For the past three years, I have led three food tours to Chiuchow, Shantou and Chenghai.
We learned how Chiuchow braised geese were prepared after a field trip to a farm, where a famous Chiuchow braised restaurant operated its own poultry.
We also went inside a kitchen to observe how chefs fried Chiuchow sweet taro chips on copper and iron woks.
Crab congee was made from fresh ingredients consisting of crab meat, shrimps, scallops and pork.
As for daa laang — the renowned Chiuchow cuisine — there was an eatery offering over 200 choices of marinated food, seafood, pickled products and cooked dishes for diners to customise their feast.
Although I already had a pretty good idea about food and where to find it, I was afraid the restaurants might have already disappeared — three years is a long time in a country undergoing rapid growth and development.
That was why I went to the cities to update my findings before taking the next tour.
Most of my targets have grown bigger, and fortunately, most of them also have maintained their supreme quality despite achieving greater economies of scale.
Some bosses insist on high-quality work from their staff. They take pictures of the dishes that look “less good” and bring them back to the kitchen.
Most owners of small shops show their dedication by following their own secret recipes.
The only sure thing is rising prices. Before the open door policy in the late 1980s, HK$20 could buy you a sumptuous dinner for two. Nowadays, twenty times as much could buy you only something terrible.
Food tasting is not an easy job, especially as it is hard to resist some seasonal dishes that take up your limited stomach space.
This time, it was mini mussels.
The mini mussel harvest occurs in the two or three months of the summer, and the best batch from Raoping comes in August.
Raoping — a county in Chiuchow prefecture near the South China Sea — is noted for mini mussel farming.
I finished the crab congee but I could not help but order a plate of mini mussels.
Each of the shellfish was big with strong umami flavors. It would have been more fantastic if there had been more basil leaves. Of course, I would not waste a single drop of the remaining seafood juice and drink it up.
One dish could hardly satisfy our hunger. My partner, on the way back to the hotel, bought a takeaway of the shellfish from a small shop. Despite the fact that the stir-fried dish would need slightly more “wok hei”, it was already quite a good one.
On the afternoon of the next day, we ordered mini mussels to go with Chiuchow braised goose. We had three plates of it in order to fill our strong appetite.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug. 16
Translation by John Chui
[Chinese version 中文版]
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