Archive | January, 2014

Best beef brisket noodles in Hong Kong: Kau Kee

29 Jan

kau kee noodlesRight, we’ve slurped our way through the best ramen in town and chomped down the tastiest wantan mee Hong Kong has to offer. Now it’s time to hit the motherload. The final part of this culinary triptych: beef brisket noodles.

I have to admit to having lived nearly two years in Hong Kong without trying beef brisket noodles, which is tantamount to treason here. I’ve tried beef noodle dishes in the past in Taiwan and found them to be too sweet, woefully lacking in punch and, obviously, the porky hit that makes ramen so moreish. But done well these little babies can hold their own against all-comers in the soup-noodle world. Classic beef brisket noods don’t have thekau kee complex aromatic broth of that other famous beef soup dish, Vietnamese pho, which makes the quality of the beef and the noodles all the more important. But done right it’s a thing of beauty. A heartwarming blend of meltingly soft beef belly, refreshing, delicately scented soup and springy noodles.

I’m afraid any of you looking for some little out-of-the way undiscovered noodle shack previously hidden from Google’s prying search spiders and the evil clutches of CNNGo reporters are likely to be disappointed. Sister Wah (Wah Jeh) and Sang Kee are both close seconds, but my top tip is, surprise surprise Kau Kee on Gough Street.

This place has been in business for nearly a century and I’ve never walked past without noticing a queue of eager punters waiting outside. Luckily service is brusque and diners get in, slurp down and get out pretty quickly. The menu is quite long but basically boils down to two options, do you want beef brisket in clear soup or beef tendon (a slightly fattier cut) in curry soup? Each comes with either rice noodles, vermicelli-style noodles, flat noodles or e-fu noodles, which are about the shape of tagliatelle.

kau kee noodles

We got curry with flat noodles and beef brisket clear soup with e-fu in the end. Stunning. Soft beef, gently aromatic soup and al dente e-fu noodles in the one bowl and powerful curry-flavoured beef with softer and thinner noodles in the other. On balance I think the original clear soup and springy e-fu is my favourite. Beef, soup, noodles, and a scattering of spring onions. Simples.

You can get in an out for around HK$40 a head too. If you can avoid the lunch and evening queues, I’d recommend you go this very minute before the place gets priced out of the area like every other central Hong Kong eatery. Whatever you do don’t put it off for two years like an idiot.

Kau Kee; 21 Gough Street, Central, HK
(+852) 2850 5967

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China readies army of Stephen Hawkings to take over the WORLD

15 Jan

eggChina’s insatiable desire to be number one at EVERYTHING just took a turn for the creepy after it emerged a Shenzhen firm could be gearing up to offer parents an embryo screening process – allowing them to choose their brightest heirs and ditch the thickos.

BGI is apparently mapping the genes of maths geniuses and comparing them to a sample from the general populous in a bid to work out which genetic building blocks make them so clever.

This will be done by its Cognitive Genetics (CG) division. However, the resulting info could theoretically be used by another of its divisions, which currently provides genetic screening for birth defects, to allow parents to choose the ‘smartest’ embryos.

While this might all sound quite frankly chilling to many Western parents, it’s likely to be snapped up by ever pragmatic Chinese mums and dads to-be keen to maximise their RoI when it comes to procreating.

For the government too it has already become a major area of investment for Team China – the China Development Bank has apparently signed off $1.5bn in “collaborative funds” to BGI over the next decade.

The race to be first dominates everything in Chinese life. It’s there in mainlanders who take queue jumping in shops to an art form; in scalpers who sell tickets outside of China’s hospitals so you can see a doctor before the other shit-munchers; and in impatient air travellers who’ve unbuckled and begun rifling through the overhead compartment barely seconds after the plane has landed.

But it’s most strongly manifest in the Tiger mothers who fill their children’s every waking moments with study, hobbies and other ‘self-improvement’ activities designed to get them into the best school/college/university/job.

They’ll then be on hand a year or two later to choose a husband/wife for their little one, making sure to find the best deal, the one that offers the best chance of business and financial prosperity.

It’s a never-ending, unwinnable rat race which prioritises the acquisition of wealth and status above all else and turns humanity into one seething money-grabbing mass. Fuck joie de vivre, this is living life like a shark – stop moving forward and you die.

That’s probably what was on obstetrician Zhang Shuxia’s mind when she abducted seven infants between 2011 and 2013 and sold them to traffickers in Shaanxi province.

Zhang was given a suspended life sentence by a judge at Weinan Intermediate People’s Court’s this week after being found guilty of “violating professional and social ethics”.

Yes, apparently there are officially still ethics in China, although only ones sanctioned by the Party – itself still an ungovernable black hole of corruption.

“Zhang used her position as medical personnel to fabricate reports about the infants, saying they suffered from birth defects or diseases that were hard to cure,” the court ruling said.

She then abducted and sold the babies like a real life Goblin King.

Bad things happen all over the world and greed and covetousness are part of human nature.

But when a country of 1.4 billion people accelerating out of hardship and poverty at the speed of sound develops a moral vacuum of this size and scope, it’s time to get a little bit scared.

A Noodle abroad: Thailand versus Cambodia

7 Jan

lanternsHow did you spend your New Year holidays? For me it was a return to Thailand and Cambodia on a whirlwind six day trip. It was a tale of two countries which bloody hate each other but have a mutual friend – the big spending flabby white tourist.

Mutual mistrust and hostility have characterised relations between the two countries since the time when they weren’t nation states at all but the kingdoms of Siam and Khymer.

The animosity is still invoked by modern day politicians to rally the people of both modern states and popularise their policies – most recently evident in a century-old border dispute which was finally resolved last year by the UN.tuktuk bangkok

In many ways Thailand is a canary-down-the-mine portent of what might be for neighbouring Cambodia – a country decimated by the bloody tyranny of the Khymer Rouge in the ’70s and the decades of instability that followed.

But after revisiting both places, I rather hope that doesn’t happen.

Yes, Bangkok has built up and out massively since even a decade ago. Skytrain, MRT, airport rail links and other big infrastructure projects have brought it well and truly into the 21st century, thanks in no small part to a steady stream of tourist cash.

soi cowboy

Soi Cowboy – Bangkok

Yes, its people are friendly, its beaches lovely (even though they’re packed with dreadful Russian oligarchs and their trophy wenches) and its 5-star hotels cocooned us in air-conditioned comfort.

But if I had the choice I’d probably go back to its near neighbour. I’ve said it before but Cambodians haven’t yet been worn down and made cynically acquisitive by a never-ending barrage of rudeness from arrogant tourists.

The service industry may be haplessly incompetent in some of the bars, restaurants and hotels you visit but just get over it; you’re paying a fraction of the cost you would elsewhere and there’s always a sincere smile when all’s said and done.

Plus Siem Reap*, our base for exploring the epic Angkor Wat, is possibly the nicest SE Asian town I’ve ever visited. Lovely low-rise colonial-era buildings housing cafes, bars and decent restaurants, and a main entertainment thoroughfare called Pub Street. What’s not to like?

Well, Korean and Chinese tourists who treat the whole Angkor wonderland like a theme park, for one. On my visit they managed to shout, bawl and litter their way around the temples like neo-colonial overlords, getting in the way of any good photo opportunity and turning a place of beauty, wonderment and silent contemplation into downtown Shenzhen.

That said, witnessing a tour group in which some of the girls are dressed in boob tubes and ripped jean hot pants only serves to highlight the gentle dignity of the Khymer people.

So tip big – they locals your money more than Thailand – and enjoy it.

*(Siem Reap means “Siam defeated” in Khymer … told you they didn’t get on)

lanterns

Ko Samed beach, Thailand

tuktuk bangkok

NYE tuk-tuk-ing, Bangkok

angkor wat

Angkor Wat

angkor wat

Bayon

Bayon, Angkor Thom

bayon temple

Bayon temple

Ta Phrom

Ta Phrom

Ta Phrom

A bit more Lara Croft action, Ta Phrom

pub street

Better…

angkor night market

Electro Siem Reap

pancake stall

Always time for one last pancake…

 

Hold on to your donkeys, the Chinese are coming

6 Jan

donkey kong logoSo that was 2013. In China a year of mindless xenophobia, deadly pollution and freedom crushing authoritarianism masquerading as modern nation state-ism. So no change there then. Oh, and the Middle Kingdom also managed to take food scandals to a whole new level. We had gutter waste sold as cooking oil, infected baby formula, over 16,000 dead pigs floating down Shanghai’s Huangpu river and most recently dirty pond water injected into lamb meat. Mmmmm.

So it’s goodbye to the Year of the Snake and hello to the Year of the Horse, or more appropriately the Year of the Donkey. Yup, China has kicked off 2014 as it left off … literally daring anyone to live there. This time Walmart has been recalling donkey meat from its Jinan stores because of contamination issues.

Now Walmart as I know it is the US giant that now owns UK supermarket chain Asda. The most my local Asda on the Old Kent Road would ever do to satisfy customer demand was a small Caribbean section and possibly some Polish sausages. Not so its Chinese outposts, which have obviously bent over backwards to meet that insatiable lust for donkey meat down in deepest Shandong province. That’s not all, of course. It has emerged that the donkey meat has been found to contain traces of fox DNA.

Fox disguised as donkey? It makes me ashamed to be British sometimes. The best we can do is horse masquerading as cow.

When the infant formula scandal broke in 2013 there was a sudden run on in Hong Kong for milk powder, which soon led to bare shelves and export restrictions as “locust” mainlanders gave the locals another reason to despise them. So what of 2014? If you’re a Hong Kong zookeeper or private donkey owner I’d start by building a higher fence. Then keep the TV on because in a few days I fully expect to see an alarmist public service broadcast outlining how best to protect your donkey.

At the very least, spaffing a few grand on an utterly pointless and unbelievably patronising TV ad will help our glorious leaders avoid facing the thorny topic of universal suffrage for a few more weeks.