Your insider’s guide to Hong Kong

Delving Deep into Cantonese Cuisine

Janice Leung Hayes

There are thousands of Chinese restaurants in Hong Kong, but the term “Chinese food” actually covers the many distinct regional cuisines of a vast country. What Hong Kong is known for, above all, is Cantonese food.

Cantonese comes from the old name for Guangdong, the province just north of Hong Kong, and most Hongkongers descend from Cantonese people. This is why Hongkongers primarily speak Cantonese, and eat foods that take advantage of the position and climate of the Pearl River Delta – freshwater and ocean fish, rice and poultry, rather than things like wheat flour noodles and lamb that are more prevalent in the northern parts of the country. Hallmarks of Cantonese food include techniques like steaming, gentle slow-cooking and stir-frying, which seek to retain or highlight the innate flavours of an ingredient. The Cantonese are therefore obsessed with freshness, and you can’t get much fresher than straight from a farm.

That’s what Kin’s Kitchen tries to do as much as possible, with some of their rice and vegetables coming from local organic farms, and seafood from nearby waters. Although rice is a staple in this part of the world, the grains served in restaurants are often an afterthought. Kin’s, however, has teamed up with Yi O Agricultural Cooperation, pre-buying and serving their rice. Yi O’s farm is an attempt to restart commercial rice farming in Hong Kong, something that hasn’t been done since the city’s industrial boom of the 1960s, when most farmers traded their jobs on the land for a place on factory production lines.

Kin's Kitchen - Shrimp Patty Chicken

None of this mindful sourcing means anything without their deep knowledge and keen interest in traditional, almost-lost Cantonese recipes. The restaurant is founded by renowned local food writer Kin-wai Lau and his family, and for years has been known to serve intricate, technique-driven dishes that take lots of time to prepare, using humble ingredients. Take for instance, guo zha, a savoury egg custard that is delicately cooked then cut into diamond-shaped bites and deep-fried, an ancient recipe said to have been passed down from Qing Dynasty courts to Guangzhou’s ruling classes. Or try the steamed shrimp patty, stuffed into the skin of a chicken – the kind of playful, time-consuming dish most restaurants no longer bother to do.

Another favourite of Cantonese gourmands is Seventh Son. The founder’s father, an in-house cook for dignitaries of the Qing dynasty and colonial Hong Kong, started Fook Lam Moon, a legendary restaurant chain. Not surprisingly, Seventh Son excel at banquet dishes like whole barbecued suckling pig – barbecue, or siu mei, is a vital station in any Cantonese restaurant. Homely dishes, such as the humble scrambled eggs with local prawns and preserved egg, are also presented with pride and skill, the eggs forming in delicate, fluffy curds as if cooked gently on a low heat, rather than in the fierce, scorching heat of a wok.

Seventh Son Suckling Pig

For a more stylish, modern setting, but equally traditional plates, head to Duddell’s. The elegant, marble-clad bi-level space with a rotating display of art and a gorgeous little outdoor terrace is great for cocktails, but to the delight of classicists, their menu is squarely in the old-school camp. Dishes like the delicately steamed siu mai, each stuffed with a quail egg, and double-boiled matsutake mushroom, bamboo pith and cabbage soup – made without any addition of liquid, just by the slow extrusion of natural liquids from the ingredients – showcase the appreciation and understanding of food that is so central to Cantonese cuisine.

Duddell's Soft Boiled Quail Egg and Pork Dumpling

Kin’s Kitchen
5/F, W Square, 314-324 Hennessy Road, Wan Chai
Tel: +852 2571 0913
http://kinskitchen.com.hk

Seventh Son
3/F, The Wharney Guang Dong Hotel, 57-73 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai
Tel: +852 2892 2888
http://seventhson.hk

Duddell’s
Level 3, Shanghai Tang Mansion, 1 Duddell Street, Central
Tel: +852 2525 9191
http://duddells.co

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