Hakka cuisine in Hong Kong

Poverty forced Hakka people to be creative cooks, and the result was salty, rich and hearty dishes that reinvigorated the body. While the cuisine is still popular in Hong Kong, chefs are unsure how long Hakka culture can endure

Interesting article on Hakka cuisine in Hong Kong , published by the South China Morning Post.

Read full story by following this link:

via The Hakka cuisine in Hong Kong that brings diners to tears, and why restaurants serving it may be on borrowed time | South China Morning Post

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California Jerk

Google Jerk

This is a photo my daughter sent to me.  Here’s the chat* session we had. 


Hi Mom! This is what the cafe at work made for lunch today.

It looks like Rice & Peas ?

It’s Jamaican Rice & Peas with Jerk Chicken.

It don’t look like Jerk Chicken

The Rice & Peas was so-so and the chicken tasted

It looks like Curry Chicken

of  curry

But there’s no Curry in Jerk.
There’s no potatoes and gravy in Jerk.
All Jerk spices are black !

It didn’t taste of home at all

You should protest this

I can give them feedback

It is cultural misappropriation
of an iconic Jamaican dish.

Mom I have like
WORK to do

It’s OK dear.
You can come home and
I’ll make you real Jerk chicken

Thanks Mom!

🙂


(*) or something like it … same as much as this is Jerk.

A New Obsession

Sandy Breads 2

It’s been a while since I last posted. Months actually. The funny thing is, my Stats page tells me this site has been getting regular hits every day.  Without exception every day someone views  Ham Choy is Kiam Chye is Hum Choy.   If I was a Views hound, I’d rename the blog to The Ham Choy Chronicles and post exclusively about this Hakka staple.

Too bad I am not a hound.   I blog about what I like and I have a new obsession: Bread.

The first time I made bread was when I was in Singapore and homesick for a  traditional Jamaican style sweet bread:  Home-made Easter Bun … the Non-Fail Version.

Encouraged by my limited success I continued to make  more bread.  That was two years ago.  Fast forward to November 2017 when I signed up for an advanced workshop on Artisan Bread at the King Arthur School @ The Bread Lab in Washington State.

For four days I learned how to make bread.  Straight dough, enriched doughs, biga, poolish, sourdoughs, ryes. We covered all the basics of handmade, long rise bread. Some of it went over my head but I grasped the fundamentals and relished the fruits loaves of my learning.

Ever since I’ve been making hearth style breads regularly.  I don’t buy grocery bread anymore. And I’m still learning.  There are vast libraries of knowledge on breads and  legions of bread enthusiasts in the blogosphere.  I’m joining them. Every week I’ll be posting something about bread.

Sorry, Ham Choy readers.

But who knows, maybe someday I’ll experiment and create an new type of bread: Ham Choy buns.  You’ll be the first to know.

Toronto, Canada. 2018 

 

The Hakka Cookbook. Chinese Soul Food

It’s that time of year when everyone  is thinking about presents.

large version of cover of The Hakka CookbookHere’s a suggestion, give a book.

And if you’re interested in Hakka food, give this book The Hakka Cookbook.   It’s by my friend Linda Lau Anusasananan and inspiration for my series on the Hakka Heritage Food Trail.

What stands out about this book are the stories about Hakka people around the world.

And the recipes.

And the illustrations by artist Alan Lau.

Buy one for your friends.

Buy one for yourself.

Available at Amazon.com and other places listed here.

Nasi Lemak Burger

Capture

Singapore’s National Day was August 9. To commemorate the island’s 52nd birthday McDonald’s released some special, limited time only menu items.

Top of the list was the Nasi Lemak burger: coconut flavored chicken covered with a fried egg, fresh cucumbers, grilled onions and spicy sweet sambal sauce. For drinks, there was Bandung McFizz and for dessert Kueh Salat cake, Chendol McFlurry ice cream and fried Coconut pie.

Local TV personality Genevieve Loh gave her impressions on the McD treats. It’s a riveting film clip. Not only because of her eye catching lashes (I watched with full expectation of them falling into her food 😉 ) but because of her reveal that Singaporeans like their fries dipped in ice cream! I challenged my friend Lisa on the claim. Lisa was quick to clarify that only some Singaporeans do this. Only the old timers from her & my generation. The new timer kids eat fries with ketchup and chili sauce. Ahem. That’d be the Singaporean chili sauce … a hot & tangy tomato ketchup … not the American style chili with ground beef and beans.

But back to the Nasi Lemak burger. The pictures looked good and the McDescriptions tantalizing. I had to try and because it was McDonald’s, I up-sized to a $10 set where I had 510,000,000 calories worth of burger, fries, bandung drink & coconut pie.

So how did it taste?

Well, first things first: Appearance. The official pictures looked like the image above.

My burger looked like this.

My Nasi Lemak Burger

It’s a saucy, sloppy mess of a burger. The sauce, onions and cucumbers slip around and it was challenging to get a good grip and  solid bite. Hunger, conviction and a whole lot of napkins saw me through. The chicken was good. It was real chicken not a pre-fab patty. The first bite of crunchy chicken had a strong hit of coconut flavor followed by a surprising taste of … fish?

At the second bite the fishy taste was even stronger. Everything was freshly made so where did this fishy taste come from? I dialed back to an image of traditional Nasi Lemak and remembered that aside from fried chicken, sambal & coconut rice there was always heaping pile of dry fried anchovies, ikan bilis.

Ha! Now I knew why my burgers tasted of fish. I also remembered why Nasi Lemak was one of my least favorite Singapore dishes.

Verdict: Not bad. Tasty but probably not worth the expense of calories and clogged arteries.

How about the Bandung McFizz? What’s bandung anyways?

Bandung is a local drink made with rose flavored syrup, evaporated milk and crushed ice. It looks a bit like strawberry flavored milk. It’s a favorite of Malaysians and Singaporeans, smooth and soothing after a spicy curry laksa. The McFizz version had all of the sweet syrup and none of the milk. It was super concentrated sugar water. Kind of like a fizzy lemonade with no lemons.

Verdict: Nasty.

The fried coconut pie reminded me of a Taro pie I had in McDonald’s Beijing. Warm and creamy filing with a strong taste of coconut. The Beijing version had soft cubes purple yam. The Singaporean version had cubes of hot nato de coco. The Beijing version was delicious on a cold and wintry day. The Singaporean version …lets just say that Genevieve’s idea to mix it with ice cream might be a good idea.

Verdict: Has potential but we’ll need to wait until Singapore cools down to a chilly 10C to truly enjoy it.

Singapore. August 2017

Ice Cream Sandwich

The New York Times posted an article on The Joys of a Classic Ice Cream Sandwich.  It says

“Designer ice cream sandwiches, made with amped-up cookies, fancy sprinkles and crazy flavors, can be tasty, but the classic combination of a chocolate base and vanilla ice cream pleases everyone”

Singaporeans might disagree.

This is what a local, traditional Ice Cream Sandwich looks like.

 

I had mango flavor but I could have had red bean, corn or durian.

It’s a thick slice of ice cream wrapped up with pillowy soft, rainbow colored bread because it’s a sandwich.

Singapore. June 2017

Granny’s Fried Chicken

I mentioned Terry Wong aka The Food Canon in an earlier post on Yong Tau Fu.  I met Terry in the recent launch of his cookbook “Mum’s Classics Revived.”   The book is a compilation of his mother’s recipes, as artfully described on his website.

“Any Hakka recipes?” I asked.

“Not so many,” Terry said. “but I have the famous zhar yoke.

My blank expression must have shown a  lack of recognition.

Zhar yoke,” he said. “Hakka fried pork. It’s very popular in Malaysia.”

I purchased the book and eagerly flipped to the Zhar Yoke page.  It described a recipe for pork belly marinated in nam yee and five spice powder, then deep fat fried and served dry.

It didn’t look like something I’d eaten before.  Except one of the ingredients – an egg in the marinade – tweaked a  memory of something my grandmother used to make.  I decided to try out the recipe.  I’m glad I did.

The pork was tasty but more importantly, I recognized the flavor of my grandmother’s fried chicken.

When I was little, my granny used to prepare cooked lunches and send them home in stacked tiffin pans.  My favorite lunch was fried chicken but unlike KFC or Popeye’s crispy fried chicken, her’s was always tender, full of unique flavor, with an unusual moist coating.

I now realised that  the mystery flavor was nam yee and the not-crispy coating was the light breading made from flour and egg.  As Terry says in his book, “the purpose of flour is to create a thin layer of batter to hold the seasoning” in the meat. “The result after deep frying should not be a layer of crispy batter.”

Terry’s recipe recalled a taste from my childhood that I’ve long forgotten. If you’d like a taste (with far better pictures than mine) here’s his online recipe for The Food Canon’s Hakka Zhar Yoke

Singapore. March 2017

 

Hakka Salt Baked Chicken

Hakka Salt Baked chickenHere’s a dish that’s described as classic Hakka: Salt baked Chicken.

After reading about it so many times, I had my first taste in Singapore.   Salt baked Chicken is a specialty of Lam’s Kitchen, a food stall located in the Food Opera court at ION Orchard.

Lam’s version is said to rival the famous Ipoh (Malaysia) version called Ayam Garam (Malay) or Yim Kuk Kai (Hakka).   Having never been to Ipoh,  I can’t compare but the dish in Singapore is divine.

The meat is fall off the bone tender, luscious and rich with a delicate aroma of herbs.  Served with rice, soup, cucumber garnish and chilli dipping sauce it looks like Singapore’s (Hainanese style) Chicken rice.  The cooking technique and flavor profile is quite different.  Whereas the Hainanese style is poached in broth, Yim Kuk Kai is wrapped in parchment and baked in salt.

In this video, celebrity cook Sherson Lian prepares the chicken by massaging it with salt and then stuffing the cavity with ginger, green onions and a packet of herbal soup ingredients.  Based on another recipe from The Viandd blogspot, the herbs are  Yok Chok (Solomon’s Seal Rhizome), Kei Chi (Wolfberry) and Dong Quai  (Angelica sinensis).

Notice how Sherson’s chicken comes intact with feet.  This is how I have to buy chicken in Asia. Whole and equipped with feet, toes, head and eyes!  I think the local shoppers use the head as an indicator of freshness and cook the feet for added flavor.

Personally I can do without.

Whenever I can, I ask the butcher to cut them off.   The first time, when I saw him tucking the severed pieces back in the package, I also learned to say “Discard! I don’t want!”

Singapore.  February 2017

 

In Myanmar – Ham Choy is Monnyinjin

I was walking through a market in Myanmar (modern day Burma) when I  noticed a familiar sight.

It looked like ham choy.

I went closer and sniffed.

It smelled like ham choy.

Could it be ham choy?

We were in the Shan State of Myanmar, high in the mountains of the Nyuangshwe Township, around Burma’s famous Inle Lake.  Myanmar is bordered by India, China, Laos and Thailand.  In the faces of its people (*)  you can see its mixed ethnic heritage and in the food, the flavors of India and China are heavily apparent.

Myanmar’s population is 3% Chinese with Han roots from Fujian, Guangdong and Yunnan.   Hokkien, Cantonese and Hakka histories are all present here.   It’s no surprise to find familiar foods in regional specialties.

Mohnnyin tjin (မုန်ညင်းချဉ်) is one of those specialties. The name translates to ‘sour mustard greens’ and the recipe involves cold pickling vegetables with salt, sugar, rice, vinegar and spices.  While mustard greens are typical, white radish leaves and almost any other vegetable are also used.

Sound familiar?

How about  a Burmese dish made with ‘Three-Layer Pork with Mustard Greens and Tofu‘ from Naomi Duguid‘s cookbook “Burma: Rivers of Flavor”?

Definitely familiar.

Unfortunately I never had a chance to taste the dish in Myanmar.  However Eating Asia‘s blog post on the recipe and process reads almost identical to making ham choy and pork. If I ever go back  I’ll have to seek the dish out and tell you what it tastes like.

(*) For a look at the faces of Burmese people, see  Myanmar Portraits in my sister blog TheSandyChronicles.com

Myanmar.  January 2017

Discovering Traditions

One of the hazards of reading information written in another language is relying too heavily on Google Translate.   I use this app all the time to translate menus, signage and web pages.   Sometimes it works very well.  Sometime, not so much.  When I came across a FB page with a  Surinamese version of stuffed bitter melon (niong fu gua)  I eagerly translated the ingredients written in Dutch.  When ‘sardines’ came back, I put it down as a dodgy translation.  After all who would stuff fu gua with sardines? How could that even work?

In response to one of my Hakka Heritage posts, Simone Tai clarified the mystery to me. She said:

Great post! And love your thoughts at the end….does it really matter? I know whenever I meet someone who knows about Stuffed Fu Ga that they are Hakka and likely Chinese-Jamaican! … My mom’s recipe calls for tangerine peel and salted fish (she used canned sardines as a substitute). I never did like Stuffed Fu Gah…too bitter. But have come to enjoy it, first for nostalgia but also a new version: omit both tangerine peel and sardines…I like it much better!

Sardines were a substitute for salt fish! Aaah. Huh? There’s salt fish in stuffed fu gua? I didn’t know that.

When I mentioned Simone’s reply to my Dad his reaction was immediate.

“Yes, my mother used to make it with salt fish too!”

He’d never liked it because of the smell. He recalled that his mother would corn fresh fish with salt, wrap it with newspaper and then hang it out to dry.  It sounded like something  I’d seen in old Chinese shops: paper wrapped fish, hung by their tails and strung up for sale.

Dried fish is a common delicacy in Asian cooking.  In Seoul’s Gwangjang market, dried pollack is especially prized and schools of petrified fish are tied up with yellow ribbons and hung like banners from suspended poles.

dried-1573

In Singapore’s Chinatown, entire sections of the market are devoted to dried goods and dried fish, shrimp, anchovies, cuttlefish and scallops are laid out in pristine displays.

dried-4 Cambodian  markets are a bit more rustic and their uniquely styled fish is splayed into concentric circles and offered for sale with dried sausages and cured meats.

dried-2In Laos, roadside stalls sell fish hung from the rafters along with wrapped and unwrapped selections laid out on tables. In these open displays, where the fish is naturally dried and closer to its source, the smell can be overpoweringly strong. Swarms of flies hover over the display, settling and moving as fans of air or hands wave them away. With this context, it’s easy to sympathize with my father’s dislike of dried fish.

My Dad says that some people (not him) love the taste of fu gua stuffed with pork and salt fish, claiming that the additional aroma of fish makes it truly authentic.

My mother and her mother have always made the filling with ground pork and fresh shrimp. I grew up thinking this was traditional. Apparently not. In a quick poll, I discovered that 1) most people don’t make stuffed fu gua anymore, 2) those that do, make it wholly with pork  and 3) never ever with shrimp.

So where did my mother’s recipe come from?  Did her mother come from a different village in China?  or did my father’s abhorrence of salt fish force a substitute which then became a new tradition? I’ll never know.

This experience though, has had me poking at what’s truly authentic heritage food. Is it defined by recipe or taste? Is it specified by ingredient or by flavor? Within each family, do traditions evolve according to  preference and a what time does preference get molded by tradition ?

Growing up I’ve never eaten Chinese salt fish. I admit to being curious.  Last week I tried a Cantonese style fried rice cooked with egg and shreds of dried salt fish.  It wasn’t bad.  Maybe I’ll add it to my next batch of niong fu gua. My Dad is in another country, thirteen time zones away.  He won’t mind.

Singapore. November 2016