Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Tai O

It was a public holiday. To get away from the usual city lights and hustle and bustle, me and my family decided to go to somewhere far and fishy- Tai O. Apparently many shared the same thought, so together we brought into Tai O an unintentional, phenomenal surge of rowdiness. Despite the crowd, Tai O was still scenic. Never seen in cities except Venice, there were pang uks, stilt houses built over the waterway. As we peeked into the pang uks, we crossed the bridge and entered into a narrow, noisy street of seafood stalls, tuck shops and welcoming (you don't say!) vendors selling local delicacies. As if the place was not vibrant enough, the pungent smell of seafood crescendoed.

As my dad, my brother-in-law and I went crazy experimenting with our cameras, capturing the animated faces of the vendors and the colorful mix of food, my mom and sister really got into buying, eating and feeding us the local delicacies. We ate so much! We had those extremely old-school but tasty biscuit sandwich with malt syrup 麥芽糖餅, barbecued squid, scallops, refreshing roselle tea, chewy egg puffs (texture similar to that of a waffle, but the inside is custard-like) cooked over charcoal, and of course, my sister's new-found  favorites- barbecued mullet roe 烏魚子 and Chinese Taco. I have reproduced two of these delicacies at home and shall share with you the recipes in the next two posts. 

It is quite interesting as I look back, I realize that no matter where we travel to, our enjoyment and exploration always and inevitably involve FOOD.

As we squeezed our way deeper into the other end of Tai O, farther from the food stalls and pang uks, there were peace and quiet. Along the shore sturdily stood a few simple, little huts made out of metal scraps, that housed mainly elderly and small families. The masters of the houses are usually out to fish, leaving behind the mothers and wives home, making and selling simple local delicacies such as cha guos (glutinous rice cakes with fillings made out of red bean, black-eyed peas etc.) and tofu pudding. I love seeing this other face of Hong Kong, so serene and pure.

Inside these blue buckets were shrimp paste. In that, we could taste Umami 鲜味- the 5th taste, well-known and familiar in the East and less known in the West. I have scratched my head and still cannot write an accurate and comprehensive description for this taste, sorry! You may learn more about this taste on Wikipedia.

Having walked so much, we were too lazy to walk on the return route. We took a speedboat, which was so so fast, exciting and fun, and in less than a minute we got back to the narrow streets, just in time to grab the stall's last four Chinese Tacos!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Poached Pears

There is a reason why poached pears are always served as a round-up for a candlelight dinner. There they stand with such grace and elegance, adding to the meal an extra bit of romance and sophistication. I do also sense a subtle tinge of arrogance, but I guess that is exactly what is missing from most of the other desserts, thus makes poached pears more like a prize.

Last year, my best guy friend C asked me for dessert ideas since he would like to prepare a super duper romantic Valentine’s Day meal for his then girlfriend at his apartment in the US. Okay, a typical 20-year-old guy’s apartment has a wide variety of liquor but no electric mixer. So, unless you’re prepared to do an intense workout with your biceps and triceps, quite a number of desserts including soufflé and spongy cakes are to be ticked off.

In face of this, I suggested C to make either poached pears or molten chocolate cake, both of which are absolutely tasty, fuss-free and perfect for beginners or lazy bums who are keen to impress! In the end, C made molten chocolate cake to wow his then girlfriend, after all there’s an unshakable association between chocolate and Valentine’s Day. I should probably make a post on that later!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Chicken Pot Pie

I have a thing for pies and soup topped with puff pastry. I think they look really classy, elegant and everything underneath the puff pastry seems extra special. Probably because puff pastry wasn't that easily accessible back then in Hong Kong, I only got to eat it on rare occasions when we visited some fancy restaurants and ordered French onion soup or lobster bisque. 

Now I still associate French onion soup and lobster bisque with puff pastry. Whenever the soup is served puff-less, my heart drops in disappointment like a child goes "oh" when he finally makes it to an annual carnival only to find that his favorite cotton candy stand is no longer there!

So you see, the puffy top is a real treat for me. Before breaking it, I usually give the content a gentle morning call. With a light, careful and thoughtful knock, little crispy flakes fall off the top. I pick them up, lick them off from my fingers one by one- this is the drum-roll before a kiss.

There is no fixed formula for the content of a chicken pot pie. Just do what you want, using your favorite, hearty and comforting ingredients. For me, I use mushrooms, peas, shredded chicken thighs and a dash of rosemary! Rosemary can never go wrong with chicken! :)

Friday, November 2, 2012

Almond Jelly 杏仁豆腐


Almond jelly is one of the few desserts my mother keeps asking me to make because it is extremely healthy with very little calories. Usually when we talk about healthy food, we immediately expect some sort of compromise on the taste.
But let me assure you, this almond jelly tastes just as refreshing and appetizing as it appears to be! So abandon this stereotype of healthy food being something tasteless and boring and embrace this dessert!

This very local traditional delight endures over generations. Distinct from the rest, which are mostly rich, silky, dense and soup-based, almond jelly is light and refreshing. You can eat as much of it as you want and still feel completely guiltless and light as a feather! Alternatively, like a cherry on top of that huge spoon of cream on a typical American-sized ice-cream sundae, it is a perfect ending to a super heavy meal!