The nose knows3 min read . Updated: 19 Dec 2015, 12:24 AM IST
Noodle soup, faux eggs and the world's cheapest Michelin-star restaurant in Hong Kong
What are you eating?" my dad barks into my ear. It’s my first day in Hong Kong and I honestly don’t know how to answer him over the phone. The menu at the noodle joint in the back alleys of Causeway Bay is entirely in Cantonese.
Minutes earlier, I had seated myself on a rickety stool. When the waiter had brusquely asked me a question that could only mean “Order?", I had discreetly pointed to the bowl at my neighbouring table and managed to convey in broken English and sign language, “I’ll have what she is having."
I am obviously in luck because, when my dish comes, it is a giant spicy noodle soup bowl with chicken, ham, fish balls and minced pork. The cook in me would never have dreamt of putting all these meats together in one meal, but the result is delicious. The thick rice noodles pairs well with the spicy lemon grass broth and the chicken, pork dumplings and fish balls. Each has its unique flavour— which means that every mouthful of my meal tastes different.
Just as I am leaving, my noodle neighbour turns to me, smiles and asks: “Did you like it? I asked him to put in some extra pork for you." I turn all shades of red at the realization that my pointing hadn’t been so discreet after all.
The next evening, in North Point, a residential suburb of Hong Kong, I am on my way to explore the wet market in Chun Yeung Street when I spot a long queue outside a tiny stall. The line moves quickly, with each customer moving away with a brown bag of what looks like miniature eggs. Curious—and dying to test my friend’s advice—I join the line, tap the shoulder of the girl ahead of me and point to the brown bag questioningly. “It’s called gai daan tsai. Asian waffle," she says. A twist on the European waffle, the gai daan tsai literally translates to “little chicken eggs". Cooked in an egg-shaped waffle mould, this egg puff is brittle on the outside yet mildly sweet and fluffy on the inside.
Serendipitously, I had stumbled across Lee Keung Kee, one of the best places in Hong Kong to sample the snack. The owner, one Mr Liu, apparently started out selling street food more than 30 years ago and now has an egg-waffle empire spanning seven stores across the city. Why the shape though? No one is quite certain, except that it probably began life after World War II, when the real thing was unaffordable.
If pointing at strangers’ food and looking for queues at every corner is not your thing, a food tour is the best bet. In the good company of Eating Adventures, I discover the signature Baked BBQ Pork Bun at Tim Ho Wan. Popular as the world’s cheapest one-Michelin star restaurant, Tim Ho Wan was set up by a chef who formerly manned the dim- sum stations at the local Four Seasons Hotel. If the snaking queue at 5pm is anything to go by, it is obviously a gamble that paid off.
Another infallible way to find some great food in Hong Kong is to simply trust your nose. If it smells great, it probably tastes even better. Like the frog legs I sniffed out in a back alley of Mong Kok while roaming in the Ladies Market. While the French like their frogs breaded and fried, in Mong Kok the frog legs are stir-fried with spring onions, capsicum and green chillies. They look like miniature chicken legs and are full of flavour, once you’ve got past the fact that you’re actually eating frog legs.
As I am devouring my frog sitting on yet another rickety stool, my phone rings again. It’s my dad, trying to live vicariously, again. The only difference is that this time I know exactly what to tell him.
YOUR GOOSE, COOKED
If local food is your thing, try these out
CHIU CHOW GOOSE
Head to the local wet market for ‘chiu chow goose’, easily spotted by the big birds hanging on display. The Canton region’s ‘chiu chow’ style of cooking emphasizes the natural flavour of the meat. The key is ‘lo soi’, the master sauce in which the goose is simmered.
TAKOYAKI (JAPANESE- STYLE OCTOPUS BALLS)
MANGO SAGO POMELO
Better known as ‘yeung zhee gam Luk’, this is Hong Kong’s quintessential fresh fruit dessert. This dish was reportedly invented in the early 1980s by a Singapore restaurant that combined mango puree, evaporated milk, sago and juicy pomelo pulp, but is now available at street stalls across Mong Kok, Causeway Bay and Kowloon.