A few months ago, I went to Bangkok and casually found my way to a Chinese restaurant.
To my surprise, it was an eatery I had visited more than 20 years ago.
Back then, it was an established high-class restaurant for top gourmet food, like abalone, sea cucumber, shark’s fin and fish maw.
It was so popular that it entertained no walk-in customers. Diners had to reserve tables and place an order for braised shark’s fin in advance.
Those were the days when the economy was booming and Hongkongers lived an extravagant lifestyle in which a meal with shark’s fin was taken for granted.
The wealthy would visit Fook Lam Moon or Sun Tung Lok on weekdays and traveled to Bangkok over the weekend.
I grew up eating nothing more expensive than the hawkers’ version of shark’s fin soup, so I could not verify if eating shark’s fin in Thailand was really a bigger bargain than doing so in Fook Lam Moon in Hong Kong.
The only thing I could think of was whether the airfare had been priced in.
I’m not sure if it is a result of Hong Kong’s economic downturn or the movement against consuming shark fin, but going to Thailand for shark’s fin soup has become something largely unheard of in recent years.
Now, that restaurant in Bangkok is gloomily lit, and we were the only customers that evening.
Eating in a quiet restaurant could be enjoyed as an exclusive dining experience, but the waiters were unenthusiastic.
We ordered a dish of stir-fried fish maw.
Don’t be mistaken: we weren’t going for premium fish maw — the stiff, creamy-colored sheets from the dried swim bladders of large fish like croaker and sturgeon.
All we had was cheap, puffy and sponge-like deep-fried fish maw.
The dish was inexpensive but absolutely fantastic.
Everyone wanted a second helping of it.
Amazed by the dish, I secretly sneaked into the kitchen and asked the chef for the recipe before I left the restaurant.
I finally performed the experiment last week.
I paid only HK$50 (US$6.45) for six pieces of foot-long, dried, deep-fried fish maw from a dried-seafood outlet.
Later that day, I brought home some wild shrimps and a catty of fresh Chinese celery while the pieces of maw were soaking in water.
It is not a difficult dish to make.
Squeeze the excess water out of the fluffy pieces of maw and cut them into slices.
Stir-fry the shrimps in hot oil and quickly remove them from the stove.
Stir-fry the maw slices and Chinese celery, then add the shrimps and dark soy sauce.
My homemade version may not look as good, but it is as tasty as the offering in Bangkok!
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 15.
Translation by Darlie Yiu with additional reporting
[Chinese version 中文版]
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