Location: East Asia
Population: 7.5 million
Capital: Hong Kong
Geography: A highly urbanized area on the South China Sea
Language: Chinese (mainly Cantonese), English
Signature flavours: Pork, rice, seafood, garlic, shaoxing wine, soy, sesame, greens, egg, beans
Hong Kong boasts a diverse culinary history, with influences ranging from China (their big neighbour to the north), to Portugal (the first European power to set foot in the region back in the 16th century), to Britain (Hong Kong was under British control until 1997). The result is a unique culinary culture all its own. Eric found an abundance of recipes online, and he crafted a menu that showcased the variety of ingredients and flavours in a Hongkonger kitchen, from shaoxing cooking wine to douchi fermented black beans and everything in between.
Hong Kong Clay Pot Rice: Garlicky rice, loaded with mushrooms and bok choy, cooked in a ceramic pot (Eric used the tajine we got for Morocco to great effect). Though traditionally served with pork, Eric vegetarian-ized the recipe and used tofu.
Prep and cooking time: 2 hours
Clams and Scallops in Black Bean Sauce: Juicy clams and scallops stir fried with garlic, onions, red pepper, hot pepper, and douchi.
Prep and cooking time: 30 min (plus soaking time for the clams)
Gai Lan with Oyster Sauce: Chinese broccoli sautéed in a savoury sauce and sprinkled with sesame seeds.
Prep and cooking time: 20 min
Bolo Bao: Also known as pineapple buns, these little breads are sweetened with condensed milk and topped with a thick yellow blanket of egg yolk, butter, sugar, and turmeric.
Prep and cooking time: 3 hours
Hong Kong Style Milk Tea: Black tea long-steeped with eggshell to remove bitterness, then lightened with evaporated milk.
Prep and cooking time: 10 min
The Shopping List
Having lived in Toronto where quality Asian markets and restaurants abound, Eric and I found our immediate area lacked in what we needed. We headed to somewhat nearby Centra Market after research suggested this superstore for all our Asian needs (I drew Taiwan for my next assignment, so this was a two-birds-one-stone opportunity). Having never been there before, it was somewhat overwhelming to meander through the aisles with a list of items I’d never before heard of or seen while Eric waited in the car with our dog (she insisted on coming along for the drive). I found the shaoxing cooking wine Eric needed for nearly every recipe, the raisin-looking douchi, leafy gai lan, oyster sauce, doubanjiang — a paste made from broad beans — and bok choy.
Eric started cooking early. Everything was “best served warm,” and as such, this was a challenging assignment. He finished the bolo bao early and returned to the kitchen in the late afternoon after work to cook the rest of the meal. The resulting table looked like it belonged in a fancy restaurant.
We dug into the rice first. The clay pot method is designed to get the bottom of the rice nice and crispy while keeping it fluffy and soft on top. The primary flavours come from shaoxing wine, garlic, oyster sauce, and soy sauce. The mushrooms — king and shiitake — also shine.
We scooped up heaping spoonfuls of black bean-infused scallops and had one big clam each. I loved the characteristic earthy saltiness of the douchi, and realized that I’ve been eating this ingredient in Chinese food for years without knowing what it was. The dish as a whole was incredibly flavourful — scallops soak up flavour so well, and the chewy clams brought their own fishiness to the dish.
The gai lan was wonderful. It’s not like Canadian broccoli at all — more like spinach or a long bok choy. They had reduced to thin strands in the cooking process and were oh-so-juicy in their sauce of shaoxing, garlic, ginger, and doubanjiang.
I feel like I always rhapsodize about dessert, but I think we have a knack for it. Eric’s bolo bao were incredible. The buns themselves were perfectly browned on the outside and cottony on the inside, and the yellow topping was sweet and buttery. It was terribly difficult to not take a second one.
We dipped our bolo bao in steaming cups of Hong Kong tea, made miraculously unbitter with the addition of an eggshell during steeping (I’m going to add eggshells to all cups of tea in the future, because it’s a game changer).
Eric often asks at the end of a meal which dishes would be Wooden Spoon Wanderer Showcase worthy (once this pandemic is over, we ought to have the showcase of all showcases with everyone we know), and I honestly said, “Everything!” What a diverse and delightful arrangement of flavours this assignment had, and we enjoyed every bite.
Disclaimer: I’m not a professional chef. I’m just a passionate cook with a curiosity for flavours I’ve never tried. For great recipes from gifted local cooks, follow the links above.