The Place My Private Cafe. In conjunction with TLC’s launch of “My Taste of Hong Kong” series.
The Food Well, literally, My Taste of Hong Kong.
Chef Shen Tan (left), Michelle Loo (center) and Chef Brandon Foo (right) posing for a media photo.
The Rants We would all definitely remember the slogan, “Buy, Eat, Buy, Eat, Welcome to Hong Kong!”. Probably the most successful advertorial campaign by the HK Tourism Board, and possibly the best by any tourism agencies since. It well captures the essence of any tourist’s to-do lists in the city! The dim sum, siew gor, cha chaan teng, freshly baked egg tarts, my favourite Yuan Yang and the celebrated private kitchens of Hong Kong… slurps!
But, what is it really that makes Hong Kong food ticks? We spoke with Michelle Loo (veteran Hong Kong media personage), Chef Shen Tan (Culinary Director, Gastrogig) and Chef Brandon Foo (Chef de Cuisine, Le Bistrot du Sommelier) to find out more!
Chef Shen preparing for her rendition of HK’s favourite French Toast – Fried French Toast with Kong Ba
Question: What’s the difference between Hong Kong’s wet market and Singapore’s?
ST: Well, HK’s market stall owners have a more entrepreneur attitude in them. And more importantly the food selections in HK are definitely fresher, from live mantis shrimp to winter melons right from the farms!
ML: Yah, the wet markets in Hong Kong has also evolved over time with most of them being air-conditioned nowadays; giving shoppers the vibe of a supermarket. No more sweating, just enjoying the marketing and seeking out the fresh ingredients.
ST: (interjecting..) You should definitely look for a fruit called “Wong Pei” (literally translated as “Yellow skin”) when in HK. Tasting like a mix of star fruits, grapes and mangosteen; it goes really well in Gin as well! Everyone should give it a try!
BF: Agreed on the fresh food available in the HK markets, especially fresh seafood selections such as Scallop. You can also find Chinese Ham in the HK markets, with taste somewhat comparable to the Spanish Ham.
ML: (defending her hometown’s local produce, exclaiming..) different pig la! The Spanish pigs and the HK ones are different la! Cannot compare! (bursting into laughter!)
ST: (adding further to the point on fresh produce) Even the vegetable tastes so much better in HK, because they are harvested at a younger age and delivered right into HK (from China). Everyone should try the young Kai Lan, which is so much sweeter than the ones we have in Singapore.
BF: The produce at the HK market also changes with the season, as HK experience 4 different seasons allowing chef to evolve their menu with the season.
ML: Fair point! Unlike in Singapore, where there’s only one season. Sorry Singapore!
The final product of Chef Shen’s French Toast. Crispy on the outside and succulent inside. Perfect.
Question: What are you usually inspired by while travelling overseas, especially in your recent trip to Hong Kong?
ST: You have to eat what the local eat. And even if you are not eating, go walk the local markets and its there where I saw fruits such as Wong Pei and also the local Lychee while in HK. Always feel free to ask the local stall owners for “free” samples, most locals are very keen to share their local food. Of course, you don’t ask them while they are busy la…..
BF: Very important to try the authentic local food!
Chef Brandon giving its quail an appalling portion of butter – to which he quips “no butter no French food!”
Question: How was Hong Kong’s food evolved?
ST: I last went to HK more than 30 years ago (accidentally revealing her age!), it’s all about the char siew, the siew gor (roasted goose) etc. Even today, I still return to HK for the traditional favourites. Over time though, HK chefs have infused new ingredients and style of cooking into their food, yet seeking to retain the traditional. This has been very interesting for me. Not forgetting their roots, something I have learnt alot from.
ML: Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time for Shen and Brandon (while in HK), if not I would recommend trying Private Kitchens in HK. One recommendation is Fa Zu Jie (Fa Chow Kai) at Lan Kwai Fong. Highly recommended! Private Kitchen means you have to make reservation, no menu selection for you and only pay by cash! The menu always evolved with the season and it’s a fusion between the old styled with new ideas – such as a dish I tried recently aptly named “The Italian Paint and the Chinese Painting”, which really is Squid-inked Raddish Cake with Parma Ham! Amazing! Ooo by the way, I am only sharing my favourite Private Kitchen with you! (ok.. not really a secret now anymore.. lol)
Roasted Quail with onion & garlic by Chef Brandon
Question: What can Singapore food industry learn from Hong Kong?
BF: You can always get any and every thing in Hong Kong. There are no restrictions on ingredients, unlike in Singapore, where you will not be able to get fresh foie gras, fresh poultry, etc.
ST: Like to add that, we are too bounded by too many regulations as well. For example, we can’t never do Private Kitchens here. We would probably have to tick off a checklist of more than twenty thousand points (figuratively speaking) to avoid violating any regulations. Such is a sure-fire way to stifle creativity. This results in the creation of central kitchens, adding high levels of MSGs to our food, etc. I know I am bring controversial by saying this, but these are what I sincerely believe. In addition, not forgetting the high cost of setting up restaurants in Singapore!
ML: Such is the reality of the Singapore vis-a-vis Hong Kong society.
Now, are you keen to embark on a tantalizing ‘gastronomic’ journey to Hong Kong? Follow six of Asia’s rising chefs, including Singapore’s Chef Shen and Chef Brandon, in the new three-part series “My Taste of Hong Kong” to be aired on cable channel TLC (Channel 427 on Starhub Cable). They are joined by Ms Michelle Loo, Hong Kong’s veteran entertainment writer and avid foodie.
Stay tuned for the airing schedule on this space!