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Number One Sun, Wah You So Good?

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In the beginning, there was meat.  Meat, meet fire.  Fire + meat = a dawn of a new culinary era.  Fast forward from the caveman days to today, and this elemental fixture of meat roasting over a fire drives our entire food industry.  It has been elaborated upon by different cultures and chefs to the delight of generations of eaters around the world.  Today’s entry focuses on a restaurant whose entire existence revolves around not only the glorification of roasted meat but the ceremony of serving said meat.  If you’ve new to Hong Kong style barbecue, then I highly recommend visiting Sun Wah BBQ located in the Little Vietnam/Edgewater neighborhood on the North side of Chicago.

While there are plenty of top quality Vietnamese restaurants surrounding Sun Wah, this is the number one place to go for Hong Kong barbecue in the area. IMG_4700 I haven’t tried any places similar to Sun Wah in Chinatown, but I’m sure they’re out there.  However, I have tried actual Hong Kong barbecue while in Hong Kong along with some other more serpentine delights.  While Sun Wah doesn’t get as crazy as they do back in the homeland, they do offer plenty of quality plates to choose from.  Their crown jewel is their Peking duck service where you can get a full meal for $40.  Note:  Remember to call ahead to order it when making a reservation since they can run out of ducks!  After I tried Peking duck in its home city, Beijing, I can say that Sun Wah’s quality is the same as in China with a couple small differences that I’ll address later.  Now, I’ve been throwing around the word “barbecue” left and right in this article, but let’s not get American and Hong Kong barbecue conflated.  While American barbecue focuses on using savory/spicy sauces and different types of wood to smoke the meat, HK barbecue utilizes sweet and aromatic glazes to be rubbed on the meat before being placed on a fork and roasted over a fire.  Any way you slice it, I love them both!  Anyway, back to the meal.  Janice, I, and her whole family went there for her mom’s birthday.  It was very large and busy inside, and we could inspect the hanging ducks in the front window while we waited for our table to be ready. IMG_4681 IMG_4682 Once seated, we went ahead and ordered some starters like pan fried soft shell crab, butterfly shrimp, and stir fried Shanghai bok choi.  While I’m not a huge seafood fan, I enjoyed the soft shell crab. IMG_4684 It was crunchy yet soft on the inside, and the breading was light and buttery.  Just goes to show that deep-frying things improves food every time.  The butterfly shrimp were really decadent yet so so good.  IMG_4685Not only were they fried but wrapped with bacon.  *Cue the heavens opening*.  As for the bok choi, it was good but not great. IMG_4686 True, it wasn’t fried, but you can only do so much with greens.  Eventually, the pièce de résistance came out:  the Peking duck. IMG_4690 The preparation hasn’t changed much since 500 A.D., but as the old adage says, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.  With this meal, I wouldn’t change a thing.  First, they wheeled the roast duck to the side of our table to slice it in front of our eyes.IMG_4691  This was very different from my experience in Beijing.  Instead of being in a deserted open air courtyard in a small hutong, it was brightly lit and surrounded by friendly faces.  The duck in Beijing had the neck and head still attached while the Sun Wah duck had it chopped it off before it even came to our table.  Another key difference was the serving style.  While in Beijing, they brought each plate out with each component of the duck:  skin (the most coveted part of the meal) first, then a bit of meat, and then a connected meat and skin combo with a bisected roasted duck head that I ate.  At Sun Wah, time is money, so they just heaped it all on one plate even with drumsticks. IMG_4694 They then gave us warm and squishy bread buns, julienned carrots and onions, hoisin sauce, and fried rice on the side. IMG_4693 Beijing differed in the fact that they didn’t have carrots, but instead had onions, cucumber, and a thick sweet bean/hoisin sauce.  Also, instead of sliced buns, the Beijing Peking duck was eaten with steamed pancakes that were like rice tortillas.  Plus, they also gave me horseradish and sugar on the side that they didn’t at Sun Wah.  Even though Sun Wah was slightly different, it didn’t mean that it was inferior in any aspect.  When all of the aforementioned ingredients were combined in one of the fresh and fluffy buns, it was amazing!IMG_4698  From the crunchy sweet skin to the tender duck and fresh vegetables jazzed up with the sweet soy notes, it was a parade of flavors and textures that resulted in culinary perfection.  Finally, they took the remaining bones and residual meat into the back to make a thin but rich duck broth filled with crunchy winter melon.IMG_4695IMG_4696  It was a warming end to a sumptuous dinner, and a wonderful way to celebrate with Janice’s family.  Plus, for a dinner for five, it was less than 100 bucks!  Not a bad bill for the duck (pun totally intended).

So if you want to get some of the best Peking duck in Chicago or perhaps the country, visit Sun Wah BBQ!

Sun Wah Bar-B-Q Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Hong Kong (Part 3)- A Lil’ Dim Sum-Sumthin’

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What is happening, everybody?  Welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  If you didn’t read my last post, I finally made it to the century mark in terms of blogging, i.e. 100 posts.  So this a small step towards the next 100 posts.  Today continues in the same vein of the last couple of posts where I talk about my food adventures during my Korean Thanksgiving vacation in Hong Kong (Post 1, Post 2), Macau, and Taiwan.  Today I wanted to bring you the food that I enjoyed during my last full day/night in Hong Kong.  We begin with my journey to the quaint fishing village of Tai-O on Lantau Island.

I originally went to Lantau to see the big Buddha statue that I saw on posters and on friends’ Facebooks, but while doing my research, I found out that a lesser known attraction is Tai-O fishing village.  Naturally, I always prefer checking out lesser known spots that aren’t crawling with tourists like a honey-smeared popsicle chillin’ (see what I did there) on top of an anthill.  When we arrived, I saw on my map that the little blurb said that the village was once known as the Venice of Hong Kong due to its location in relation to the sea, and all of the houses are on stilts which creates mini-canals for their boats.  Plus, they have wild pink dolphins.  That’s right.  Flipper and friends got a new paint job courtesy of excess blood vessels under their skin.  If you go to Lantau, skip the Buddha and go on the dolphin tour.  Nothing like whipping around on a tiny fishing boat and seeing these unbelievably beautiful animals in the wild.  Food-wise, obviously it’s a fishing village, so they’re known for their dried fish filets and shrimp paste.

Mmm, dried fish

Mmm, dried fish

However, I’m not the biggest seafood fan, but I do have a sweet tooth.  So, I found another Tai-O specialty:  nougat.  I got a variety pack for 20 HKD that contained black sesame, plain, and green tea chunks, and I did not regret it at all. IMG_0819 It made a great snack while hiking up to see the Buddha and also look out at the pristine forests of the island.  My personal favorite was the black sesame because it tasted like a mix of vanilla, sesame seeds with a slightly earthy aftertaste, and lightly salted almonds.

Some black sesame nougat

Some black sesame nougat

The mix of sticky and crunchy really hit the spot.  After a long day of walking and sightseeing on Lantau Island, I had dinner.

I ended up going to one of the most popular dim sum restaurants in Hong Kong with a Michelin star:  Din Tai Fung located at 20 Canton Rd in Kowloon, Hong Kong. Let me warn you that the wait might be long if you don’t get reservations or are picky about seating.  Thankfully, I timed it perfectly. It was very busy, but I liked the surroundings in the shopping mall and my friend I made at the entrance.

Look at that punam.

Look at that punam.

Main dining room

Main dining room

I started the meal off with some xiaolongbao (小籠包) that had soup on the inside.

Secret soup attack dumplings

Secret soup attack dumplings

You had to be very careful not to bite into them too quickly or else your mouth would be treated to a piping hot broth bath.  So I saw the proper way to eat them was to nibble a hole in the top to let it cool and put some of the soy sauce marinade on the inside.  Then you could pop the little tasty pockets in your mouth once they cooled down.  Before I could even finish my second dumpling, they were bringing out the second and third plates.  One was a mini-bowl of longer dumplings filled with  shrimp and pork, and the other plate had orange spicy chicken. IMG_0828 The longer dumplings were extremely slippery and hard to grab with my chopsticks, but the struggle was worth it.  The skin was tough enough to hold the contents back from erupting all over the bowl, yet tender enough to give way with the slightest grazing of my teeth.  As for the filling, the shrimp and pork was simply decadent with a whole surf and turf meal condensed into one bowl of dumplings.  As for the orange spice chicken, I liked it because it was all white meat coated in a sweet orange sauce that had a gentle spice level, and the dried seaweed garnish was a good addition because it complimented the wet, sweet meat with some dry, crunchy vegetables.  Just when I thought this parade of great food would stop, they bestowed upon us a dumpling the side of probably a newborn baby’s head.

Big old softy

Big old softy

It was more bread than meat, and the bread was sticky yet soft as a cumulus cloud.  Inside I encountered a large, seasoned pork meatball that was similar in taste to the soup dumplings’ interiors.

Big dumpling fall hard

Big dumpling fall hard

I also ordered a bowl of beef noodle soup which is a Taiwanese specialty which made sense I had it there because Din Tai Fung is originally from Taiwan.  I can see why Taiwanese people always crave this national dish.

Elite beef to eat

Elite beef to eat

From the strong and salty beef broth to the tender pieces of beef, it was a solid dish that I’d ask for on any cold day in winter.  Oh yeah, and the noodles were not too bad either.  Finally, I had “dessert” in the form of taro dumplings.

Taro dumplings

Taro dumplings

It was a nice change of pace from all of the aforementioned meat laden dishes, and it was a refreshing way to cleanse the palate of the strong flavors with the slightly sweet purple paste that I always love in my boba tea. IMG_0833 It was a great end to my night, so if you’re looking for great dim sum, check out Din Tai Fung in Hong Kong, but be prepared to wait since the quality and price always ensure that there is a horde of hungry people waiting their turn to try the greatness that awaits them inside.

Next installment, I go to Taiwan and eat out of a toilet.  Need I say more?

Hong Kong (Part 1)- 10 Points For Slytherin For Going Hog Wild

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Hey everyone!  Sorry for the long hiatus on the posts, but I have just returned after a whirlwind adventure through the Far East for the Korean Thanksgiving holiday.  During my travels, I sampled many different foods that ranged from the more standard fare to the downright bizarre and frightening at times.  Today I will be talking about the first day of foods that I sampled when I touched down in Hong Kong.

As soon as I got settled in my hostel, I asked the front desk where I could eat some good snake.  They directed me to the Sogo department store because they thought I meant, “snack”.  I clarified by making a sidewinding motion with my hands, and their eyes lit up with a mixture of excitement and slight bewilderment at the fact that a foreigner would want to search out such a food not normally served for western palates.  Either way, they gave me the address of a place called Lee Kum Kee which is located in Central outside of the Causeway Bay metro station a little bit north of the intersection of Percival and Lockhart Road.

It's the red and yellow sign.

It’s the red and yellow sign.

Before I even entered, I saw it was one of the few shops on the block that didn’t have any English on the front of it and had various types of cooked game hanging from hooks in the front window.IMG_0713IMG_0723  Time to go into the unknown.

As soon as I stepped in the room, the whole place somewhat stopped to see the foreigner who was foolish enough to wander into a locals only place.  However, they were very cordial and gave me an English menu.  If you don’t like being hustled about or are claustrophobic, don’t come to this place because I was put at a table with strangers since there was no room anywhere else in the dining room.

Interior of Lee Kum Kee.  Really old school.

Interior of Lee Kum Kee. Really old school.

I showed them that I wanted the snake soup (60 HK), and they were even more incredulous that I was going for the gusto after intruding their little culinary sanctuary.  When it came out, I was surprised at how it looked.  I was expecting some skin or at least some scales, but it looked more like egg drop soup garnished with pita chips, lotus petals, and grass.

Ssssome ssssuper sssnake sssoup

Ssssome ssssuper sssnake sssoup

However, I realized it must be snake soup when I saw them butchering some serpents in the back, and the actual meat didn’t look like beef or pork or chicken.  Overall, it was pretty tasty.  I would liken the taste of the meat to chicken even though it didn’t look like it, and I really enjoyed the texture variants with the crunchy, fried pieces of bread and reedy lemongrass that gave the soup a slight tang with every spoonful.  While I was enjoying my soup, a new group of three customers sat down at my table during the lunch rush, and they were looking at what I was eating.  The biggest guy of the group introduced himself and his friends as Chinese nationals from Guangdong province who work in Hong Kong for the day, and they were surprised to not only see me there but also how well I ate with chopsticks.  They were really friendly though and offered me some of their steamed, tennis-ball yellow Hainan chicken which was extremely succulent.  The bowl of soup wasn’t enough, so I also ordered a bowl of barbecued pork and beef over steamed rice with a free side of broccoli greens (40 HK).IMG_0716  My word.  The Hong Kong locals know how to live high on the hog because the pork stole the show with it’s crunchy, carmel brown, sweet skin which encased a savory interior that was the right level of salty that would be balanced out by the rice.  I couldn’t help myself from scarfing at down because I haven’t had that sort of sweet barbecue since leaving the States for Korea.

Moving on from there, I had to get something to drink since the hot cup of Hong Kong tea really didn’t quench my thirst since it was at least 95 F outside and humid.  So I went into a convenience store to get a bottle of fruit spike tea (8 HK). IMG_0736 I don’t really know what they really were trying to say, but it was a very herbal tea that could fall into the range of Chinese herbal medicine.  It’s not as enjoyable as a Lipton Brisk ice tea or anything like that, but it was cold and more traditional which did the job for me.  Finally, there was the matter of dessert.  I eventually saw a line of Chinese customers lined up around the block at this place that was advertised in Chinese, but then below it it said, “Super Bowl Snack”.

This place needs no cheerleaders.

This place needs no cheerleaders.

I didn’t see any footballs around, but it must be popular enough to have a line long enough as one of John Madden’s signature/hilarious ramblings.  When I came up to the counter, I got one “super bowl” (6 HK), and the guy used a bowl to stick two sticks into the substance while putting another bowl over it and flipping it to remove it from the original bowl.  I would have thought it was going to be cold since he was taking the bowls out of a cooler, but it was piping hot.

Funkiest popsicle ever.

Funkiest snack ever.

I thought it would be chocolate, but I ran into my old nemesis:  red beans.  This dessert ended up being some sort of gelatinous dough that contained tons of red beans.  Needless to say, I took a couple hearty bites but couldn’t go any further.  At least everything else I had was delicious.  Then there was dinner.

I made a friend at the hostel, Tom, earlier in the day, so he became my travel buddy for my stay in Hong Kong.  Before going out in Lan Kwai Fung, the party center of Hong Kong, we went out to Zhong Guo Song which is right off Lan Kwai Fung on Wo On Lane.

Just look for yellow and green.

Just look for yellow and green.

They advertised healthier Chinese food with no MSG and less oil.  Tom and I both went for the Yongzhou rice (40 HK), but I got the Thai spice ribs (65 HK) while he got the orange spice chicken. IMG_0741 All of it was fantastic and tasted like they lived up to their promise of no MSG and less oil.  The ribs were delectable since the sauce actually had a bit of a peppery bite to each bite, but the downside was that there were random bony pieces with no meat on them.  Tom’s chicken had less bones, and the orange sauce was like eating orange chicken back home at Panda Express.  As for the rice, it was a fried rice which contained plump shrimp, scallions, egg, peas, and carrots.  We were properly stuffed by the end of the amazing meal which was a reflection of the fun time we had later that night watching the United match followed by bar hopping down Lan Kwai Fung.

So to recap day one, I’d recommend snake at Lee Kum Kee, great Cantonese food at Zhong Guo Song, and stay away from super bowl desserts unless you really like red beans.  Coming up next, I finally grapple with the stinky durian fruit and try a Hong Kong fusion breakfast.

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