good, but the flavor profile was basically the same as the others. In fact, my main concern with all of these dishes is that even though the portions were great given the prices, they were sal-TY! It’s what my parents would call xia fan cai, which literally means “dishes that help make the rice go down”! I think they’d have been better if we had ordered white rice. But, on their own, I definitely got the impression the taste was one-dimensional – all kind of the same soy-sauce-salt-garlic flavor.

So that was the not-so-good.

Here’s the GREAT: the dim sum selections! Order as many of these as you can, especially the xiao long bao! We got one for each of us and these little gems came out steaming hot, cutely dimpled, and oh-so-soupy. The thicker wrap perfectly cradles the abundance of soup, which comes crashing into your mouth at first bite. Heaven.

Another must-order is the sheng jian bao, or pan-friend buns. The wrap is fluffy and full, and the inside also has a little bit of the xiao long bao soup, making the filling moist. The bottoms of the bao were crispy and crunchy, and the toasted sesame seeds on top were a nice touch.

The gwok-tip (生煎鍋貼), or potstickers, were also a hit, pan-fried to the same crispiness. They were plump and pillowy, with the wrap a little bit thicker than many dumplings/potstickers I’ve had in Hong Kong.

Lastly, we got the spring onion cake (葱油餅). Even though it’s still called a bing, the difference from normal Beijing bing is obvious at first glance – I call this a 3D bing, a veritable ring of flaky crust and plentiful green onions. J told me this may be how the Shanghainese make their bing, as she’d seen it this way many times before. The onions were a bit salty when you got a mouthful but they seemed to be spread far enough to keep this dish balanced. I really loved the way the bing softly melted in my mouth.

So the conclusion is, if you’re a huge fan of xiao long bao or sheng jian bao, you need to visit Osama Tony. Their soup dumplings are on par with many in the city, including IMHO, those of Crystal Jade and – yes – even Din Tai Fung. Another added bonus is that each order of these dim sum selections comes in two, so it’s easy to eat on your own. Of course, who’s to say you shouldn’t get two orders on your own? With bao this good, eating four by yourself is a given.

Osama Tony
122 Woosung St.
2755 5090
Cost: ~ $60-80/person 

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Last weekend, W, J, and I indulged our Chinese sides by visiting a Beijing/Shanghainese restaurant and ordering all our favorites from childhood. I found Wei Yi on the internet and after I saw the stuffed Chinese pancakes (北京餡餅), which is one of my favorite foods EVER in the whole wide world, I had to try it.

Right, so W and I arrived at this little place on Hau Fook Street just before noon. The little street is just off of Cameron Road in TST, and is lined with many little restaurants, mostly of Asian persausion. There are giant green signs outside with the most mouth-watering photos of all sorts of Northern Chinese goodies. Don’t worry if your Chinese hasn’t moved beyond “mm goi!”; there are pictures of menu items all along the interior AND an English menu.

Outside the Temple of Heaven. I mean, Wei Yi Noodles.

Photos to help the Chinese-challenged (myself included!). Note: My favorite dish on the menu is in the second row, on the right.

Before J even got there, W and I had scoured the menu, salivating, and ordered the following: One Beijing stuffed pancake (北京餡餅), one hot and sour soup (酸辣湯), one onion pancake (蔥油餅), a bowl of preserved vegetable and pork noodles (雪菜肉絲麵), one bowl of plain soup dumplings (净水饺), two soybean milks (豆漿) for J and I, and one salty soybean milk/soup (咸豆漿) for W. Perhaps it was ridiculous for three girls to split as much as we did, but perhaps it was just the much-needed fulfillment of a long-term craving.

Anyways, the salty soybean milk/soup came first (I call it soup because…well, see the photo below). I must admit I was too scared to try it, but W said it was high-quality; apparently, salty soybean milk should curdle if it’s good. Both W and J mentioned it’s easier to determine the properties of good soybean milk from the salty kind than its sweet counterpart.

A photo of J and my cold (sweet) soy milk is also below. I was very satisfied with how it brought me back 20 years to my times as a wee one in China. Wei Yi makes all of their soy milk on their premises, too, so you know it’s fresh.

W's guilty pleasure at Wei Yi

Soy dream, eat your heart out

Afterwards the bings came out with a vengeance! The green onion pancakes (蔥油餅) were a bit bland in my opinion (I would have preferred a bit more salt), but I loved the texture of the pancake. The outer layers were crispy while the inner parts were soft and moist. There was a nice proportion of green onion to flour.

This is my bing-bing

Afterwards was the stuffed pancake. It was plump and toothsome, oozing a bit of soy sauce and vinegar from the filling. All three of us said “MMMMMMMM” after biting into our pieces, appreciating the savory, juicy beef-and-chive filling.

Have I mentioned this is one of my favorite. dishes. in. the. world?! Great to finally find it in HK!

"I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille"

The hot and sour soup came next, and while it was chock-full of mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and all the good stuff for a really dense soup, the spiciness of the dish overwhelmed the vinegary, sour flavor. Out of the dishes we ordered, it was actually my least favorite.

A bit too "hot" and not enough "sour"

The last two dishes were absolutely delicious; I would order them again in a heartbeat. The preserved vegetable with pork sounds a bit strange in English (I mean, old bodies and prunes are the only things that should be preserved, right?), but the saltiness from the preserved vegetables flavored the soup nicely. Aside from the broth, I also liked the consistency of the noodles – they had great “chew power” or jiao ji-er, like hand-pulled, homemade noodles. Once we slowed down with our binge eating, I was worried the noodles would get soggy in the soup; however, they held up perfectly.

You need these noodles

J was obsessed with the plain dumplings in soup. It was the same broth as the noodles, though the taste was lighter as there were no preserved vegetables or additional meat to season the soup. The wrap-to-filling ratio of the dumpling was a bit heavy in the former department, but as I like chewy wrap, I can’t complain too much. The filling was pork and chives, and it was so smooth, prompting W, J, and I to lament the one time we all tried to make dumplings to no avail (our homemade filling was tough and, as W described it, “healthy-tasting”). In any case, the filling also had the soy sauce and vinegar mixture found in the stuffed pancake, which flavored it nicely.

They may have been called plain, but these dumplings were all sorts of amazing

When the bill came, there was even more to cheer about. After ordering five dishes and three drinks, our bill came to about $45 HKD/person. Awesome.

I really, really like this restaurant and, to be frank, W, G, P and I went back four days later to eat even more! If you’re a fan of northern food, I’d definitely recommend giving this place a whirl – just don’t be surprised if you find yourself craving it over and over.

Wei Yi Noodles (Despite its Chinese name, meaning “only one,” there are outposts in Sham Shui Po, Sha Tin, and other locations)
10 Hau Fook Street
2311 1498
Cost: ~$50 HKD/person

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I didn’t mean for two vegetarian posts in a row, but here we go! Two weekends ago, a group of friends and I had lunch at Nan Lian Garden in Diamond Hill. I first noticed this garden (and the nearby Chi Lin Nunnery) from the bus window when I still lived in Tai Po – just as we’d come out of Tate’s Cairn Tunnel, there would be a wonderful patch of green and – gasp! – open space next to all the highways and high-rises. I went to the Garden and the Nunnery once in 2009, but hadn’t been back until my friend D suggested we try the vegetarian restaurant in the middle of this garden. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera that day, so the iPod had to suffice – sorry for the fuzzy photos this time.

Long Men Lou entryway

To be perfectly frank, I didn’t find the food at Long Men Lou: Chi Lin Vegetarian (that’s the full name of the restaurant, as given on their website; I think it sounds like a movie title for an epic trilogy) to be anything mind-blowing. However, I wanted to write about it for two reasons: namely, because I think this is one of the few places you can get vegetarian Chinese food in Hong Kong that is not deep fried and pretending to be some kind of meat; and, because I acknowledge that my taste buds favor very heavy flavors, and perhaps others have a better appreciation for subtle flavors. The dishes at Long Men Lou are all free of MSG and low in sodium, oil, and sugar, which is great – but for me, that translated into things tastings a bit bland. In any case, it’s definitely a unique restaurant, so I’ll give it a mention on the blog.

First things first: For lunch, there’s a minimum spend of $85 a person. You can hit that target by ordering one of their set lunches or ordering a la carte. We chose the latter, and ordered about 6 or 7 dishes for our table. We ordered an appetizer platter to start out with, which had a beautiful color scheme. The brown slices in the foreground were these really yummy tofu pieces that had the mouthfeel of beef. P, who usually hates tofu (it’s the texture, he says), even enjoyed these. The green beans to the left were a disappointment for me because I was expecting more flavor, perhaps some garlic.

Vegetarian? There's an app for that.

The seasonal stir-fried vegetables were average gai lan. Normally, I do not like the oyster sauce they’re customarily served with in Hong Kong. However, in this case, I kind of missed that sodium; they were served bare and it tasted…bare.

Naked gai lan

I was really intrigued by the fried rice with pine nuts and ginger puree. When I ate it initially, I again didn’t taste much. However, D mentioned he could suss out the subtle flavors of the toasted pine nuts and ginger, and I’m willing to concede that perhaps at that point of the meal, I was too engrossed in conversation to properly taste subtle undertones. Unfortunately, I couldn’t taste much ginger either. I wanted to add salt to my rice…or chili oil (the northern Chinese girl in me was kicking in). But, if I were to ever go back, I would definitely order this dish again and taste it more carefully to see what I could discern.

Fried rice with pine nuts and ginger puree

The dish I liked most during lunch was the fried vermicelli with eggs and bean sprouts. Actually, it seemed to be heavier on the bean sprouts than the vermicelli, but I didn’t mind. I think I liked this one most because I could taste salt (hurrah!).

Fried vermicelli

We also got vegetarian dumplings, which I really wanted to like but, again, seemed bland. Even the vinegar that came with it seemed a bit watered down. I did like the mushrooms in the dumplings, though, which again evoked a fuller mouthfeel. We also ordered a baked cheese, avocado, and tomato dish. W had read that this dish was highly recommended. In our opinion, however, it was a fusion failure – the cheese was way too soupy underneath the baked crust and the avocados were unripened. It was a bit unsettling to eat such hard avocado swimming around in a bowl of cheese soup. I would not get this dish again.

Vegetarian dumplings

Avo bake: very...interesting

So, even though it’s not my favorite restaurant, I do think Long Men Lou is unique. If you’re a vegetarian visiting Hong Kong who wants to have a taste of vegetarian Chinese food, I’d definitely recommend this as a spot to try it out. There have been so many instances in Hong Kong where restaurants have tried to tell my vegetarian friends that a dish is “only vegetables”, only to forget that it’s cooked with lard or chicken stock or flavored with fish oil. This is one place where you don’t have to be afraid of that! Also, the building itself is quite different – a waterfall cascades over the top of the restaurant and you dine “behind” the waterfall, if you will, which you can see through a large picture window. It’s a calming view, although the chatter inside the restaurant is as loud as you might expect in any Chinese restaurant on the weekend. (We came on a Sunday; it was full and there was a short wait before we got seated.) In any case, it’s a different kind of dining experience and if you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle of city life, this is definitely an (affordable) option.

Long Men Lou: Chi Lin Vegetarian Cuisine
Nan Lian Garden, Diamond Hill
3658 9388
Check their website for lunch, tea, and dinner hours
Cost: minimum charge of $85 HKD/person for lunch

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Dumpling Sunday

Today is a catch-up day. I realized in embarrassment that I haven’t posted anything since late April! The last few months passed in a flurry of travel, but fortunately, the travel included some really good food. But first, here is a Hong Kong-based post featuring one of my favorite foods of all time: Dumplings.

In late April, my friend A and I had a long-overdue reunion. She invited me to watch her boyfriend P play volleyball for the South China Athletic Association. Every week they faced a different opponent in a different locale and that given week, they were playing in Sham Shui Po. Of course, I’m never in Sham Shui Po so I promptly went online for lunch ideas. I stumbled upon a promising restaurant called (simply) Shandong Dumpling Restaurant, named after a Chinese province. The place was conveniently located near the MTR station.

The menu has a long list of dumplings and wontons, along with typical “northern dishes” including cold Chinese salads and some hot stir-fries. It seemed like all the dumplings could be served in noodles with soup as well. In the end we ordered the shredded chicken salad, and three types of dumplings: beef (A’s favorite), pork and chives (my favorite), and – a new one for me – fennel and pork (P’s favorite).

Dumplings! I’m in heaven.

The dumplings came ten to a plate, all plump and steamy in their carb-and-protein glory. I bit into my first one – pork and chives – and was extremely impressed. First, the filling was actually well-seasoned; I can’t even begin to count how many Hong Kong dumplings I’ve tasted with ultra-bland filling. Second – the crucial element that jumped this unassuming Sham Shui Po joint to my favorite dumpling place in HK – the wrap was carefully crafted to produce a delightfully chewy, full-of-springback texture. In Mandarin, we might say it has good jiao ji-er, or literally “chew power”. The skin was thick enough to really add some substance to the dumpling, so it wasn’t just an overbearing meat dish, but truly, a dish with meat and dough. These dumplings received the highest compliment from me, that being: They tasted just like the way we make them at home.

Delicious – enough said.

The highlight of my meal, though, were the fennel and pork dumplings. I’d seen this on many dumpling menus before, particularly the one at my all-time favorite dumpling place in the world, Beijing’s Tianjin Bai Jiao Yuan. It’s called hui xiang (茴香) in Mandarin, and I’d never known the English translation. Anyways, it’s fennel, and it’s awesome in dumplings. It gives the filling a bit of dill-like flavor. It’s a strong taste, and definitely not for the weak-of-taste-buds. But for those willing to try a new thing, you may be very pleasantly surprised. I think it gives the filling a bit more kick.

Fennel – whodathunk?

I will add, also, that the dumplings here were definitely better than the cold salads. The shredded chicken salad, while good combined with the cucumbers and peanut sauce it was served with, was not great and I probably wouldn’t order it again. The dumplings though – oh man the dumplings! I wish I lived closer to this place; I’d be eating there all the time (especially with the reasonable prices). I did notice, however, that you can order frozen dumplings to go – next time I’m in the neighborhood, perhaps?

Note: The place seemed to only have a Chinese menu. Therefore, it’d be smart to visit with your Chinese-reading friends. Or at least the ones who are proficient enough in food vocab!

山東餃子館 (Shandong Jiaozi Guan)
G/F, 81C Un Chau Street
2729 2800
Cost: ~ $25-30 HKD/person

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The greatest aspect of having a visitor is the excuse it gives you to play in your own city. I had that opportunity this past week: Mr. B, father of one of my high school classmates, came to HK for business. He wanted to tour the city and sample local food as well, so I’d decided a little yam cha was in order.

TIM HO WUN

Our first stop was celebrated dim sum restaurant Tim Ho Wun (thanks to C/G for the pronunciation!) in Mongkok, opened by the dim sum chef from the Four Seasons. Finding the place may seem a little tricky, since the storefront is only in Chinese (添好運點心專門店). Just look for the white sign with green characters (or, the window with all the newspaper and magazine clippings).

Fried cha siu bao = The meaning of life

Fried cha siu bao = The meaning of life

Last time I was here, the restaurant just opened and endless fans queued for hours (literally), even in the middle of the afternoon. This time, Mr. B and I arrived around 11:30; we must have been lucky because we were seated right away in an otherwise full dining room. I must confess I’m not a huge fan of dim sum, but I will heartily chow down at this place. The cha siu cheung fan is the perfect combination of sweet and savory, and the ha gao are nice and plump. And here’s a dim sum pop quiz for you: What’s better than cha siu bao? That’s right – FRIED cha siu bao. If you’re here, you’ve gotta order these. I would travel from HK island on a weekly basis to get these for takeaway if I wasn’t afraid of turning into a little bao myself.

I’d recommend coming here earlier in the day to avoid a long wait. Also, while there is now an English menu, sometimes the dishes get “lost in translation”. Therefore, I think it helps to have a Chinese speaker, or at least someone who knows what to order for dim sum (and how to communicate it to the waitstaff). Although, I’m pretty sure everything is good, and for the quality of food, this place is a steal!

LITTLE SHEEP

Another recession-friendly dim sum establishment is Little Sheep, a chain originally from Mainland China, known for its hotpot. However, on weekends from 2-4pm, there’s an all-you-can-eat dim sum special for $45 a person! Judging from the packed dining rooms, word is definitely out among the locals.

"A rose by any other name...": Chicken feet are called "phoenix claws" on most dim sum menus

"A rose by any other name...": Chicken feet are called "phoenix claws" on most dim sum menus

Upon being seated, you get an order slip where you can tick off as many dishes as you like. Mr. B and I came to this place with C/G, and he selected all the classics – cha siu bao, siu mai, ha gao, cheung fan, and chicken feet. In addition to the order sheet, there’s also a buffet table with more northern-style dim sum choices, which pleased my palate. I raided the spread at the first opportunity and came back with some Shanghai-style fried ricecakes, fried tofu cubes, and sesame balls filled with green bean paste.

A handful of bamboo steamers, soy-sauce-drenched plates, and teapots later, we were all in a major food coma. It’s worth mentioning that when the fluffy, steamed cha siu bao appeared, my salivatory glands automatically kicked into overdrive. And I know I deemed fried cha siu baos the best.thing.EVER., but the original version at Little Sheep reminded me there’s definitely space in the dim sum world for both.

Am I a total cheeseball if this made my day?

Am I a total cheeseball if this made my day?

PS: Little Sheep seems to only have a Chinese menu, so brush up on your food characters!

PPS: This restaurants gets major points for having little male and female sheep in Mongolian-wear on their bathroom signs.

Tim Ho Wun Dim Sum Juen Moon Dim (添好運點心專門店)
G/F, 2-20 Kwong Wah Street, Mongkok
2332 2896
Cost: ~ $70 HKD/person

Little Sheep
G/F, 1/F-4/F, Mongkok Commercial Centre, 16, 16A, and 16B Argyle Street, Mongkok
2396 8816
Cost: ~ $45 HKD/person


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