Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Chinese Chain Reaction

That last post started a chain reaction in my head, leading to this post, which I hope celebrates some great Chinese food. It also clears up the last of my notes from Hong Kong.

(Yes, I keep notes)

Yi Jiang Nan, 33-35 Staunton Street, Central, Hong Kong.
The first and only time I've had the pleasure of drinking cold beer out of a chilled bowl was at Yi Jiang Nan. It didn't make me drink any slower mind you, such a receptacle has not yet been invented. Despite this, I also managed to find room to try a few delicious brews from the extensive tea menu.

The punters here were a mix of foreigners and small groups of Hong Kong Chinese, while the decor stretched to pleasant 'scenes of rural China', with no over the top jade monstrosities. All was calm, but I'm not sure if the atmosphere was spoiled or improved by the Irish "traveller" on the adjacent table loudly trying to impress a group of American "travellers" with his 15 words of Mandarin. I didn't realise quite how many ways there are to wordlessly communicate the words "this bloke is a tosser" without resorting to the internationally recognised hand signal.

For an upmarket Szechuan place, it's not a million miles away from what gets served up in the better places in UK, albeit less sweet, with more heat, and more of an emphasis on the danglier bits of the animal. The food here is surprisingly light, and a large bowl of minced chicken wrapped in lettuce disappears quickly. The real speciality though is the crispy roast mutton with garlic sauce,.As masculine as a plate of food can possibly be, this revels in the oft-ignored robustness of mutton and pairs it with dedicated finger sucking garlickery. That is how to distract me from my beer.

Yi jiang Nan made me want to explore more Szechuan cooking, not so easy in a world of "internationalised" Chinese restaurants. Recommendations welcome.

Dims Sums at Eighteen Brook Cantonese Cuisine, 8/F, Convention Plaza , 1 Harbour Road , Wan Chai , Hong Kong
Certain people may tell you that the best dim sum are served in grotty little street cafes with dead animals hanging in the window and the smell of drains outside. Only by sitting among the ordinary folk with their bad haircuts and cheap plimsoles will you get the real authentic dim sum deal, in between slurps of tepid green tea and bouts of diarrheal anxiety.

All a load of complete lopsided bollocks of course. Street markets and backstreet cafes have their place, but where dim sum are concerned, I prefer air-conditioning and glass fish tanks over greasy windows and the scent of sweaty arses anyday.

Eighteen Brook Cantonese Cuisine in Wan Chai fits the bill alright. On the 43568th floor of some sort of swanky office building/ghastly exhibition centre, you'll find glacial A/C, Bond-villain style fish tankery and robot-ninja waitering staff. Orders are taken via some sort of bingo card system and smoothly delivered to the kitchen. The atmosphere is that of zen-like calm and precision despite the 100+ diners, which can only mean that the kitchen is like some sort of shouty, sweltering temple of doom.

Green tea comes piping hot and poured to electron microscope precision by the robot waiters. Dim sums come as delicate as dandelions, none too sticky or too greasy. Roast pork puffs are as light as clouds with a core of hot, sweet, unctuous pork. Fresh shrimp dumplings practically leap across the table to do battle with baby scallops rolled in rice sheets. Even pan-fried turnip cake is better than it sounds.

Ho's Bakery, 44 Faulkner Street, Manchester
The taste of those roast pork puffs takes me back to one of my favourite lunchtime stops in Manchester - Ho's Bakery on Faulkner Street. Ho's has a little upstairs restaurant that does a cheap and filling lunch. But the real magic is in the downstairs bakery, which churns out the best sweet and savoury pastries in Manchester.

The roast pork crisp pastries are the the most fun you can have for less than a quid. It gives me a warm glow to reminisce about how lucky I was to be able to shop in Chinatown (try the Wing Fat supermarket) once a week, and pick up something small from Ho's bakery on the way home.

The best time to go is just before seven o'clock on a winter morning, before the city has really woken up. Bleak skies, damp streets and the occasional rattle of a tram leave you feeling as though you've stepped into an Anton Corbijn photoshoot. Dodging the delivery vans and streetsweepers you can duck into the bright, scented warmth of Ho's bakery and treat yourself to a soft, golden honey bun fresh from the oven.

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