A Multi-Flavoured Memory of Hong Kong

By , September 17, 2010 3:26 pm

“And the winner for the best Hong Kong blog goes to… Darren Ng of Celebrate Life Lah!” Loud applause all around, bright flashes stunned my irises, congratulatory pats on the back and handshakes started pouring in…

Darren, wake up… wake up…

Huh? Oh, I was daydreaming! I didn’t win the best Hong Kong blog. Catherine did. With Jerome winning 1st Runner-up and Sze Peng taking home the honours for 2nd Runner-up. Congratulations to them! They will be receiving a basket of sour grapes from me soon.

I’m kidding. They really did very well in the Hong Kong blog contest. I learnt a lot about this multi-faceted city and about blogging through them and all my fellow travelers – Peter, Priscilla, Violet, Lawrence, Elaine and Gin. In the last 3 months from the time we won the Singapore Blog Awards to the Hong Kong trip, I think I represent all 10 of us when I say the whole experience is what dreams are made of.

Bloggers + HKTB + Omy.sg

With the dinner gathering held a few nights ago and the announcement of the blog and lucky draw winners, the Hong Kong Summer Spectacular came to a wrap for us. But things don’t end there for the 10 of us have left behind a ‘legacy’ of our HK trip… a combined blog where our experiences were meticulously documented through photos, videos, cartoons and words.

It is a light-hearted collection of 10 first-person accounts and intimate thoughts about what Hong Kong has to offer. So do drop by My Hong Kong Travel Blog (我的香港之旅) as your first stop to this amazing city.

My Hong Kong Adventures!

When I started posting at My Hong Kong Travel Blog, I began with a countdown series that recorded my thoughts and preparations for the trip. Why did I do it? Frankly, I’ve been to Hong Kong before and I’m not impressed by my previous visits. So I wanted to see if this trip will change my mind.

Really, I do!And frankly again, the blog contest has ended so there’s no need for me to continue posting about Hong Kong (my last entry was Day 3 of our 4-days tour on 26 Aug 10). So there are no other objectives other than to record what I really felt because I had a change of mind about Hong Kong being boring. I guess I was merely looking at the oyster shell previously and didn’t open it, or tasted it.

No doubt that this trip was hosted by the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) and they took great care of us. But for the most part, they left us pretty much on our own to explore Hong Kong. Yes, they put us up at the uber cool The Mira Hotel (which totally blew my mind away), and brought us to great places to eat but to me, it is not so that we will write only nice reviews (well, at least not for me), but it really showed me the full potential of Hong Kong as a great holiday destination.

For this trip, I got down to do some pretty serious research. That’s when I realized there’s more to Hong Kong. There’s Kowloon and New Territories. Especially the lesser explored New Territories, which is home to many beautiful natural landscapes and the very photogenicHong Kong Wetland Park.

If you’re like me and like to research every destination and attraction before visiting and to get as local as possible, the HKTB website is a really great resource. What I really love about it is the clear, clean-cut directions it gives to get to the places of interest. And their pocket-sized brochures are really good too (copies of them can be obtained at the airport). I never leave my hotel room with them.

HK Culinary Encounters

But enough about the sights of Hong Kong here for details can be found in my earlier posts. With this concluding blog, I would like to share about the food. A topic I’ve not touched on in previous posts.

During this trip, we were brought to restaurants that span the range from casual eats, boutique gems, and fine-dine menus. Very often a time, after I took a bite of the food, I was afraid to open my mouth again because I didn’t want the flavours to escape. Plus I ran out of words to describe delicious. The above 4 dishes are what I found interesting and super yumz (although the pork knuckles took some getting used to).

Yin Yang so yum!

However, my most memorable taste of Hong Kong was at the quaint, delicately retro ambience of Yin Yang Restaurant on Ship Street. I shan’t go into details about the culinary feats of its founder, celebrity chef Margaret Xu, because my fellow bloggers have done an excellent job, but I’ll talk about the inspiration she gave me… that of daring to experiment in the kitchen.

As part of our dining experience at Yin Yang, which is famous for its healthy fusion fare, we were given a behind-the-scene demonstration of how to make one of its many specialty sauces. For our sauce-making lesson, Margaret shared with us the recipe for a dipping sauce which she later christened as ‘Green Dream’ in honour of us.

A chance to work in a celebrity kitchen!

I didn’t get a chance to note down the specific measurements of the ingredients, but it is basically equal weight green chili, ginger and spring onion. I think we used about 1kg each during our session. If you like it spicier, you can always increase the ratio of chili.

In a wok of oil, deep-fry the ginger for about 3 mins then add in the chili. Deep-fry the chili till it is cooked but not to the point where it loses its green colour and fold in the spring onion. Again, deep-fry the spring onion till soft but not soggy. Drain the oil and transfer the mixture to a blender and add in a generous amount of salt (about 2 heaping soup spoons). This is meant as a dipping sauce so it has to be a bit salty. You can vary the salt content to your liking.

We were each given a bottle of Green Dream and told it can keep for up to 2 weeks in the fridge. I kept it for over a month! It still tasted fresh and I didn’t end up in ER. But instead of using it as a dip, I decided to experiment and used it as a base sauce to create 2 new dishes. Here’re the recipes…

Yin Yang Lady’s Fingers

Hmm… With such a name, I think this dish will be a hit with transvestites! And no one will break any nails trying to cook this dish which draws inspiration from the delicious Peranakan-styled steamed ocra with sambal. But instead of sambal, Green Dream is used.

Lady's-Fingers-2

Ingredients :

400g Lady’s Fingers (a.k.a. ocra)

20g Dried Shrimp (soak in water before using)

1 Onion (diced)

3 Cloves Garlic (diced)

2 Heaping Tablespoons of Green Dream

Method :

  1. Deep-fry the dried shrimps till brown and crispy. Drain the oil and put it aside.
  2. Cut ocra into halves and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of sesame oil. Steam for about 8-10 mins. Remove from steamer and transfer ocra to a new plate to leave behind excess water.
  3. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil over medium fire and stir-fry onion and garlic. Add in Green Dream and 2 tablespoons of water.
  4. Scoop sauce into a bowl and pour in the crispy shrimps. Mix the condiments and spread atop steamed ocra.

Green Dream Shrimp

This dish is adapted from the Sweet & Sour Prawns recipe with Green Dream replacing the use of ketchup and vinegar. So instead of the fruity sweet taste, this dish has a mild spicy bite.

 Green Dream Shrimp

Ingredients :

600g Prawns (de-shell the body leaving the head and tail)

1 Medium-size Tomato (sliced into quarters)

1 Medium-size Onion (sliced into quarters)

2 Cloves Garlic

1 Bunch Spring Onion & Chinese Parsley

2 Heaping Tablespoons of Green Dream

1 Tablespoon Sugar

1 Teaspoon Fish Sauce

2 Tablespoons Sesame Oil

3 Tablespoons Whiskey (or Chinese Cooking Wine)

Method :

  1. Slice the spine of the prawns to remove the black entrails. In a bowl, marinate with sesame oil and whiskey. Leave in the fridge for about 2 hours.
  2. Heat a table of olive oil over high fire and stir-fry onion and garlic. Add in tomato and 2 tablespoons of water. Cooked till tomato is slightly soft and add in Green Dream and sugar.
  3. Add in prawns and be sure to pour in the marinate sauce as well. Stir-fry and add in fish sauce. Serve on a bed of spring onion and parsley.

Now, I’m no Martin Yan or Fang Tai and I’d cook up many disasters that even my dogs won’t eat so you by trying out the above recipes, you’re doing it at your own risk! But I did put the dishes to a taste-test by my parents. My mum is a foodie and my dad used to be a cook.

So, did Yin Yang Lady’s Fingers and Green Dream Shrimp pass my parents’ taste test? Were they a dream or a nightmare?

Well, I couldn’t get a word out of them because like me, they were too afraid to open their mouths when food is good. Success! 

With the 2 dishes, I’ve brought home more than just postcard memories of Hong Kong, but the spirit of experimentation that made Hong Kong so resilient in creating a holiday destination bursting with contrasts and flavours.

Till my future visits to Hong Kong again, the fragrance of this recent trip lingers on…

And the winners of the free Hong Kong trips are…

By , September 16, 2010 11:10 am
hk7

The three winners

Low Sze Ping (2nd Runner-Up), Jerome Lim (Runner-Up) and… Catherine Ling (1st Prize). Congratulations to all three bloggers, especially to Catherine for winning another trip to Hong Kong! I am sure everyone will be looking forward to reading more of her mouth-watering food reviews on her next Hong Kong trip.

The winning voter is Benjamin Sng. Congratulations too.

omy.sg will like to express our heartfelt thanks to all the ten bloggers: Sze Ping, Jerome, Catherine, Peter, Geck Geck, Elaine, Gin, Darren, Violet and Lawrence for the amazing blog entries they have put up over this period. To us, everyone is a winner.

We will also like to thank the folks from the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB): David, Vivien and Sharon for their leap of faith to venture into social media and also for playing a great host. 🙂

Last but not least, a big thank you to all the readers and voters who followed the ten bloggers, omy.sg and HKTB throughout this entire Hong Kong adventure. Have you booked your flight to Hong Kong  yet?

The winners were announced over a casual dinner, hosted by the HKTB team at Seafood Paradise, Singpore Flyer

The winners were announced over a casual dinner, hosted by the HKTB team at Seafood Paradise, Singpore Flyer

Szeping getting his trophy

Szeping getting his trophy from Ms Lee Kuan Fung, Associate Editor, omy.sg and Mr David Leung, Regional Director, HKTB South-SEA

Jerome getting his trophy

Jerome getting his trophy

Catherine getting her crystal ship trophy

Catherine getting her crystal ship trophy

Geck Geck presenting David with a hand-painted Hong Kong lettering with accompanying well-wishes from all the bloggers

Geck Geck presenting David with a hand-painted Hong Kong lettering with accompanying well-wishes from all the bloggers

The ten bloggers with the HKTB and omy.sg teams

The ten bloggers with tDavid from HKTB

The ten bloggers with David from HKTB

The ten bloggers with the HKTB and omy.sg teams

Margaret Xu’s Private Kitchen Yin Yang in Wanchai

By , September 1, 2010 4:00 pm

Margaret looks pleased with her assistant du jour. Darren is plucking the stems off the chillies.
I have a new food hero. She’s Margaret Xu Yuan who is possibly Hong Kong’s foremost female celebrity chef, and a champion for delicious healthy eating.

Margaret used to run an ad agency before becoming a self-taught cook. Her excursions to the villages in New Territories inspired her to rejuvenate Hong Kong cuisine. She fell in love with the stone rice grinder, as well as wood and charcoal-based cooking. Then came Cuisine X, the one-table experiment there in 2003, using produce from her own organic farm in Yuen Long. Her roast chicken and stone-ground rice cakes became so popular, people soon needed to make reservations months ahead.

Her food is very much like Hong Kong condensed in a nutshell. She combines olden techniques she learned from the various Chinese dialect/cultural groups (Hakka, Chiu Chow, Cantonese, and boat people) with touches of British colonial influence, and presents it all with contemporary flair.

I admit I had not heard of her until getting the itinerary for our trip to Hong Kong by the SBA2010 and HKTB. But I soon found out her interesting story, and how sought after she is.

The scale model of the three-storey heritage building that Yin Yang occupies
She now has a private kitchen (at 18 Ship Street, tel: +852 2866 0868) called Yin Yang – named after the coffee-tea drink that is so symbolic of Hong Kong. It occupies a refurbished preservation shophouse in Wanchai, and is kept deliberately small. There are only three tables, and it’s all reservations-only (at least one day in advance).

(I couldn’t get a photo of the entire building from the narrow street outside, so here’s what it looks like, from a scale model replica)

The restaurant setting is cosy, old school and homely
Here you feel more like a privileged guest invited into someone’s home, rather than a customer. The ambiance is old school casual but very warm and nostalgic.

Love the '70s style frosted glass windows
I love the diffused light coming in from the tall frosted glass windows.

Little decorations on the narrow window sills
There are cute little decorations on the narrow window sills. Some baskets of limes here, a dim sum steamer basket of name cards, semi-precious stones and little plants.

An old school thermos flask
A vintage thermos flask stands at the side of the room, a symbol of homestyle hospitality.

Quirky table decorations like this egg basket
This is a cute quirky egg basket used as table decoration (and menu holder if not mistaken).

We were very fortunate that Margaret agreed to host us at short notice. Normally you’d have to make reservations months ahead. She specially opened her restaurant for lunch that weekday and prepared an eight-course meal for us.

Margaret's signature "Yellow Earth Roast Chicken" with ultra crispy skin
Margaret’s signature “Yellow Earth Roast Chicken” with ultra crispy skin. I had been waiting for this, and it was the opening number! It certainly lived up to its repute. Everyone wanted seconds/thirds/more…

Oh I found her recipe online. I really must try this at home someday, even if I don’t have a terracotta oven!

Margaret presiding over the shredding of the chicken
Margaret presiding over the shredding of the chicken. She believes doing it by hand is better than using a knife to carve the chicken. Yes, I do prefer rustic hand-torn pieces myself.

Flower clams in delicious broth with thick tanghoon
Flower clams in delicious broth with thick tanghoon. I wanted this all to myself! Gorgeous aroma and stunning flavours. The clams were very fresh indeed.

Who can resist this?
This would inspire the caveman in anyone! This is the Red Hot Baby Pig. Roast hunk of pork with bone-in!

The roast pork chopped up, served with lychee dip
The roast pork is chopped up, and served with an unusual lychee jam. Juicy, tender chunks of meat capped by crispy skin…it was all very rich! The best, however, was yet to come…

Mud crabs in a green-curry-like sauce
When this dish appeared, it drew gasps of delight and wonder. Fleshy mud crabs in a complex yet beautiful sauce with spices and coconut – a bit like green curry but much more refined. We were moaning “oh my god” as we ate. It was so, so good!

What a beautiful soup! Okra pentagonal slices add a touch of whimsy, almost!
Interestingly, the soup came in halfway through the courses. Seaweed eggdrop soup with okra or ladies fingers. I never thought about slicing okra this way. It looks like pretty little pentagonal flowers dotting the soup.

Olive rice in cast iron wok
There is always a carb dish in Chinese multi-course meals. To make sure you are really well-fed! The olive rice with vegetables was beautiful to look at. Like something cooked with love.

Platter of vegetables
Yes, your greens are important. But by the time this came along, I was too full to eat anymore.

Banana ice cream
But there is always room for dessert – in our case, a scoop of banana ice cream! You can taste that it’s made from real bananas, but not the overly sweet variety.

We were going for Tsingtao, but many changed over to the the Blue Girl instead, because it sounded more...risque
We washed it all down with some refreshing beer and soft drinks. Most of us were going for Tsingtao, but some changed over to the the Blue Girl instead when they saw it, because it sounded more…risque.

Eclectic kitchen with modern and retro, east and west all co-existing in harmonious warmth
Her eclectic ground floor show kitchen has many eclectic pieces – modern and retro, East and West – all co-existing in style. I love the SMEG fridge!

Many strange things abound in the kitchen
Many strange things abound in this kitchen. Margaret likes to make everything herself, so you will see foods (and wines) of all sorts in various stages of preparation.

The terracotta oven that Margaret built herself
This is the terracotta oven that Margaret built herself, from two flower pots (one upturned). Terracotta helps distribute high heat very evenly, so the chicken she roasts in this gets crispy skin but stays juicy within.

A bottle of Green Dream - dip made from green chili, ginger and scallions
After our meal, some of the bloggers were treated to a workshop on sauce-making. Margaret would demonstrate an absurdly delicious yet simple green chili dip. There are only five ingredients:
– a large mixing bowl of green chillies (stems plucked; see Darren doing that in the first photo)
– a hand-sized portion of ginger (sliced)
– two bunches of scallions or spring onions (chopped into 3-4 parts)
salt (to taste – quite a bit; maybe a level tablespoon, depending on your quantity)
oil for frying (I think she used more than a litre, but she made a big batch)

Sorry the quantities are all approximate, but the recipe is quite forgiving. I have since then made two batches (500g of chillies yield about 500ml) at home – and I can certify it’s idiot-proof!

Margaret stir-frying the ingredients in hot oil
The method is easy. Get the oil moderately hot and fry the ingredients.The chillies go in first, followed by the ginger and scallions at the very last few seconds.

Hot in the wok - the green chili, ginger and scallions
It doesn’t take too long. How beautifully green and glistening everything is. The aroma of chillies, ginger and scallions warmed our lungs. Needless to say, all these came from her organic farm up north. The Hong Kong chillies don’t carry as much heat (although Margaret says you can never tell when you’ll get a rogue pod that’s superhot).

Margaret blending the mixture
Margaret then gave it all a good whizz – oil included – in her industrial strength blender. It came out looking interestingly light green! She poured some out for us to have a taste.

We were lapping this all up!
Oh my, how could so few ingredients taste so good together? Just heat oil, fry and blend! Voila!

We were lapping this sample bowl all up! Could not stop spooning the creamy stuff into our mouths! This would be great as a dip for chicken or seafood. I even think it’s perfect with our chicken rice, or simply with bread or prata or nachos.

Fortunately, we each got a bottle to take home too! Hurray! We happily christened this the “Green Dream” – nice, right?

The Green Dream Team! Photo by Alvin
Photo by Alvin Lim
This was our last meal in Hong Kong, and one of our most memorable. I count myself very lucky to have had the chance to dine at Yin Yang, and to learn from Margaret (I really do hope she gets an English cookbook out soon, she has one in Cantonese).

I’m pleased to make this fabulous stop my final post of the Hong Kong series (sixteen posts in total). I hope you guys have enjoyed trotting around with me vicariously.

I’d really like to thank OMY and HKTB for making this four-day trip possible, and for showing us incredible experiences and gastronomical delights in Hong Kong. You can still view posts (more coming!) on the OMY joint travel blog – catch the different perspectives from the ten bloggers who went on the trip.

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