Archive | November, 2013

The best ramen in Hong Kong: hot noodle-on-noodle action

28 Nov

noodles hide chantSecond up in my Noodle-on-noodles odyssey is ramen. Arguably one of Japan’s greatest gastro-cultural exports, ramen is actually a kind of Japanese-Chinese hybrid. It typically features the wheat noodles and roast pork (cha-siu) popular in the Middle Kingdom, with that added Japanese obsessional eye for detail which helps create rich, flavour-packed soup stocks.

Being as ramen is borrowed a bit from Chinese noodle dishes it seems highly appropriate that Hong Kong-ers have taken to it in their droves. However, while in Japan there are very distinct varieties – miso (popular in Hokkaido), shoyu (a good Kanto staple), salt (a lighter broth), and tonkotsu (rich pork broth base from Kyushu) – in the SAR, tonkotsu is the clear winner. Which is fine for me, cos it’s my favourite.ramen menu

There are several above average ramen-ya in Hong Kong, in fact, the locals are spoiled for choice here. However, there are several no-nos as well. In a tonkotsu joint I want proper, thin Hakata-style noodles, I want to be able to choose my done-ness of noodle, and I want lots of choice when it comes to extra toppings – everything from more pork to soft boiled eggs and seaweed, if you please.

Unfortunately I’ve had many a poor bowl of noods in Hongkers, but am happy to say that a few places are upholding the fine tonkotsu ramen tradition with honour. Butao ramen – that hole-in-the-wall joint near LKF – has moved to Wellington Street but the place seems no bigger, still pulling in huge queues. They have a nice take on tonkotsu with squid ink, and a great almost milky stock, but any ramen-ya proprietor that serves a east-meets-west “green” version deserves to be shot.

Ippudo’s not bad either – a decades old chain from Hakata, the home of tonkotsu ramen, which now has a several outposts in Hongkers. Three things put me off about this place though. The ramen were perfectly fine but there was no choice over how well cooked I wanted them; the whole place stank of fresh paint (this is the Central branch); and the menu is just too big, featuring everything from burgers to onsen tamago. Stick to the ramen guys … and stop painting.

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A steaming bowl of Red Hide

No, I’ve tried the rest and keep on coming back to my favourite: Hide Chan on Wellington St. It’s never busy for some reason, despite being in the Michelin Guide, but it should be. Eating a bowl of their White Hide ramen is like tucking into a roast pork Sunday lunch. Liquidised, of course. I believe they roast the pork bones over a high heat to get that intense flavour. The soup also has the creaminess tonkotsu should, without tasting like a lard banquet, and the pork topping is given a quick blast with the blow torch to enhance its char-grilled flavour.

The menu is also mercifully short. Choose Hakata Original, White Hide, Black (never had it) or Red (with a mild chilli-miso sauce), decide how soft or hard you want those noods and if you want pork shoulder or belly, then choose one of many extra toppings. Simples. Oh and they also do a dissembled version known as tsukemen, for those that like it or care, and serve up the lightest, crispest gyoza I’ve had this side of Japan. Beers are also ridiculously cheap (around HK$25) and I’ve never had to queue.

If you’re a ramen buff, try it out and let me know what you think. I’ve had few better bowls than this joint serves up.

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Best wantan mee in Hong Kong: Tsim Chai Kee

15 Nov

wantan meeGiven the name of this blog it has struck me that I don’t actually write very much about noodles. Or death for that matter. Maybe I should have called it something else.

Well, never one to take the difficult option if an easier, lazier alternative presents itself, I think I’ll write about a noodle shop this week, rather than redesign the whole site. Not just one in fact but three. So, ladies and gents I give you my noodle triptych.

PART ONE: BEST WANTAN MEE

Wantan noodles are one of life’s great joys. In fact, I would say the dish is to Hong Kong what the world-renowned ramen is to Japan – a cultural icon-cum-culinary superstar. The best have few ingredients: stock, springy egg noodles, wantans bursting with juicy prawns and maybe a few bits of chopped up spring onion. Simple, fresh, delicious – and nowhere to hide if it all goes wrong. Even the artistry and effort that goes into making the egg noodles is a thing of beauty, dedication and perspiration that would shame most of us 9-5 jobbers.

Now everyone raves about Mak’s Noodles on Wellington St. Media food whore Anthony Bourdain has eaten there on one of his numerous trips to Hong Kong – camera crew in tow, obviously – and there is a rumour that founder Mak Woon-chi even served noodles to Chiang-Kai Shek, which is pretty cool. That said, I find the servings tiny – they say it’s cos it keeps the noods from going soft but I think that’s bullshit – the staff rude, and on two separate occasions they have assured my allergy-prone co-diner of no peanuts and she’s had a reaction to the food.

Tsim Chai kee menuNo thanks. The best place I’ve eaten this timeless dish is across the road at Tsim Chai Kee. The portions are slightly bigger, the service a tad less gruff and it’s a bit smarter inside – if these things appeal to you, they certainly do to Mr Michelin who’s stuck the place in his guide for the past few years. But most importantly the soup base has a greater depth of fishy flavour in Tsim’s and the wantan’s are the biggest, juiciest fuckers you’ll find this side of the South China Sea. They are hotter than the sun inside, but I happily chomped through them in seconds as the roof of my mouth slowly melted off.

Being something of a chilli sauce officianado, I can also recommend Tsim’s for its Chiu Chow style sauce – the chilli, garlic and oil combo which has a much bigger flavour punch than the blended commercial shit that Mak’s serves. They even sell it at the till. If wantans aren’t your thing Tsim’s also serves beef slices or fish balls as toppings – you can have all three if you’re a greedy bugger and still get away for around £3.

The bill for two bowls of wantan mee and a portion of poached greens was around HK$50 – actually too embarrassingly small to even ask for money from my co-diner. Now that’s what I call Noodles bitches!

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China: Be the best, screw the rest

13 Nov

typhoonThis week saw the world’s biggest ever shopping event. It was in China, obviously, where coming first at stuff has become a national pastime, and it was 11.11 day – an event made up by retailers to sell more shit on the country’s most popular e-commerce platforms, run by Alibaba.

Now I mention this because Alibaba recorded a staggering $5.78 billion in sales on that single day, double that of the year previously. If any event could define a nation at a single moment in time it would be this – Chinese shoppers scrabbling desperately to hoover up as many online bargains as possible, like so many chavs bursting down the doors of Primark on Boxing Day. Spend, spend, spend and forget the state-sanctioned human rights abuses, the endemic corruption, and the cancerous smog.

I also mention this because at the last count, China had failed to offer a single penny of aid to the typhoon-wracked Philippines. With large parts of the country totally and utterly flattened, thousands dead and an estimated 600,000 displaced, two-thirds of whom are still without food, water and medicine, it’s not a big ask. The Chinese Red Cross has offered a paltry $100,000 – not much but it’s something. Actually it’s 0.0017% of the money made in the 11.11 sales.

There are a few reasons why the response from the world’s second largest economy has been so feeble, and they offer a neat insight into the Chinese psyche, or more pertinently, the Communist Party’s priority list. Relations between the two countries have deteriorated recently over that old chestnut, territorial claims in the South China Sea. In this case, China is claiming a group of rocks known as the Spratlys just 100 miles away from the Philippines. Then there is the lingering anger at the lack of a formal apology from Philippines government for the 2010 hostage bungle, in which several Hong Kong tourists were killed when their bus was captured by terrorists in Manila.

Hong Kong, for the record, is still um-ing and ah-ing about official aid – waiting for a Legco ruling to approve a HK$40m disaster fund. This despite the fact that over 100,000 Filipino maids work in the SAR. In the meantime, local charities are taking the initiative themselves and seem to be doing ok. Even HSBC has donated more than $1 million. It also seems, according to my friends at Shanghaiist, that even the loyal state-run media in China is angry at Beijing’s lack of movement on this so far. When you’re being made to look miserly and petty by a bank, and the media outlets you control with an iron fist are having a pop, it’s probably time to rethink your position.

No wonder China’s soft power efforts are somewhere behind North Korea’s at times.