Saturday, 24 May 2008

Death By Chilli ....

The question that I have been pondering in the last few days is, can a chilli kill? 

The reason I have been thinking about this is because a chilli, or a slice of chilli nearly killed me. Well almost. 

We were at a popular lunchtime spot called Quan An Ngon, here in Saigon. I was happily eating away at my Green Papaya Salad with Sliced Pigs Ears, and some Salad Rolls with Pork and Shrimp. These were going down very well, when I decided to try some of Lina's Hue Style Pho, which was fantastic. But it needed a bit of heat to match the Salad I was eating, so I reached over with my chpstix and picked up a slice of green chilli, and said to Lina, "I am addicted to chilli, I need the heat", and popped it in my mouth. Within 2 seconds it attached the back of my throat like a firebomb. I have never felt such pain before and so quickly also. Lina said my face went red from the bottom up, and my eyes were watering. I grabbed over and picked up her coconut and  finished off her  juice, then downed a bottle of water I had in my bag. Still the pain was there. Was it ever going to go away. Finally after a few minutes it resided. 

Whilst this was going on, I was trying, and did a good job of keeping the pain in. No screams. Hopefully noone noticed around us that I was in incredible pain.

I always thought I could eat any chilli, as I really am addicted to them. But normally they just burn the front of my mouth, never my throat as this evil monster did. 

The last time I felt real pain was a few years ago in a restaurant in Palenque, Mexico, we were given some nachos and a dark red chilli dip to go with our beers. The chilli's burnt my lips and tongue, but I kept going back for more and more. The pain was intense, it felt as if the front of my mouth was on fire. I was red and sweating, but I still scooped up loads of the dip on my nachos, knowing what it was going to do to me. But I had to keep that feeling going.  Addiction.

After this recent incident, I have been wondering, could a chilli actually kill, and so how many times have these little devils struck. Should they be given a warning. Could you sue a restaurant or shop if you encountered a particularly fiery beast, and they never warned you. But isn't that the fun, every chilli could be that ticking time bomb, waiting to strike when you least expect it. 

I, myself will continue to play Russian Roulette with these little time bombs. I enjoy living life on the edge. 

Hello Moto ...

What do you do as a cuisine when your two closest neighbours are the super stars in the region. Not a lot you can do really, apart from sit back and be enjoyed when people come across you. 

Khmer cuisine will never reach the dizzying heights of Thai and Vietnamese cuisine has. But in its own way it is kinda a star in its self. 

Phnom Penh, compared to Bangkok is still asleep. But it has a charm that Bangkok lost many years ago. Its recent history is horrendous, and is really amazing that everyone still manages to have a genuine smile on their faces. 

We decided to check out what Khmer food was all about. So wandered along the river front in Phnom Penh and found a nice place called the Khmer Borane Restaurant. Thankfully they turned the fan on us as we sat down. It was pretty humid that night. 

They had a montage of dishes, some Thai, some Chinese, some Cambodian. We opted for fish cooked in palm sugar and a chicken curry with Khmer potatoes. The curry was Thai style but lacked the heat of Thai food, and also lacked a lot of chicken. The white fish steaks were cooked really well and due to the palm sugar were kinda sweet. 

I do not think Khmer food is going to dazzle us, but it will keep us happy until we hit Vietnam. 

Siem Reap seems to have a better selection of restaurants than what we found in Phnom Penh, or maybe we were looking in the wrong places. 

One of the highlights was Amok with either chicken or fish. The best one I had in a simple place, and it was served in a green coconut. 

We ate well in Cambodia but they do not do picante food very well. 

Next stop Vietnam ..... Bring on the chilli's ....

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Bangkok Part 1

Bangkok is renowned for its food, especially its street food. Everyone in Bangkok seems to be eating something every moment of the day, whether it be simple grilled chicken, son tam salad. 
The only thing I hate about Bangkok is that is so hot and humid there. I really am not a hot weather guy. But it does give me an excuse to drink a lot of very cold beer. Always up for that. 
We were only in Bangkok for a few days, as heading more or less straight away to Cambodia.
We ate pretty well, nothing spectacular to note about any place we ate. I think there are too many places now, where they dumb down the heat in the food for us farang's. Which is a shame as I am addicted to spicy food. 
One place that I had heard about was a seafood restaurant and market. So I found the address on the internet and decided to give it a bash. This place is huge, they say it can seat over 1500 people. 
As you walk in, you can stand and watch the chefs cook the food for you. Really a joy to watch. 
You are shown to your seat, where someone explains the whole set up to you. You basically grab a shopping trolley and go shopping. You can have a personal shopper to help you choose the seafood, and help you on ideas for certain fish etc. We decided to shop alone. Their motto is "If it swims, we have it", and they are not joking. Never seen such a line up. Very impressive. 
So in true gutsy fashion, I picked too much. Well I consider 1 squid, handful of scallop meat, 2 of the biggest prawns I have ever seen, and there were bigger, bag of clams, and a few crab claws. Oh and a big bunch of Morning Glory not a lot. I could of carried on picking, but luckily Lina had her sensible cap on that evening and stopped me. 
You then go and pay, and believe me this place is not cheap. In fact its a bit of a tourist trap. You then go back to your table with your ingredients and then you are advised on how you would like them cooked. Either they only cook the fish one way or they think they know best, as I asked if the clams cold be cooked in a lemongrass and chilli broth. I was told no, as they do not do it that way. I let the guy advise us on the dishes from then on. Although, I asked for the prawns to be grilled and the crab claws to be cooked with a black pepper sauce. 
After a while the food started coming and coming and coming. Its at this point we realised how much food we had ordered. Doh !!!
The Morning Glory came fist, cooked with garlic and oyster sauce. Then the scallops and mushrooms again cooked in oyster sauce. Not what was agreed. The Clams were cooked in a sweet bean sauce with an aromatic vegetable. Then the Prawns came, these giants were cut in half and grilled. So so so so very meaty. The Crab Claws turned up nicely decorated on a plate and last but not least the grilled squid came as a finale. 
All were fantastic but the crab was not that good. But the prawns were the star of the show. I would return just to buy 4 of them and let them be grilled. May just do that.
After you have eaten you pay for any drinks and the cooking techniques and any other ingredients they used. So it turned out to be one expensive meal, but very memorable. 
Unfortunately no photos as the batteries ran out as we went to take a picture.

Eu Não Falo Português

I did not know what to expect with Macau. Maybe another Hong Kong, where everyone works 24/7 making loads of money and sending it just the same. Thankfully no, Macau, compared to Hong Kong is asleep. Well apart from the Las Vegas style casinos that greet you as you leave the Ferry Terminal. 
Macau sure is lacking in the sheer quantity of food joints that Hong Kong has. They have a lot of bakery stores, but the bits we tried were not that good. They do however have some great Portuguese custard tarts. The burnt custard topping sets them apart from their Hong Kong counterpart. 
Now as we were in an old Portuguese colony, why not indulge in a few Portuguese treats. We found a nice place off the tourist drag. Now as Portugal makes some pretty fine wine, they are still kind enough to send a lot of it to their former colony at very good rates. No import duty here. So we ordered a bottle of red. After nearly 6 weeks with hardly no wine, it tasted fantastic. 
The menu consisted of some old time classics, like grilled sardines, Caldo Verde and countless Baccahlao dishes. There are supposed to be a Baccahlao recipe for every day of the year.
So as we were in a former Portuguese colony, why not have some dishes from its other colonies as well. So for starters we choose some Baccahlao balls. Well it is a Portuguese restaurant after all. We shared tow dishes, African Chicken, which was coated in a picante sauce. Delish. And as I am a sucka for beans and off cuts of meat, had to have the Feijoada. Never had it before, but it really tasted of Frijoles from Colombia. It was especially good with the pigs trotter still in it. Also came with a bit of chorizo and morcilla. Black pudding. Yummmmm .... 
All in all it was pretty good and a change from what we had been eating over the month before. 

Friday, 9 May 2008

Noodle Heaven

We were led into a false sense of security by our time in Japan, thinking that all noodles were going to be that good. We were to be disappointed. I could not remember eating noodles before from a Chinese restaurant either in London or here in Hong Kong, so it all came at me as a shock.

After countless attempt to find somewhere that did good noodle soup. We eventually found 3 that hit the spot. 

The best was a small stall in the Cooked Food Centre in Bowrington Road Market. Shop number 3 if an of you want to try. I suggest you do.
The noodle soup base was really well made and full of flavor, and we could actually taste how good the noodles were, and they were really good. 
I had barbecued pork on mine, and Lina went for duck. Yum yum yum..... 
I noticed that when we were paying he also did a good mutton curry. Bet they would be fab with noodles. 

Next was Mak's Noodles, a small hole in the wall. We encountered this place on a Sunday lunchtime and had to share a table with an old couple, who looked like they were enjoying their food. It was packed with old couples and families on for a lunchtime treat. 
I had beef brisket noodles and Lina opted for pork with shrimp wonton noodles. Again as above its the soup base that makes it, this one had a slight fishy tang to it that a real delight to eat. our other one was a small place opposite Mak's. Again same deal really, only slightly cheaper. Really good soup base. Wish I'd have gone for the wide noodles.  

Overall our time in Hong Kong had shown us what a delight it is. We have experienced a lot more than we thought we were going to. We were both quite sad to leave as we had grown quite attached to the place. 

Our final meal was actually Sashimi and Sake. It really was just an excuse to use my new knife. Hahahahahaha ..... 
Next stop Macau ..... 

To Dim Sum or to Yum Cha

You have to do it don't you. When in Rome. Dim Sum or Yum Cha is as Hong Kong as the Peak or the Star Ferry are. You think of one, you think of the other. We wanted to try one, but where. Do we go for one of the super slick Dim Sum Restaurants that serve immaculate and innovative food. Or one that was jammed packed with old friends catching up on daily events, picking different dishes off the carts being pushed around by old women. We choose the latter. 

I managed to get one recommended to us, luckily it was really local to us as well. As we walked in, we saw a huge room packed with at least a hundred people, all in true Hong Kong fashion making a hell of a racket. It was packed, and I think we looked kinda lost as one of the guys there found us two seats on a table being used by two other parties. The normal way, I observed afterwards, was to pick an area and hang around, and as soon as someone stands up to go, you pounce on that seat. 
So seated we were. We were given a pot of oolong tea, and then we waited for the trolley to come our way. There is no menu in these places, which made it more exciting. Bit like playing shotgun noodles again. The first trolley that came around had plates of steamed rice noodles filled with either fish or pork. We choose the pork ones, the woman poured over some soy sauce just to coat  the noodles. They were delish to say the least. The noodles were really soft and delicate to the taste, although meat was only at the ends not all the way through. 

Next up which seemed to be thrust upon us was some Steamed Pork Rolls. Lina reckons Beef, but I say Pork as they tasted like sausage meat. They were pretty good, but should have chosen the ones with shrimp as well. 

We were still kinda peckish, so we ordered some honey glazed pork and rice, that we had seen people eating and we liked what we saw. This had a real nice sticky glaze to it and went well with the rice.

We decided to have one more dim sum, so when the next trolley came around we ordered what looked like a Tamale. But turned out to be a Glutinous Rice Cake with Chicken Wrapped in a Lotus Leaf. It is a Chinese Tamale. Same type of thing. Really nice, but I really like Tamales, so this was right up my street. We are getting pretty good at eating difficult things with chopstix, even with those darn plastic things. Much prefer wooden chopstix, have more grip. 

We were just coming to the point of no more tea. Thee guy had filled up our tea pot with water countless times, then we saw a mad rush to a trolley over the other side of the room. The woman was mobbed with people, taking her delicious parcels of food. We had to wait before someone from our side came back with what she had. It was steamed buns. So I was up like a flash to grab me some Char Siu. Luckily she had some left. Phew. Me loves these little buns of barbecued pork. They tasted so good, I wish I could of had more, but we were pretty full by that point. The rice again.

Went over to pay for our hour of gorging, and the bill was HK$105. Unreal. I was expecting double that. 

We shall return in October.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Fishy Fishy Fishy Fish !!!

I really can say that I have never eaten so much  seafood in such a short space of time. It has been excellent and I can see it continuing. The seafood that is consumed here in Hong Kong is at the other end of the scale from what we had in Japan, that I can not begin to describe. 
We started our mammoth seafood bonanza in a large open air restaurant near the beginning or the end of Temple Street Market. It was a joy to be able to sit outside in shorts, drinking cold cheap beer by the litre. The food wasn't the best n the world but the atmosphere and the place made it a joy. But I have to say that their razor clams in black bean sauce was pretty good, as well as their deep fried spicy prawns. The unfortunate thing was we never had enough money on us to try the crab, and the same happened when we visited the Spicy Crab Under The Bridge Restaurant Number 3. There are four of them, all within 20 metres of eachother. I had heard about this place for a while and came across it by chance. We managed to get in just before lunch time service, which meant our food came pretty quick. Sauteed Clams with Chili & Bean Sauce, Fried Eels with XO Sauce and a plate of Deep Fried Chicken Wings. 2 things here. Have you ever tried eating chicken wings with chopstix. It's not easy, but we are now masters. Stripped those bones bare... And XO Sauce. Found out after it's a Hong Kong creation, meaning Xtra Old. Goes very well with fish dishes. 
If you want to eat good Chinese food with a commanding view over Hong Kong Island, then Hutong it has to be. We had our table by the window facing that skyline. The menu here is like a book. It's soooo vast, it took us ages to go from start to finish, so we kinda went for some fish, meat and some vegetables. The plum wine was a bit of a bad idea. Had a slight hangover the next day. 
The highlight of the show was the Beijing Fish, no idea what fish it was, but it was fantastic, so delicate .... Yummy .... 
We went on a day trip to Lamma Island. Really lovely place and it was such a great day. Clear blue skies, nice walk from North to South. Whilst we were waiting for the ferry, we indulged in some more sea food at the Hilton Restaurant. Much better than any official Hilton Restaurant I have ever eaten in. It wasn't so much the quality of the food, as it was ok. But it was the place, the atmosphere. Imagine sitting at a table, looking out towards a small fishing harbour, small fishing boats idly bobbing on the water, waves gently swishing against deck we were sitting on. The breeze just keeping us cool and keeping the beers cooler. It was a perfect afternoon. 

Some Like It Hot !!!

I was quite excited to goto Chili Fagara. I had done my research and this was one of the best Szechuan restaurants located near to us. It is located half way up a steep hill on Graham Street, so you work up a thirst before you get there. There is not much lighting inside and the color of the place is deep red, a reference to the famous chili's (Pointing to Heaven is a literal translation) that Sichuan is famous for. The restaurant is pretty small and cramp. I could feel the pain that the poor girl next to me was going through, as I could feel the heat coming off her. 
The menu is shall we say contenpoary Szechuan. A few new additions, but mostly jazzed up old favourites. We started off on a few appitizers, some spicy, some not. Just to warm up the taste buds. We also had some beer, which was served to us in a bowl. Which was actually much more easier to drink from than a glass. Also you drink slower also. 
I ordered some Lemon Chicken to get us going, a time old favourite. Lovely pieces of deep fried chicken with a thick lemony sauce. This reminded me of lemon curd, a childhood obsession once upon a time. It wasn't on the menu, but I asked for Twice Cooked Pork, they were only too glad to do this for me. I was really happy. Absolutely great, apart from the lack of pork. Would have prefered a bit more. And to finish off and me literally as I was sooooo stuffed. Pearl of the Orient, a house speciality, they won an award a few years ago with this dish. It was a fruit, not too disimilar to a Lychee, coated in spicy crumbs and deep fried with at least 50 chili's. It really did have my mouth on fire. 
Now overall, it was ok but not as good as I was hoping it to be. The food in Bar-Shu in London has a more authentic note to it, and they do use Pointing to Heaven Chili's, which give you a more numbing effect in your mouth, not a mouth on fire effect. 
Good but not brilliant.

A Good Local Family Restaurant

Since we arrived here in Hong Kong, I have been searching high and low for some of the culinary delights that Hong Kong has to offer… I seem (well most of the time) to be able to spot or search out good eateries… No idea how I do it, but I am sure it is all my belly. Also as our kitchen here is pretty small, I cannot cook everyday, plus my Chinese cooking skills are not that good anyhows, and restaurants can cook a more varied amount of food. Plus they are much better at it than me. 
One of the best local places we have found is Ngau Kee Food Café, a family run places, we were told that number 2 son does all the cooking. The food is typically Chinese but with slight twists. We have eaten there a few times, and always the food has been fantastic. Ranging from Chicken cooked with ginger & spring onion (a personal fave) to the sweet n sour pork and deep fried shredded pork with minced salty fish, black Chinese mushrooms and water chestnuts (yes that long). The prices are very good also. It seems to be filled with locals and most of them I am sure are regulars. 
The speciality of the place seems to be the sweet and sour pork (as everyone has it) and a casserole of pork and noodles. We never tried it, but we shared a table quite a few times with people having it. Looks and smells great. Have to be in October now. 
We got chatting to the owner on one occasion, and he reliably informed us that Number 2 Son was doing all the cooking. A really god family place.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

The Great Egg Custard Tart Adventure

This obsession I seem to have found for egg custard tarts has to stop. I can see my waistline increasing with every bite. But the taste of a good sweet shortcut pastry crumbling in my mouth and the taste of the custard melting is too much to resist. 

I have searched high and low for the perfect tart. At last I have found it, but to get me there I have had to eat some real bad ones. The main problem is the pastry, a lot of shops do not cook the pastry properly and some of it is raw. (I had the same problem at Leiths many a time).

There are two main types of base for custard tarts. Short crust pastry and puff pastry. Both made with lard if not mass produced. 

Unfortunately we never got to have any of the puff pastry variety. Now this was not through want of trying, believe me. Which is actually pretty god as I am a real big fan of sweet short crust pastry. 

For quite a while I thought that the Yun Ye Bakery on Aberdeen Street were the best ones. They always sell out their supply of egg tarts by mid afternoon. Which is always a god sign. The pastry was always cooked well and the custard filling was a delight to eat, and at only HK$2.50. A bargain. 

Then it happened, I came across Tai Cheong, which closed down from its original shop back in 2005, prompting queues of people about 100 strong in a mad last month long dash to buy their tarts. Their new shop isn't that far from the old. Still has a queue but not as long as before. Their tarts are a bit more expensive at HK$4.50, but boy are they worth it. The pastry is a joy on the sense. Cooked to perfection, crumbly and sweet, and the custard has a slight wobble in the centre. It really is a delight.

They were originally famous for their doughnuts, which are good but (for me) lacks a filling. They also do a white egg tart. Which the filling is made of egg whites. Personally I did not like them, I found them a tad salty. 

Now all I have to do now, is start doing some belly exercises so I can continue to eat enormous amounts of these delightful Hong Kong deserts.