Shenwan, a town in the southern periphery of the city of Zhongshan in Guangdong province, is renowned for its pineapples.
The fruit, the size of a fist on average, has a rich flavor and sweet fresh scent that could attract people several meters away. You could chew on the core with ease since it is not as hard and tasteless as typical ones.
Knowing that the lovely Shenwan pineapples are in season, I set off with my friends to Zhongshan. Under the leadership of Master Zhong, we were privileged to enjoy a sumptuous feast at a private kitchen in Yangliao village.
The couple who owned the place did everything to make us feel at home. We were first presented with a big pot of soup boiled with dried arrowroot, dried banana buds, crucian carp, lean meat, water chestnuts, cooking bananas, black-eyed peas and carrots.
With such an abundance of ingredients, the soup was surprisingly clear with a sweet, refreshing taste. It was as if the soup was prepared for their beloved family: no MSG or any food additives.
Next we had deep-fried squabs. Underneath the crispy skin was tender, juicy meat. I learned that the pigeons had been marinated by a secret sauce for three hours before they were fried by pouring ladles of hot oil on them.
Zhou Gor, the chef, once served in several professional kitchens. No wonder the squab meat was perfectly done.
Then came poached pig’s stomach – it was first boiled in water with salt, shredded ginger and pepper for 45 minutes, and then sliced. Diners could dip it in spicy scallion soy sauce. The only defect was that it was a tad rubbery.
Wild shrimp from Pak Hoi were beautifully fried, yielding an elastic texture and an umami taste. There was no comparison between Zhou Gor’s fried shrimp and those prepared from frozen shrimp in some restaurant chain.
I was deeply moved by the poached chicken dish; I was certain the chef used a free-range chicken for the rare treat.
Steamed pork belly with taro took Zhou Gor more than half a day to prepare. To make the pork belly delicious, it had to be boiled, rinsed, fried, rinsed again, sliced, rinsed again, and then steamed with taro. The fatty meat was so soft and not greasy at all.
Everyone was blown away by the braised pork ribs with pickled young ginger. The dish, especially the pickled vegetable, had a balanced mix of sour, sweet and spicy tastes, and it melted on the tongue right away, apparently the result of a 10-hour simmer.
This was the best private kitchen meal I have ever had. It had the taste of home cooking but so much more extraordinary than any dishes from home.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 17
Translation by John Chui
[Chinese version 中文版]
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