Saturday, August 6, 2016

Shau Kei Wan Food Crawl

When friends asked me for recommendations for local food, I immediately thought of Shau Kei Wan Main Street East. For locals, or at least people living in this side of town, the neighborhood has long been known as a foodie area, with over 60 different eateries crowded along and near this street stretching 800 meters long in the old township of Shau Kei Wan, which once upon a time was a fishing village in the eastern side of Hong Kong Island.

So we decided to do a food crawl together on a Friday, trying to see how many “meals” we could cramp in in one evening. We began at Kam Tung Tai Kitchen, one of my favorite restaurants on the block and one that I frequented, especially when it’s late at night and I couldn’t think of anything else to eat. The restaurant is one of the most popular in the neighborhood, open every day from dawn til dusk (5:30am to midnight), serving everything from morning dimsums to casual rice dishes at lunch and more elaborate dishes at night based on the traditional "Tan Ka" cuisine (蜑家菜).

Tan Ka is a collective term of the indigenous tribes living off the South China coast, most of them working in fishing industry for generations and living off the boats, many of whom moored at the nearby typhoon shelter. (In the late 1980s the government decided to relocate them ashore out of safety concerns but many still lived in this neighborhood) Given this historical and cultural background, Tan Ka cuisine was predominantly seafood based with simple, rustic cooking style.

We started with a couple dimsum dishes - yes they do serve dimsums in the evenings too - followed by the deep-fried squid with an unusually light batter. Claypot rice is the must-order item here, and this time, we had one with pork patty and salted threadfin fish. I love the fragrant and oily fish infused into the rice with a bit of crust at the bottom of the claypot with a splash of sweet soy sauce.

Cured fish is a typical Tan Ka dish - traditionally made using any leftover fish the fishermen couldn't sell at the market. The fish was cleaned with guts removed, and cure with salt to preserve. Unlike the salted fish which was dried under the sun for weeks to be preserved long-term, the cured fish was meant to be consumed within days, similar to the Ichiyaboshi style in Japanese cooking. This evening, we ordered a threadfin to be steamed. It came with just the right size for the 5 of us for tasting, with soft, silky meat and subtle flavor with minimal seasonings.

The chicken was another dish we loved, with the half-chicken steamed and meat shredded by hand, then tossed with plenty of grated ginger, toasted sesame, oil and green onions and served cold. We even ordered a roast duck leg to be thrown in for extra flavor. The razor clams sauteed in black beans and bell peppers came in generous portion and done well too, just as what I expected from any good Cantonese restaurant.

After half a dozen dishes or so, we were three-quarters full and decided to hit the street for more food. It must be our lucky day when there's no line waiting outside this egg waffles stall across the street owned by a guy who called himself a "low-key master". As low-key as he tries to be, the place is well-known for serving one of the best egg waffles, a.k.a. gai daan jai (雞蛋仔), in town - it's not uncommon to see a long waiting line outside the stall, especially during weekend. I don't know what his secret is, but his egg waffles were consistently good, with a rich batter, thin and crisp on the outside and soft inside. And I actually thought his waffle sandwich (夾餅) was even better, with condensed milk drizzled, confectioner's sugar splashed and peanut butter spread in between a round piece of waffles, again, baked to perfection.

We walked over to our last stop with the delicious egg waffles still in hand at a shop called "Lui Jai Kee" (呂仔記). The place started as a mobile food cart operating on the street-side before moving to its current location. The shop is split into two sections - the savory section on the right carries a number of street food items while on the other side has a selection of classic Cantonese dessert soups. The food might be cheap, but they were serious about what they serve - I particularly liked their fish siu mai, the "three mixes" (三溝, with minced fish, shredded lettuce in a "faux sharks' fin" soup base) and Bubur Cha Cha (also called "Ja Ja", or 喳咋 by the locals), a sweet soup made with barley, red beans and coconut milk. Again, we were lucky to hit the spot right before it got super crowded when everyone finish their dinner elsewhere and came here for desserts.

One can never cover all the good food on this street in one single trip, and I guess a second (or third) food crawl is what we needed. The question is, when is that going to be? (and oh yes, caught a Pikachu while eating at Lui Jai Kee too - that's a bonus!)

When? July 29 2016
Kam Tung Tai Kitchen (金東大小廚), 59-99 Shau Kei Wan Main Street East
Low-key Master Food Shop (低調高手大街小食), Shop B3, 76A Shau Kei Wan Main Street East
Lui Jai Kee (呂仔記), 121A Shau Kei Wan Main Street East
Menu Highlights?
Hand-shredded Chicken with Duck Legs (手撕雞拼鴨脾) from Kam Tung Kitchen
Egg Waffles from Low-key Master Food Shop
Three Mixes Soup from Lui Jai Kee
2007 Reinhold Haart Ohligsberger Riesling Spatlese, Mosel, Germany
2013 Gaja Rossj-Bass Langhe, Piemonte, Italy

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