Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Madame Pork

When my friend C mentioned we were going to lunch at "Madame Pork" on our second day in Shunde (順德), I had this mental image of a rustic, somewhat filthy roadside eatery with a fat lady with knife in one hand, cigarette in her mouth, whilst tending a pot of pork stew by the stove (don't ask me why). Not that I really mind street food, but you could imagine I was pleasantly surprised when we arrived at the restaurant and saw the grand, old Chinese-style entrance gate with a giant Christmas tree next to it, something resembles a high-end restaurant instead of what I had in mind originally.

And just when I thought "Madame Pork" might be a nickname for the restaurant, it's the actual name - they even have a large plaque with the name in Chinese "Jue Yuk Por" (豬肉婆) hung up high at the entrance so there's no mistake. 

The fancy entrance was only half the story. Right behind the entrance gate was a little "souvenir" shop selling local farm produce and specialty food, including the signature "Daliang Milk" (大良牛乳) - cuddled buffalo milk - sold in small jar, and also house-brewed "yellow wine" in the traditional ceramic canister. Next to it was a large section where all the fresh ingredients - fish, seafood and vegetables - were displayed, either in the large water tanks, or on the table, for customers to pick and choose. Then further back were a series of open kitchens, divided by different Cantonese cuisine specialty - there are separate kitchens for soup, roast, steaming, stir-frying, etc. There's even a small stall with an old lady whose only job was to make the giant sesame donut ball for dessert - more on that later.

With someone given the duty to order for our table, the rest of us had the chance to take a leisure stroll at the traditional garden which was part of the restaurant, with beautiful fish ponds, stone bridges and the fragrant osmanthus tree lined around. Our private dining room was spacious and tastefully decorated too, completed with traditional wooden furniture and (probably fake) art pieces.

It's our last proper meal of the trip so we sort of went a bit over the top. We saw a couple big soft-shell turtles kept in water buckets, so we chose the bigger one and have it cooked and served with chicken soup. We picked a few more seafood items - mud crabs sauteed with garlic and chilies, razor clams stir-fried with onions and black beans, and "Babylon Shells" (東風螺) poached in hot chili sauce. We had a good eel dish the day before so we went for an encore, done the exact same way, but this time with one slightly smaller in size. We also ordered a few traditional Shunde dishes - the steamed chicken, stuffed carp, egg omelet with fish intestine, braised pomelo skins and so on. Oh yes, and the whole roast goose plus a couple dishes of sauteed seasonal vegetables.

Steamed Chicken
Signature Stir-fry Mud Crab with Garlic and Chilies
It didn't take long before our first dish arrived and we just went on on a feast for the next couple of hours with dishes after dishes were brought in. And I must say all the dishes were excellently done. The chicken - a rooster - was done simply with minimal seasoning and steamed with just salt and water but has a good meaty flavor and with a firm texture. My favorite bit was the crunchy comb which we didn't see being served often in Chinese dishes. The dish was so good that we immediately ordered a second one before the dish ran out.

Soft-shell Turtles with Chicken Soup
Stuffed Carp
Softshell turtles were considered a Cantonese delicacy and the one we had was of good size and came with fatty and delicious "skirt" in jelly-like texture. The sauteed king mud crabs reminded me of the Singaporean Chili Crabs, but this version was milder in chili flavors but still very delicious and came with huge chunks of meat. Stuffed carp is a traditional "crafty" Shunde dish - the whole carp was de-boned with the meat removed and mashed into paste, then stuffed back into the fish and deep-fried, and served with a black bean gravy sauce.

Stir-fried Eels
Rice in Casserole
Among all the dishes, my favorite is - believe it or not - the rice cooked in a ceramic casserole. Traditionally Shunde produces the best rice crops in the region so of course I wouldn't expect less of the quality of the ingredient, but this one was extra special. The rice was perfectly cooked and it's served with slight amount of oil and grated ginger mixed in by table-side, giving the rice some extra flavors. We finished the whole pot in no time and immediately asked for a second. As we finished the rice, we poured some dark pu'er tea into the casserole to scrap out the crispy bits stuck at the bottom and turned them into a tea-soaked porridge, just like how it's done in the most traditional style. 

We finished with the dessert of "Jin Dui" (煎堆), or sweet glutinous rice donuts coated with sesame. It's a common dim-sum dish in Cantonese cuisine, usually of the size of a tennis ball or the mini version like ping pong balls, but the couple we had were gigantic - like a soccer ball. It's amazing to see how the old lady at the food stall outside turning the small piece of dough repeatedly in a wok full of oil and watched it slowly expanded into such size. I am sure it's not as simple as it seemed.

It's was a lovely meal at this unique venue and hard to find something quite like this back home, with such space and such ingredients and such cooking. This itself is worth the trip.

When? November 8 2015
Where? Madame Pork Private Kitchen 豬肉婆私房菜 - 中國廣東省佛山市順德區容桂細滘展業路31號
Menu Highlights? Salt and Water Steamed Chicken, Roast Goose, Sweet Glutinous Rice Donuts
Bollinger Special Cuvee Brut Champagne NV
Perrier Jouet Grand Brut Champagne NV
2013 Casteltorre Pinot Grigio delle Venezie IGT
2004 Chateau Larcis Ducasse AOC Saint Emilion Grand Cru
2008 Luciano Sandrone Cannubi Boschis Barolo DOCG

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