Village Bus (村巴) in Fanling! WOW!

Here’s a bit of a culture-slash-history lesson for you. Do you know what this is?

Village Bus (村巴) from Hong Kong's Boonies

Village Bus (村巴) from Hong Kong's Boonies

Its a village bus!!! Bet you’ve never seen one of these in your life huh? I mean, they look like a normal delivery truck but a custom-built interior, and these things go way back … okay fine maybe like 30-50 years? This one has definitely been renewed. I was pretty lucky to have stumbled across this … and you’re pretty lucky that I’m lucky 🙂 Unless you actually live inside one of these villages that run these shuttle buses, these things are like trying to spot a hedgehog.

Well I suppose its nothing crazy. Its just an odd-looking bus that takes the village folks from A to B (B = civilization) so they can buy basic necessities and groceries, and then back to A. Why don’t they just buy a Toyota minibus?! I would’ve imagine the cost to custom-build a metal cage + interior on a delivery truck to be > Toyota minibus. What’s the economics behind that? Can anyone fill us in?

Anyway …

四眼仔腸粉 in Fanling

四眼仔腸粉 in Fanling

I saw this next to the truck – a place called 四眼仔腸粉, where some pretty darn smoooooth rice rolls are served. On most days later in the afternoon, you’ll see a queue for these rice rolls. I had this a while ago and when I was there this time, I didn’t eat there, so no photos to show. Sorry!

But remember I was talking about these famous pork knuckles from Kwan Kee around the corner and it was all sold out last time? Well, I had it this time!

Pork Knuckles Vermicelli + Beefballs

Pork Knuckles Vermicelli + Beefballs

Did I mention last time that the hot sauce from this place was voted 1 of 10 best hot sauce in Hong Kong from Drink Eat Man Woman magazine (飲食男女)? How cool is that?!

Close-up of the Pork Knuckle

Close-up of the Pork Knuckle

Its a different type of pork knuckle than what I had expected. Its a little dry, but none the less tasty. Adequately salted, with the right amount of meat, fat, cartilage and “bone glue” (骨胶) … but I didn’t think it was good enough on its own. You HAVE to dip it in a bit of hot sauce (even if you don’t eat spicy) to make it work.

Siu Yeh Rating: 7.5/10
I stand by my previous rating.

What is Hong Kong People Lining Up for Today?

Hong Kong folks have this thing about queuing up for everything and anything that there’s a queue for. If there’s no line, then there’s “NO DEMAND”! And clearly, such simple economic theory will not elude even the average Honkie. This is arguably, one of Hong Kong’s favorite passtime! We love to do it … yet, ironically and hypocritically, we complain about it. I always see old grannies lining up for something and they say to themselves “Why do so many people line up for these things … don’t they have better things to do?!” … and there she is, lining up herself. lol … I love it … really I do!

Queue in Wanchai near the Computer Mall

Queue in Wanchai near the Computer Mall

If you think about it, over 90% of the line-up on the streets have (something) to do with food & drinks! Here are a couple examples:

  • Queue at McDonald’s when they offer Hello Kitty or Snoopy toys with their Happy Meals (a set of 30 or sth like that, all of which you’ll have to collect … and for limited time only! And then they end up sitting in a role on top of your TV set or on the dashboard of a delivery truck or van or sth) … Stereotype to the max!
  • Queue on the streets for freebies such as Pocari, Nescafe Milk Tea 3-in-1 packs, Red Bulls … what else?
  • Queue at popular restaurants (i.e. Australia Milk Company) and trendy clubs (Need I elaborate?) … Clubs you ask?! Drinks I say. Hey, that falls into this category too.

The other 10% is for:

  • Season sale at major labels and brand names
  • IPO’s (pre-Financial Tsunami days, think: Alibaba, Tianjin Port, etc.)

No, tissues don’t count because there’s no line-up for those … people just aim for the guy passing them out, get it and leave. Turnover is quick.

So, in this new column of “What is Hong Kong People Lining Up for Today”, we have …

Brands Chicken Essence!

Brands Chicken Essence!

Brand’s Chicken Essence! I’m not a big fan of chicken essence … to make things worse, their marketing campaign is to have you consume it cold. “雪冻黎飲, 精神嗮!” Gross!

No thank you … I already have trouble comsuming it hot.

Jia Jia Tang Bao (佳家汤包)

I voted on the Miele Guide a month or 2 ago and I’m really happy to see Jia Jia Tang Bao (佳家汤包) on the list! And then I realized I’ve been meaning to write about the restaurant since June last year (yes, 10 months ago) … and I still haven’t gotten around to doing it. I will do so right now.

Let’s just say no food blog would ever be complete if Shanghai was the subject and Jia Jia Tang Bao wasn’t mentioned. And that’s saying quite a bit about the restaurant already. If you think Din Tai Fung is good (well, it is), Jia Jia Tang Bao is better – by quite a bit … but DTF is still pretty good (notice I’m being very cautious not to aggravate the Din Tai Fung camp here). And if I were to ever put together a “Top 10 Best Culinary Experience I’ve Had”, this restaurant would also be up there on my list. Wow. Along with Xiao Yang Sheng Jian (小杨生煎馆), which I’ll briefly mention later.

Anyway, given how good this place is, I think it deserves a little story-telling about how I (or rather, my very good friend Vince) found out about the restaurant:

It was in late 2005 when both Vince and I were working as consultants in Shanghai and let’s be honest – what else is there to do then, other than watch pirated DVD’s, eat and clubbing? I think he grew sick of always dining at fancy restaurants (he stayed at the Marriott serviced apartments for 9 months, paid for by the client, of course) and so he went on a mission to scout out good local hideouts. Jia Jia Tang Bao was relatively unknown at the time and he found out about it by asking a taxi driver where he goes for xiao long bao, and you can’t really go wrong with that! Btw, I really think the restaurant should write Vince a cheque and cut him a piece of their profit for spreading the word back in the day … but we’ll have our legal department do that later.

And that was the original Jia Jia Tang Bao, which was located on Henan Nan Lu near Zhong Hua Lu Wen Miao Lu (Thanks for the correction there V). It was literally, a hole-in-wall restaurant with really dirty floor, tables, chopsticks, etc. You can probably fit about 10 customers inside the restaurant and another 10 outside. Opening hours are usually from 11:30AM to about 5-6PM; and that’s because they have limited food supplies every day. Once they’re done selling all their xiao long bao, they’re closed for the day. And just like Din Tai Fung, all of their xiao long bao’s are made fresh every minute.

Because of Huangpu District’s plan to expand Henan Nan Road, that original store had to make way for the district government. If you try to visit that same location today, you’d be standing in the middle of a very busy road. But the owner had strategically opened a newer (and cleaner) branch on Huanghe Road near Nanjing Road (north of People’s Square). This location has been around for close to 3 years now and continues to be frequented by a lot of tourists (mostly from HK), expats working in Shanghai and some locals as well.

Here are some pictures from the Huanghe Road restaurant and their fooooood:

Menu at Jia Jia Tang Bao in Shanghai

Menu at Jia Jia Tang Bao in Shanghai

If you try to visit the restaurant from 11:30AM to about 2:30PM (or maybe even 3PM), expect to wait in line for about 20-30 minutes. Either you go really early, like before 11:30AM, or you go after the lunch rush, which is around 3:30, but if you go any later than say 4:30PM – 5PM, you’ll risk missing out on some of the dumplings since they only make so much each day and if they’re sold out, then they don’t bother making any more!

Jia Jia Tang Bao at 4PM

Jia Jia Tang Bao at 4PM

See, no holes in the wall!

Here’s a Seaweed and Egg Soup (紫菜蛋皮汤), which cost RMB 2 and is absolutely tasteless and MSG-filled. I don’t know why I get this every time – I guess I like the seaweed, but I think its a good way to warm up for what’s coming next.

Seaweed and Egg Soup (紫菜蛋皮汤)

Seaweed and Egg Soup (紫菜蛋皮汤)

The Pork Dumplings. This can be quite salty sometimes, but it really brings out the flavour from the fatty pork, which is basically what the juice / soup is inside the thin layer of skin. I really like my xiao long bao skin thin, and while this might not be quite as thin as the ones from Din Tai Fung, the ones here are really damn close.

Whats even more important than thin skin, is how tough it is. I don’t think I’ve ever had a soup-breakage accident here unless the tang bao’s been sitting in the steam basket for much longer than it should’ve. You know that feeling when you think you have a good grip of the xiao long bao with your chopsticks, only to have the pork ball and soup fall out, leaving you with only the skin? Yeh, non-existent at Jia Jia Tang Bao. Its almost like they had a team research on the skin in a science lab.

Pork Tang Bao (纯鲜肉汤包)

Pork Tang Bao (纯鲜肉汤包)

Btw, if you want to try all of the different flavours, you must work your way up (i.e. have the “simpler” dumplings first … and then proceed to the more “complex” dumplings). Using the price of the dumpling to tell is generally a good gauge, but make sure you tell the lady at the counter that’s how you want it. During the lunch rush, they might just throw whatever is ready at you … which could potentially ruin your culinary experience there.

Here, we made sure the flow was:

  1. Pork Tang Bao (纯鲜肉汤包) – ¥7.5
  2. Crab Roe & Pork Dumplings (蟹粉鲜肉汤包) – ¥19.5
  3. Pure Crab Roe Dumplings (纯蟹粉汤包) – ¥81
Crab Roe & Pork Dumplings (蟹粉鲜肉汤包)

Crab Roe & Pork Dumplings (蟹粉鲜肉汤包)

Next up was the Crab Roe & Pork Dumplings (蟹粉鲜肉汤包) (above), which is a mix between what we just had and what we’re about to have. But I would say its still 80% pork and 20% crab roe. The strong and sharp flavours from the crab roe is unmistakenly there, but it was still pretty much a pork dumpling mixed with small orange oil drops from the crab roe.

Pure Crab Roe Dumplings (纯蟹粉汤包)

Pure Crab Roe Dumplings (纯蟹粉汤包)

All of their dumplings come in a dozen in a steam basket, but the pure crab roe dumplings come in 6 per baskets and they give you 2 baskets. At RMB 81, this is definitely not cheap by Shanghai standards, but what they give you is, as the name suggests … PURE crab roe, crab meat and crab roe oil / essence. Til this day, I have yet to find anything close to the quality / quantity of roe they give you in these pockets of culinary orgasm. Each piece of this dumpling is like eating a mouthful of the best part of a hairy crab – only without all the effort. Enough said.

What remains a mystery to me is that the hairy crab season is between late September to December of each year. So how are they able to serve this dish throughout the year? And how is it that the quality remains the same (assuming they have folks taking out the crab roe and meat from hairy crabs during the fall / winter season every year and put the stuff in the freezer).

Well, that’s not something I should dwell on anyway.

What I should really be concerned about is what a dozen of these pure crab roe dumplings would do to my cholesterol level after every visit. I swear, this or sea urchin will kill me one day.

Pure Crab Roe Dumplings (纯蟹粉汤包) - Close Up

Pure Crab Roe Dumplings (纯蟹粉汤包) - Close Up

Just look at that!!!

The Essence!

The Essence!

Our battle trophies.

One of the most satisfying meals you'll likely have

One of the most satisfying meals you'll likely have

This place continues to be one of my gratifying culinary experiences ever … but to those 2 ladies below … it was just another day at Jia Jia Tang Bao. Such simplicity and zero-pretentiousness = Shanghai’s most underrated restaurant.

Taking a break from the lunch rush

Taking a break from the lunch rush

Two items were sold out already as we were leaving …

If you're late, you might miss out!

If you're late, you might miss out!

Jia Jia Tang Bao  (佳家汤包)
Huanghe Lu (near Nanjing Road West)

Oh and if you’re still not full (although I’m pretty sure you will be stuffed) … look across the street and you’re find the equally famous Xiao Yang Sheng Jian, but that definitely deserves its own little post. Here’s a glimpse of the Huanghe Lu branch (not Wujiang Lu branches).

Yangs Fry Dumplings (小杨生煎馆) on Huanghe Lu

Yangs Fry Dumplings (小杨生煎馆) on Huanghe Lu

If you want to do it the Shanghai way, try visiting the restaurant in your PJ’s, just like that gentleman you see in the middle. It was like 4PM!

Waiting for the next batch of Sheng Jian Baos

Waiting for the next batch of Sheng Jian Baos

If you’ve never seen how real shen jian dumplings are made, have a look … it always amazes me how they’re able to handle a burning metal plate with ripped cardboards as grips.

Menu at 小扬生煎馆

Menu at 小扬生煎馆

These 2 are must-try restaurants in Shanghai. And yes, you can quote Siuyeh. You won’t regret it … but be warned. If you’re having more than 4 shen jian bao’s from 小扬生煎馆 for lunch, you can pretty much forget about dinner.

SSP Hong Fat Noodle & Dai Pai Dong (深水埗漢發麵家)

I recently brought my friend, Tony, to Shamshuipo’s fabric district to source different fabric / material to be used for his staff’s uniforms (yes! for his new restaurant!). While we were there, we decided to stop by Hong Fat Noodle (漢發麵家) for some authentic Dai Pai Dong (大牌檔) food. Apparently, as I’ve just found out from Wikipedia, the correct term for 大牌檔 in English by the HKSAR Government is called “Cooked-Food Stalls” … hmm, that’s kind of weak isn’t it? I was kind of hoping the name would be something along the lines of “Big-ass Signage Stalls”, which I suppose is closer to the literal translation of the term. Afterall, like 茶餐厅 (Tea Houses?), these are what Hong Kong’s about … this is Hong Kong culture and the name’s gotta sound badass.

Anyway, here’s a little more about Dai Pai Dong from Wikipedia:

Dai pai dong is characterised by its green-painted steel kitchen, untidy atmosphere, the lack of air conditioning, as well as a variety of low priced great-wok hei dishes. Regarded by some as part of the collective memory of Hong Kong people, official dai pai dongs are scarce today, numbering only 28, situated in Central (10), Sham Shui Po (14), Wan Chai (1), Tai Hang (2), and Tai O (1).

Although the term dai pai dong is often used generically to refer to any food stall operating on the roadside with foldable tables, chairs and no air-conditioning (like those on Temple Street), legally speaking the term can only refer to those 28 stalls which possess the “big licenses”.

Man, I think I just fell in love with whoever did all that research 🙂 If you haven’t checked out the link, do so now … its so well summarized.

Anyway, so this place we went to is 1 of 14 in SSP (didn’t know there was so many in that district) and 28 in Hong Kong. They make one of the best 牛筋腩面 (Beef Tendon & Brisket Noodle) I’ve ever had. In fact, I kept having the same thing everytime I’m there, I actually haven’t tried their other stuff, which I’m sure is equally as good.

Afterall, as I was told by dad (who first started going there 30 years ago), the owner of this DPD (yeh I’m cool … I just abbreviated Dai Pai Dong!) owns some 10+ flats / apartments in the YauTsimMong (油尖旺) area … short for Yau Ma Tei, Tsim Sha Tsui and Mongkok … sooo, I guess he did quite well for himself and his family (in layman’s term, he’s friggin’ loaded)

SSP Hong Fat Noodle & Dai Pai Dong (深水埗漢發麵家)

SSP Hong Fat Noodle & Dai Pai Dong (深水埗漢發麵家)

Features of the DPD:

  • “Green-painted Steel Kitchen”. Check!
  • “Untidy Atmosphere”. Check!
  • “Lack of Air Conditioning”. Check! (you know, going to DPD under a 40 degree celsius sun is also part of the fun!)
  • “A variety of low priced great-wok hei dishes”. Check!
Dai Pai Dong Chef at Work!

Dai Pai Dong Chef at Work!

Work it!

Beef Tendons ... in the drying process I guess :)

Beef Tendons ... in the drying process I guess 🙂

Here are probably one day’s worth of beef tendons … being dried by the road side, which is frequented by trucks. The pollution is part of the marinate. Haven’t you heard?

Beef Brisket + Tendons Noodles and Ice Tea

Beef Brisket + Tendons Noodles and Ice Tea

Voila! The owner sold like millions of these

Lettuce with Oyster Sauce

Lettuce with Oyster Sauce

An experience at a 大牌檔 or 茶餐厅 is not complete unless you order the 油菜 (boiled veggies with a dab of oyster sauce or 腩汁 (concentrated beef broth)) … even if you don’t eat it … you have to order it and have it in front of you.

Worth a visit? Definitely!

Wikipedia mentioned something about the preservation of DPD (reproduced below):

Preservation

In May 2005, the existence of dai pai dong in Hong Kong caught considerable public attention, as Man Yuen Noodles, a dai pai dong selling noodles in Central, faced imminent closure due to the death of the licensee. The news came after the closure of a bakery famous for its egg tarts, also located in Central and forced to close because of the rise of rent. The bakery reopened in October 2005.

Despite calls for its preservation by many locals, including some politicians, the stall was closed on July 30, 2005. The Hong Kong government was criticised for not trying its best to preserve dai pai dongs as part of the Hong Kong culture. The news of the closure coincided with the government’s proposal of the development of West Kowloon Cultural District. The stall has unexpectedly reopened at a nearby shop on December 1, 2005.

But what it doesn’t tell you (well, they haven’t updated yet) is that the HKSAR government will be passing a law (if they haven’t already), that would allow descendants of the owner to continue the family business (no you’re not allowed to sell the business to strangers, but still …). How awesome is that?! Although we won’t be seeing more of them, at least they’ll be around for quite some time to come. They’re not dead yet.

Siu Yeh Rating: 9/10! (10 because DPD’s hold such sentimental values)

Hong Fat Noodle (漢發麵家)
Somewhere in Shamshuipo … let’s Google Map it
Shek Kip Mei St. & Apliu St. (in front of Cheong Fok House)

Too bad there’s no street view in Hong Kong yet …

Chan Chi Ying Medical Clinic (陳志英醫館)

Sticking to my promise that Siuyeh.com is as much about local delicacies as it is to culture and all things tradition, I present to you Chan Chi Ying Medical Clinic (陳志英醫館) on Lockhart Road in Wanchai-borderline-Causeway Bay (under the bridge, next to OK convenient store). This place has been around for over 40 years now I think …

I sprained my left ankle recently (playing tennis … I know, so lame) and my parents recommended that I visit this “clinic” to have the folks there slap on some Traditional Chinese Medical (TCM), which is basically a bunch of herbs and spices mixed together and its supposed to heal any injury. We call it “铁打” (“Teet Da” in Cantonese) which roughly translate into … err “invincibility”? haha … okay, it literally translate into “Metal” and “Hit” so you figure it out. I think stunt doubles would live by these forms of healing whenever they smash through brick walls and free-fall down 20 storey buildings back in the heydays of Hong Kong’s kung-fu film industry (think Bruce Lee, early day Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Jet Li, etc.)

Between the 1950’s to 1980’s … everyone who injures themselves in Hong Kong would visit one of these clinics and its suppose to heal all … burns, sprains, headaches, old injuries, broken tendons, broken bones (yes even broken bones) … you name it. But with the introduction of Western sciences and medicine, these places are now slowly becoming obsolete. People still go … I mean, the place is packed sometimes, but I think people tend to go for the Western methods.

Anyway, back to the herbs and spices … no one really knows what’s in it because its supposed to be a closely-guarded secret. With every visit, you’ll have to wait about 1-2 hours. Once its your turn, they look at the injury and would place a really hot bag of TCM on the affected area … rub it around for a couple minutes before they put on the real deal – the secret sauce I was just telling you about. Normally, it is recommended that you leave the medicine on for at least 10-12 hours before you take it off. One visit to look at the ankle cost about HK$ 280 where they spend about 10 minutes on you.

Here’s what it looks like inside the clinic. See the picture of Chan Chi Ying on the top right of the photo below? The master is no longer with us, and the folks running the shop are apprentices of the late Mr. Chan … apparently, its really not the same without the master.

Chan Chi Ying Medical Clinic (陳志英醫館) 1

Chan Chi Ying Medical Clinic (陳志英醫館) 1

Bring newspaper or magazines with you if you’re going there … and prepare to wait a long time.

Chan Chi Ying Medical Clinic (陳志英醫館) 2

Chan Chi Ying Medical Clinic (陳志英醫館) 2

Would I recommend this place? Hmm, I doubt it.

In retrospect, I actually didn’t think it helped that much, other than the fact that the “secret ingredient” helped prevent my foot from swelling too much. But after the 4th visit, I started getting some ugly reaction (read: rash) to the stuff and I stopped going. Nothing like some good setamol and RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation).

The days of genuine 铁打 are over. To be fair though, they do sell this medicine oil, which is quite effective for bruises and headaches. Just rub a small amount on the area and keep rubbing … Otherwise, you’re probably better off at a Western clinic if you’ve got a sprained ankle or sth.

Chan Chi Ying Medical Clinic (陳志英醫館)
Lockhart Road near the big bridge

Cha Ca Trang Long

My experiences with Vietnamese cuisine had always involved only 2 items:

  • Pho (noodle in beef soup); and
  • Bun (rice vermicelli poured with nuoc mam or Vietnamese fish sauce) with accompanying spring rolls, sausages, etc.

So when my friends suggested that we visit Hanoi for a couple days, I packed my appetite and flew 2 hours to the capital for the real deal.

We stayed at the Hanoi Old Quarter Hotel, which, as the name suggests, is located within Hanoi’s Old Quarter. The district is pretty much considered downtown and is about 15 minutes walk from Lake Hoan Kiem (Ngoc Son Temple) and the 108 year-old Metropole Hotel in the French Quarter.

The Old Quarter is where you’ll find several large markets, plenty of little hole-in-wall restaurants and improvised “area” with plastic stools, plastic tables or just a floor mat so that patrons can sit and dine by the road side. Dust and carbon monoxide included.

Anyway, I’ll save the details for later posts. Dinner for the first night was recommended to us by our trusty “Lonely Planet Hanoi & Halong Bay Encounter” guide and it was a decent restaurant (Hanoi standard) called Cha Ca Trang Long (see photos).

Cha Ca Trang Long (Outside)

Cha Ca Trang Long (Outside)

Cha Ca Trang Long (Inside, Second Floor)

Cha Ca Trang Long (Inside, Second Floor)

We sat down and before we even had a chance to worry about how to order food, the staff kindly placed a stove on our table and a frying pan with turmeric-marinated fish within (pictured). At first, we thought that was kind of rude, but then we realized that’s a pretty smart thing to do. The Cha Ca or “Hanoi Fried Fish with Dill” is their signature dish, which is why we’re there and since we don’t speak Vietnamese, that probably saved everyone the trouble of playing charade.

Cha Ca or Hanoi Fried Fish with Dill

Cha Ca or Hanoi Fried Fish with Dill

The Cha Ca was fried in peanut oil and the aroma was terrific. Turmeric, like other exotic spices are often used in Thai, Indian and Middle Eastern dishes and is mildly bitter (because it is derived from the root of a tropical plant related to ginger), a bit peppery and has a yellow dye to it. Here’s an excerpt from About.com:

“Turmeric is botanically known as Curcuma longa, derived from the old Arabic name for the kurkum plant we know better as saffron. Yet this spice is a member of the ginger family and unrelated to saffron. Like ginger, it is the root of the turmeric plant that is used as a spice, usually in a dried form.

However, in some areas of the Far East, the fresh turmeric root is used and stored much like ginger. You might be able to find fresh turmeric in specialty Asian markets in the US.

The root is generally peeled to expose its bright yellow flesh, then boiled, dried, and ground into a powder. Turmeric gives ball-park yellow mustard its bright color, is a prime ingredient in Worcestershire sauce, and is also used to color other foods such as butter, cheese, and fruit drinks. It is a favorite in Middle East and Asian foods and spice blends such as curry.”

The staff then gave each of us a plate of rice vermicelli noodle, with shared condiments such as roasted peanuts, chili, spring onions (scallions), mint / lime leaves, lime wedges, nuoc mam (or Vietnamese fish sauce) and diluted shrimp sauce (pictured below).

Rice Vermicelli and Accompanying Condiments

Rice Vermicelli and Accompanying Condiments

Fry and stir with dill and spring onions (scallions) and …

Stir Fry Cha Ca!

Stir Fry Cha Ca!

… tada!

Stir Fried Cha Ca with Dill and Spring Onion (Scallion)

Stir Fried Cha Ca with Dill and Spring Onion (Scallion)

Shrimp Sauce is the Best!

Shrimp Sauce is the Best!

Place some rice vermicelli in your bowl, topped with your preferred condiments (i.e. onion, mint / lime leaves, etc.) and sauces (nuoc cham, diluted shrimp sauce and/or lime juice). Then put a piece or 2 of the fish, together with the cooked dill and scallion in your bowl, mix it a little bit and pig out.

The turmeric itself has very mild flavoring, but mixed with dill and scallion, the spices actually becomes slightly stronger. Since the vermicelli noodle is tasteless and is usually served cold, it makes an interesting feeling inside your mouth as you chew on everything you’ve just placed in your bowl; hot, cold, bland, flavorful all in a mouthful. The onions, mint / lime leaves, chili and especially the grayish / purple shrimp sauce (diluted of course, otherwise it’d be too salty) adds to the palette and sends a mixture of signals to my taste buds … I know this sounds like textbook food critique, but its quite true!

And finally, a meal in Vietnam would not be complete without …

Saigon Beer

Saigon Beer

If you want to know more about Cha Ca, here’s an excerpt I found from Vietnamese-Recipes (dot) com:

“The north of Vietnam is well known for its use of pungent herbs, so much so that a dish of the ever-popular noodles can be served plain, dressed only with coriander and basil. There are many herbs that are indigenous to this northern region and virtually impossible to find outside Vietnam, but one herb that is easily available and used in many northern-style fish dishes is dill. In this classic dish from Hanoi, Cha Ca Hanoi, the dill is just as important as the fish and they complement each other beautifully. A simple accompaniment of plain rice or noodles is all that is needed to make an impressive meal.

Cha Ca Street – There is a street in Hanoi called Cha Ca Street, where all the restaurants specialize in this dish. The most famous is Cha Ca La Vong, a tiny restaurant that has been owned by the same family for generations and which claims to have first popularized Cha Ca. This recipe usually uses the local Red River fish, Carp and Catfish, and is served with piquant dipping sauces such as Mam Tong Tom made with pineapple and dried shrimp, or Nuoc Cham.”

Ingredients from Vietnamese-Recipes (dot) com for the Cha Ca:

  • 75g of rice flour
  • 7.5ml of ground turmeric
  • 500g of white fish fillets, such as Cod skinned and cut into bite-size chunks
  • 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil, for deep-frying
  • 1 large bunch of fresh dill
  • 15ml of groundnut (peanut) oil
  • 30ml of roasted peanuts
  • 4 spring onions (scallions), cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1 small bunch of fresh basil, stalks removed, leaves chopped
  • 1 small bunch of fresh coriander (cilantro), stalks removed
  • 1 Lime, cut into quarters, Nuoc Cham sauce, to serve

Method:

  • Mix the flour with the turmeric and toss the fish chunks in it until well coated. Heat the oil in a wok or heavy pan and cook the fish in batches until crisp and golden
  • Drain on kitchen paper
  • Scatter some of the dill fronds on a serving dish, arrange the fish on top and keep warm
  • Chop some of the remaining dill fronds and set aside for garnishing
  • Heat the groundnut oil in a small pan or wok. Stir in the peanuts and cook for 1 minute
  • Add the spring onions, the remaining dill fronds, basil and coriander
  • Stir fry for no more than 30 seconds, then spoon the herbs and peanuts over the fish. Garnish with the chopped dill and serve with lime wedges and nuoc cham to drizzle over the top

Siu Yeh Rating: 8/10

Cha Ca Trang Long
31 Duong Thanh
Hanoi, Vietnam
Tel: +824 5115

Dakota Prime

THE. BEST. STEAK. EVER. PERIOD.

Yes, it was better than Morton’s Steakhouse.

Yes, it was better than the Steak House at the InterContinental Hong Kong.

Yes, it trumped all my other experiences involving steak.

And yes, the bill also topped the list.

Dakota Prime is not your average Steak and Seafood restaurant. I went there tonight with high expectations (I haven’t had a chance to come back since its grand opening) and the experience had probably exceeded my expectations.

Let’s get right down to business.

We started off with 1.5 dozens of “White Pearl” oysters (I arrived late, so I didn’t make that order and hence, I don’t know where these oysters originated from). They were really fresh … but most importantly, they was paired with a very fruity sauvignon blanc, which the waiter had recommended. I later asked for the bottle (so I can take a picture) and found out it is called Highfield from Marlborough, New Zealand! You can’t go wrong with white wine coming from that region … it almost tastes the same as Cloudy Bay.

Oysters from Dakota Prime

Oysters from Dakota Prime

New Zealand Marlborough Highfield Sauvignon Blanc

New Zealand Marlborough Highfield Sauvignon Blanc

Then came the Dakota Green Salad, which was dressed with the right amount of vinigrette and it also came with fried cheese around it (pictured). Dad had a lobster bisque (pictured). I can’t tell you how that was, but from what he told me, it was damn good.

Dakota Green Salad

Dakota Green Salad

Lobster Bisque at Dakota Prime

Lobster Bisque at Dakota Prime

Dad was on a roll tonight and went for a grilled lobster (pictured) before his steak even arrived. We all dug in and it was really juicy … again, grilled to perfection.

Grilled Lobster at Dakota Prime

Grilled Lobster at Dakota Prime

And finally came the reason why I was there tonight: 21-day Dry Aged New York Strip at 14 oz or 380 g. Apparently, they’re also branded as “Meyer’s 100% Natural Angus USDA Nebraska Beef”, which is “Fully Traceable From Farm to Table, No Hormones and No Antibiotics” (pictured)

21-day Dry Aged New York Strip at Dakota Prime

21-day Dry Aged New York Strip at Dakota Prime

My brother had the “Snake River Farms American Kobe Beef ‘Gold Label'” with Bms of 8-12 at 14 oz or 380 g (pictured).

Snake River Farms American Kobe Beef "Gold Label"

Snake River Farms American Kobe Beef "Gold Label"

The steaks were paired with Cabernet Sauvignon called Unity from Napa’s Fisher Vineyard. Very smoky / oaky, dry and quite smooth (easy to down) and doesn’t leave much of an after taste, which I like.

Wine List (Wine by the Glass) at Dakota Prime

Wine List (Wine by the Glass) at Dakota Prime

We ordered 2 Macaroni & Cheese with Truffle sauce (pictured) as side dishes for our steaks, but we later found out that these “side dishes” are meant to be shared. They came in a pan and the 1 portion is enough for 2 … (at HK$60 for a side dish, they better be!). We thought they’d be a small scope of Mac & Cheese next to your steak. If you are going to visit the restaurant, here’s an advice: Don’t order 2 of the same sides dishes!

Macaroni & Cheese with Truffle Sauce

Macaroni & Cheese with Truffle Sauce

After all that, we couldn’t handle dessert so we called it a night.

It was definitely not cheap, but it was very satisfying. For:

  • 18 “White Pearl” oysters
  • 3 glasses of New Zealand Marlborough Highfield Sauvignon Blanc
  • 2 bottles of Voss still water (800ml / bottle)
  • 3 glasses of Napa Valley Fisher Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 1 Lobster Bisque
  • 1 Dakota Green Salad
  • 2 Meyer 14 oz NY Strip
  • 1 Snake River 14 oz Rib Eye
  • 2 Macaroni & Cheese with Truffle sauce
  • + 10% service charge

The damage came to HK$ 5,600. Ouch. But it was so good.

Siu Yeh Rating: 10/10

Dakota Prime
7/F., LKF Tower
33 Wyndham Street
Central, Hong Kong
Tel: +852 2526 2366
Fax: +852 2526 3626
Website: www dot dakotaprime dot hk
Email: info@dakotaprime.hk