Hing Kee

Last night we went to Hing Kee, a much praised restaurant doing Bo Jai Faan or claypot rice that’s tucked in a grimy backstreet behind the tourist thronged Temple Street Market. The restaurant’s popularity, and the ongoing buzz about it on openrice, meant that as usual there was a long line of people waiting outside. They have a lot of tables in different shops round the area, though, so the queue moved pretty quickly.

But does Hing Kee’s food actually live up to all the hype it gets? Bo Jai Fan’s combination of rice and meat cooked in a clay pot is fairly simple, unpretentious, and hearty in style. So there’s not much a restaurant can really do to distinguish itself in terms of fancy cooking techniques or ingredients. But Hing Kee sets itself apart from other Bo Jai Fan restaurants by getting this basic combination absolutely spot on.

Our beef clay pot came with a big pile of succulent strips of beef laid on top of the rice, contrasting with a lot of restaurants which are really miserly with their meat. We broke an egg over the dish and the white soaked down into the rice, cooking as we mixed it and covering the grains with a fluffy eggy tasting coating that made the rice really hearty and heavy. This savoury egg coated rice combined well with the more juicy strips of beef mixed in with it.

Our second pot was chicken and Chinese mushrooms laid over rice. The small pieces of on the bone chicken were impressively juicy – the method of cooking perhaps allowing them to keep a lot of moisture so that they hadn’t dried out at all. The meat’s soft creaminess went well with the more earthy and fibrous texture of the dark Chinese mushrooms used.

The smoked fish and pork pot also had a nice balance of different flavours. Big pieces of silver skinned fish were laid on top of the rice. The dry, coarse flesh of this had a really striking and powerful flavour – salty and fishy and smoky all at once. Its intenseness was nicely softened, though, when eaten with a soft slice of the pork or some of the rice. Strips of ginger also added a really nice sweetness.

With all Bo Jai Fan, the rice at the bottom goes a crispy brown as it cooks against the side of the pot. It can be really nice to scrape up pieces of this crisped browned rice, that have a great crunchy taste. Here we did get some perfectly crisped rice, although some of it had also turned a little bit too black to be edible. For the clay pots to be absolutely perfect, it would be good if they weren’t burnt on the bottom at all, but that might be asking a bit too much.

Along with the clay pots we also had ho beng, or deep fried oyster omelette. This was perfect. In some restaurant’s the omelette is too thick and just the outside is fried and crispy, leaving a stodgy mess of uncooked egg and oyster inside. But here the tangled strands of egg were all nicely crisp and brown with just a thin layer of soft egg in the middle. Often I also find places use too many oysters, so these completely overpower things, but here they were nicely restrained, with just a few of the juicy oyster held in the crispy casing and plenty of spring onion mixed in too. Added to this, the omelette was really dry and crisp, with none of the soggy oiliness that some can have. It had clearly just been made and tasted fantastic.

So overall, I would say that Hing Kee definitely lives up to the praise it’s been given and is well worth the half hour or so you’ll have to wait. While other restaurants around do also serve fairly decent bo jai fan, many of them slip up on a few elements of the dish, while here you can enjoy clay pots that are almost exactly the way they should be.

Directions

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Hometown Dumpling

About

There are a few places dotted around Hong Kong Island doing good homemade noodles and dumplings, particularly Wang Fu in Soho, the two different Dumpling Yuan’s in Soho and Sheung Wan, and a place in Sai Ying Pun near the Chong Yip shopping centre.

You see them with all with trays laid out in the evening, rapidly stuffing filling into neat dumpling and lining them up row after row. All of these places are good basic fare rather than anything fancy, with prices to match.

Hometown has a better range of dumplings than most , with a lot of steamed buns and xiao lung bao on offer too.  Unlike Dumpling Yuan or Wang Fu, its menu is fairly limited to dumpling and a few different types of noodles though. If you’re not looking for either of these then you should probably go elsewhere.

Based on quality of dumplings alone, I’d say Hometown places near the top of the list. The Beijing lamb dumplings I had melted in my mouth with wrappers that were wonderfully buttery. The lamb stuffing had a really distinctive earthy flavour, and oozed succulent juice. 

The whole package tasted really freshly made, and massively better than the defrosted dumplings you get in so many places now.  

Directions

102 Caine Road, Mid Levels, Hong Kong

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Price

About $30 for bowl of dumplings and noodles, $30 for 12 dumplings, $10 for a steamed bun, $10 for plain noodles.

Ka Kee

About

I had walked past this place many times and been intrigued by the traditional wooden front and the crowds inside, but never actually got round to trying it. Finally, in search of some authentic Cantonese food, I managed to get along and was really impressed by what I found. This place offers very solid Cantonese food at affordable prices.

Chinese soups can sometimes be watery and really bland, but here the seasonal soup was a pleasing way to start the meal. The broth was full of flavour, with the meat bones and chinese vegetables giving it a distinctive, slightly bitter taste and the addition of almonds balancing with this nicely. The large pieces of potato were really earthy and went well with this broth, adding a bit of substance.

After that, we had the steamed mince meat and cuttlefish in a copper pot. This is meant to be older Hong Kong people’s favourite, probably partly because it is so soft they can eat it even if they’ve lost most of their teeth. The version here had really soft, spongy minced meat and cuttlefish which complimented each other well.  Instead of the rubbery texture in some places, the meat had kept a strong taste, added to by the dark sauce around it, which unlike some versions of this dish didn’t drown the meaty flavours.

The drunken chicken here was superb and one of the best examples of this I have tasted. The chicken pieces beautifully juicy, their smooth white flesh holding the wine flavour in a way that made it even more succulent, but not tasting too potently of alcohol. Perhaps what really made the dish though was the fresh green vegetables scattered on top, and the really strong crushed garlic, both of which went perfectly with the texture of the meat.

The duck dish was also very satisfying, although it was hard to decide whether it was really that traditionally Cantonese or just a luxury dish. Still, to get such tender, perfectly cooked slices of duck for so little money feels like a real luxury to me. There skin was brown and slightly crisp, while the meat inside was still pink and soft and not dried out at all. The dish came with a taco basket full of fried tofu, the spongy texture of which went perfectly with the meatier pieces of duck. 

Photos

Seasonal Soup

Seasonal Soup

Miced Pork and Cuttlefish in a Copper Pot

Miced Pork and Cuttlefish in a Copper Pot

Drunken Chicken

Drunken Chicken

Duck with Fried Tofu

Duck with Fried Tofu

Directions

This place is easy to spot because of its very traditional looking wooden fronting. Walking along Queen’s Road towards Kennedy town, its on the left hand side of  Queens Road, just after the road crosses Water Street. The address is 438 Queens Road West, Sai Ying Pun.

Cost

About HK$ 60 – 80 a dish.

 

 

 

Fo Kee

Silk Tea and French Toast at For Kee Cha Chaan Teng

Silk Tea and French Toast at For Kee Cha Chaan Teng

About

This cha chaan teng (tea restaurant) is hidden away in the back streets of Sheung Wan where it has been serving regulars for over 50 years now. Cha chaan teng’s like these started up in the post-war boom to cater for factory workers who just had a short time for lunch, but had some spare money and wanted to try a few new things.

Unlike the famous Lan Fong Yuen in Soho, there’s no pretension here and no sense of being a tourist attraction. The restaurant is really back to basics, with stools and plastic cups, boxes and cans of ingredients stacked up in the corners and just a big menu decorating the wall.  This place caters to a really local crowd and is a great place to come to soak up a more authentic Hong Kong scene and watch ordinary people.

It’s also a good place to eat some cha chaan teng food at really pleasing prices. The silken tea here is made in the traditional way by straining it through a pair of stockings, producing a syruppy, slightly sweet drink that tastes strongly of the canned milk used and not at all like any other kind of tea. It goes nicely with the super sweet french toast that is smothered in a sugary sauce.

Alternatively you can get bowls of noodles,  particularly the beef brisket, club sandwiches, burgers, and all kinds of other fast food snacks. Cha chaan tengs offer a sort of crude fusion of east and west, often with interesting results.

Directions

For Kee, 200 Hollywood Road (entrance on Tai Ping Shan Road), Sheung Wan, Hong Kong, closes at 5pm.

Photos

Classic Cha Chaan Teng Atmosphere in Fo Kee

Classic Cha Chaan Teng Atmosphere in Fo Kee

Notes

To read more about cha chaan teng in Hong Kong, take a look at this New York Times article or my own project website . Also have a look at the description of Lan Fong Yuen on Tasty Treat’s blog.

Star Seafood Restaurant

About

This is quite a good place to go for an authentic Dim Sum experience. They have a (limited) English menu if you ask – tick the boxes and give it to a waitress. Menu guide coming to this site soon. Dim sum finishes at 4 and is cheaper after 2pm.

Directions

 Take the tram in the Sheung Wan direction from central – tram will be marked ‘Kennedy Town’. The tram will turn out to pass the Western market and then back in to travel along the long street beyond this. The Star Seafood restaurant is on the right hand side, on the corner. It has a curving golden front. Opposite, on the left hand side is a big grey police station which may be easier to watch out for. 

Cost

 

Each item of dim sum costs about HK$ 8-12, if you go as a group its shouldn’t really set you back more than HK $50 each.

Notes

Kau Kee

About

This place is famous for a good reason. For just 28 hkd, you can get a delicious bowl of beef brisket and noodles. The beef brisket melts in your mouth and is packed with flavor. If you don´t like beef, there is no reason for you to come here.    

Directions

The best way to get here is probably to walk along Hollywood Road from Central / Soho, and look for the turning of Gough St dropping down on right hand side. Gough Street then runs down hill and loops round to the the right. Be careful because there is another small noodle shop on the same street, with a similar name. This is the one on the corner with openings, entrances on west and south sides. The address is:

G/F, Kau U Fong, 21 Gough Street, Central District, Hong Kong 

 

Cost

HK $28 for a bowl of old-style beef brisket.

Notes

Closed on Sunday – closes early in the evening.