I was honored to be able to hang around with Mok Kit-keung, executive chef of the two-Michelin-star Shang Palace restaurant in the Kowloon Shangri-La hotel, at Tai Po Market from 9 a.m. on Saturday.
Mok was pretty caught up at work at the hotel until late the previous evening, so it was impressive that he could still be so energetic without showing any signs of fatigue.
Standing outside the Tai Po Complex, he recalled what the neighborhood was like during his childhood.
Mok told us there used to be a playground nearby where he and his classmates played basketball after school.
Time flies, and the neighborhood has changed beyond recognition.
Fortunately, the cooked food center inside the complex has largely retained much of the old Hong Kong-style cuisine.
We decided to kick-start a lovely day of shopping with a breakfast feast.
Every time he goes there, Mok said, he will order a bowl of beef brisket noodles in clear soup, which he regards as comfort food for most Hongkongers.
Not far away was a stall featuring Cantonese dim sum.
There were dozens of round bamboo steamers of infrequently seen traditional offerings: steamed chicken with fish maw, steamed rice flour roll with shredded chicken, quail egg siu mai and so on.
Everyone couldn’t stop recalling their memories of the last time they had each of those types of dim sum.
The renowned eatery Ping Kee Noodles is as good as it is reputed to be.
Its wonton wrappers are crystal thin, enclosing a good portion of shrimp and pork and shaped at the end like the tail fin of a goldfish.
“Wontons should be like this — one perfect bite,” Mok said.
“I see no reason why they should now look like ping pong balls.”
After the big breakfast, we started doing some real shopping for ingredients.
Mok is not the type of chef who only waits for the distributors to deliver their ingredients or stands back and fires commands at his junior colleagues.
Every month, he shops for ingredients himself in the wet market, to get the freshest seasonal items and to gather inspiration for new dishes.
Frequent diners at Shang Palace know that they are often surprised by the off-menu items.
These dishes are prepared with ingredients, often seafood, bought by the chef on the same day.
Mok told me some customers specifically ask for the off-menu options for the day, and they refrain from asking about how the dishes are prepared, since they are looking forward to being surprised.
He sees that as a gesture of their complete trust in him, and it fires up his creativity to come up with new dishes that will please both the chef and the diners.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 13.
Translation by Darlie Yiu
[Chinese version 中文版]
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