In the past five years, I have reviewed claypot rice twice as an undercover diner for different local magazines.
After a marathon tasting of more than 20 pots in three weeks, I am confident I can tell the differences among the delicious offerings, having gained a deeper understanding of this local winter warmer.
Components of a delicious claypot rice include the ingredients, the marinade, rice and heat.
Fresh ingredients can infuse their flavors and fragrances into the rice.
The marinade can spice the whole pot up.
Rice, of course, must be jasmine grains from Thailand.
Then comes the heat, which very much depends on the cook and how well he or she can manage the charcoal fire.
Some restaurants claim to use a charcoal fire.
In fact, they first cook the rice over a gas stove. Only before serving the pots do they heat them over a charcoal stove.
The genuine way to cook claypot rice should be with a charcoal fire all the way.
Only a few restaurants in Hong Kong do that now, as it is very time-consuming.
The heat from a gas stove is conducted from the bottom, while a charcoal fire can be fierce, engulfing the entire claypot, so the rice and ingredients are sure to be evenly heated.
Charcoal-grilled pork with rice is something that cannot be replicated by gas or electric stoves.
The claypot is way better than metallic vessels.
If you happen to be served using a new claypot, you might even taste a touch of baked clay that has been diffused into the rice.
Having tried out claypot rice prepared by different masters, I can assure you that fresh ingredients, good rice and a nice pot do not necessarily yield a perfect dish.
Only an experienced master can perform that magic, by controlling the heat properly.
The soy sauce to be added to the rice should also come with no artificial additives, such as MSG.
Winter has finally come to Hong Kong.
I couldn’t help myself and visited a Cantonese restaurant, Soeng Hei (尚囍餐廳小廚), on Mercury Street in Tin Hau for claypot rice on Sunday.
This restaurant serves genuine claypot rice grilled using charcoal.
Some signature dishes, such as soft-shelled turtles or shrimps, are available by pre-order only.
I am very impressed that every morning, the owner of the restaurant, who is also the cook, visits the wet market nearby for the freshest ingredients of the day.
Naturally I immediately think of this dedicated and veteran cook when I want the dish.
My favorite dish is no doubt claypot rice with garlic sea shrimps.
However, the shrimps are getting so expensive that the owner has decided not to offer the dish, as it doesn’t represent value for money.
Okay, no shrimps, but I wasn’t disappointed, as I could still enjoy my claypot rice with diced Chinese sausage and duck (臘味粒煲仔飯), which was completely covered with chopped scallions, making it even more exotically delicious.
I also helped myself to claypot rice with Asian swamp eel (黃鱔煲仔飯), and a pot with soft-shelled turtle and chicken with watercress.
All these dishes can warm your body instantly.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec. 9.
Translation by Darlie Yiu
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