I’ve had snake soup so many times before, more than I care to remember, but this particular pot of soup is something special.
It’s presented like any other ordinary pot of snake soup, but it’s not.
It’s topped with lemon leaves, coriander and white chrysanthemum petals.
But more than that, it’s part of the ensemble of classic Cantonese dishes prepared by chef Chui Wai-kwan.
It’s actually hand-shredded lamb head and feet thick soup in a casserole.
Those who are fond of fine dining surely must have heard of Chui. His Seventh Son Restaurant is almost always filled with customers.
It’s formerly located at Kwan Chart Tower on Tonnochy Road in Wan Chai, but Chui decided to move to the Wharney Guang Dong Hotel on Lockhart Road.
When I first had lamb head and feet soup, I mistook it for snake soup – the broth base tasted almost the same.
The difference is in the ingredients. Instead of snake meat and bones, lamb head and feet are used.
These are often considered worthless leftovers, but in the hands of an expert, they’re all that’s needed to make a magical stew.
The meat is patiently shredded from the head and feet, and the soup is simmered until collagen from the lamb skin has diffused so well into the mixture.
The soup illustrates the art and wisdom of classic Cantonese dishes in the ’30s and ’40s.
Unfortunately, few chefs nowadays know how to make this exquisite soup.
I bet only a few restaurateurs would appreciate the chef’s painstaking effort in preparing the stew. Given the time it takes to prepare it, doing abalone would have been more profitable.
Chui is the youngest son of the late master chef Chui Fook-chuen, who had been training him since he was 14.
Indeed, the younger Chui had been following his father around like a shadow and picking up pointers from the old man like how to cook various dishes and choose dried seafood and other ingredients.
He also learned a lot about the culinary arts from his siblings.
Asked about the secret of his superb Cantonese dishes, Chui said the success of a dish depends a lot on the ingredients.
Even today, Chef Chui still handles everything, including buying the ingredients for his dishes. Because of his management style, no supplier would dare give his restaurant anything less than the best.
But quality food comes not only from using the best ingredients, but also from the dedication and culinary skills of the chef.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec. 21.
Translation by Darlie Yiu
[Chinese version 中文版]
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