I lived and grew up with Hong Kong Chiu Chow Food because my father's family was originally from "Chiu Chow", a small town in Guangdong province. And they ran restaurants serving this cuisine. My father loves it so much that he cooked it at home, starting from scratch, on a regular basis.
Chiu Chow Sweet and Sour Noodles. This is always a dessert and a MUST to my family. I believe it was the tradition started from my grandfather. We had it at least once in his birthday dinner every year.
Before going further, you may ask, "What kind of cuisine is this? Where does it come from?" Chiu Chow (a.k.a. Teochow and Chaozhou) is located in northeast Guangdong province.
In my grandfather's generation, many people immigrated from there and settled in the Western District, Hong Kong and worked as coolies. It is not surprising to find many mom and pop restaurants in this district serving Hong Kong Chiu Chow food.
My mom used to go over there to buy Chiu Chow preserved olives. Everybody in my family, except me, is crazy for them. It's great for serving with rice, congee and fried eggs. It is so difficult to find even nowadays. Not many places sell this preserved olives.
Hong Kong Chiu Chow food is very extreme in price. There are 2 schools of this cuisine. One was generated from the general public and the other is for people that can pay a couple thousand Hong Kong dollars for a family meal.
But there are 2 dishes that everybody must have from both schools of Hong Kong Chiu Chow food. They are:
1) Chiu Chow congee
2) Braised Goose
Chiu Chow Braised Goose. The sauce is the most critical ingredient to prepare this dish. Every family has its own recipe.
Chiu Chow congee is like a rice soup. It's very watery and the rice sits at the bottom. To be honest with you, after all these years of having this congee at home and in Hong Kong Chiu Chow restaurants, I still don't like it. I prefer the Cantonese style which is smoother in texture.
Braised goose is mainly about the sauce that the poultry is cooked in. Every family has its own recipe. The more you use the sauce, the more flavorful it is. Everybody (I mean everybody) knows that you never dump the braised geese sauce away, but keep reusing it.
Although both my grandfather and father were business partners in running chain Hong Kong Chiu Chow restaurants one time in the past, my grandfather still insisted to make his braised geese on his own.
Before Chinese New Year, he would spend several days in his less-than-30-square-foot kitchen to cook the braised geese. He cooked several of them to give away as Chinese New Year presents to his family and friends. I wish I had gotten his recipe before he passed.
Together with the braised geese, there is always braised tofu and eggs. They are cooked in the same sauce.
In the restaurants which serve casual Hong Kong Chiu Chow food, they have the following dishes as well:
Oyster Omelet - The baby oysters are very tiny. The omelet should be
cooked to be very thin and crispy. It is always served with fish sauce
on the side. My mom always cooked this dish at home. The main
ingredient, baby oysters, is very hard to find. It is not available in
the market on a daily basis.
Chiu Chow Oyster Omelet - It must be the baby oysters which is one of the rarest ingredients you can find in the market, even in Hong Kong markets.
2) Steamed Fish Served In Cold - The fish is steamed and served in cold with Chiu Chow bean sauce, a condiment.
3) Steamed Crab Served In Cold - Very similar to the Cold Fish, but without Chiu Chow bean sauce.
4) Fish balls with flat rice noodles - There are many Hong Kong restaurants that claim they serve the original Chiu Chow fish balls. But, unfortunately, this food industry of making fish balls is deteriorating. In the past, fish balls were made by human beings from mashing the meat to forming meat balls. Now, everything relies on machines. The texture is nowhere close to the one made by hand.
5) Steamed dumplings - The wrap is made of rice flour which gives a chewy texture. It is stuffed with fresh chives and shrimp.
Just by looking at the above few dishes, you know this school of Hong Kong Chiu Chow food is mainly seafood and dumplings. So, what do the luxurious Hong Kong Chiu Chow restaurants serve?
Many of the following Hong Kong Chiu Chow food dishes were served in my grandfather's birthday dinner every year:
1) Shark Fin Soup - I don't think I need to explain any further. By looking at the name, you know what it is. Reputable restaurants serve with real shark fin, instead of adding cellophane noodles.
2) Assorted meat and vegetables - The plating of this dish is gorgeous. In the middle of it, is a carrot statue carved into a Chinese idol. Around it, there are "pearl" vegetables (deep-fried mint), cooked jelly fish and deep-fried shrimp/crab dumplings. It is served on a glass plate which makes it glittery.
The "pearl" vegetables melt in your mouth. You don't need to chew on it. Every kid loves it.
This is the Chiu Chow chicken with "pearl" vegetable. It gives you some idea how the vegetable looks like. When we were kids, we went NUTS about this dish. It was gone in no time.
3) Sesame shrimp rolls - mashed shrimp is rolled into logs and covered with white sesame seeds. Then, deep-fried.
4) Mashed taro root with salted duck - This is a slow cook dish in a traditional pottery pot and served with that pot. It is my mom's all time favorite.
5) "Tsing Sum Yuen" - Square shape "tapioca-like" dumpling served in sweet lotus soup. This is a dessert.
6) Sweet and Sour Noodles - This is not like any typical Sweet and Sour dish served in any Cantonese restaurant. The noodles are pan-seared to crispy on the outside and soft and chewy inside. Sprinkled with a little bit of sugar and balsamic vinegar as dessert. I personally just like to have sugar on top.
The picture on top of this page is the Sweet and Sour Noodles.
Chiu Chow Kung Fu Tea and those 2 little dishes of appetizers are always served in the Chiu Chow restaurant. The appetizer on the left is called "Salty and Sour Vegetables". I L.O.V.E. it.
When you step into a Hong Kong Chiu Chow restaurant, there are always 2 routines.
One is the "Kung Fu" tea which is a plate with many little cups of tea. The tea is very strong. Everybody sips and finishes the tea very quickly. There is a whole ritual to prepare this tea. To learn more, click here. My father loves tea so much that he used to spend time on brewing this tea at home.
You will get another plate of tea at the end of the meal as well.
Look at the middle of the above picture. See that plate of tea with many little cups?
After the tea, you will get a tiny plate of snack. Depending on the number of people at the table, it could be either one of the following or combination of all:
1) Sweet and Salty vegetables - It is cut in to square shape which have a similar texture of pickles which is very crunchy. I love this so much.
2) Peanuts - very crunchy salted peanuts.
On the left side of the picture above is the sweet and salty vegetables. On your right hand side, next to those little cups of tea are the peanuts.
3) Sweet and Salty vegetables with crunchy mini-anchovy - The vegetables are very similar to the one mentioned above, but it is dark green. But they are cut into long, thin stripes which are the same shape as the mini anchovy.
So, which Hong Kong Chiu Chow restaurants will I recommend? Man...I wish my grandfather and father's partnership still exists. But there are a few of them:
1) Pak Loh Chiu Chow Restaurant - This restaurant has existed for many, many years. My family dined here several times. They serve authentic Hong Kong Chiu Chow food. Their very first restaurant in Causeway Bay is still at the same location. It has been renovated a few times. There may not be many branches. But the locations are convenient enough for you to find.
A few years ago, my family and I were in their Causeway Bay branch having dinner. A very rude manager served us. That was a very bad experience. I hope that manager no longer works there.
When I visited Hong Kong in Oct 2012, we dined in their North Point branch again. It didn't take too long to get a table. It is very spacious and the quality of the food is great as usual.
2) Chiuchow Garden Restaurant - This is a division of one of the giant restaurant chains, Maxim's, in Hong Kong. In my opinion, it has some Cantonese twist on it. But it won't be bad for beginners to give a try of Hong Kong Chiu Chow food.
It is very easy to find Hong Kong Chiu Chow restaurants in Hong Kong. Every one of them always has "Chiu Chow" as part of the name. However, there are quite a few of them not very authentic.
Check out my blog for more simple recipes inspired by the Hong Kong Chiu Chow food.
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