Sunday, 2 June 2013


A.Wong, Victoria

I can be quite opinionated when it comes to eating Chinese food outside of China. For many years I refused to eat in any high end Chinese restaurants in London, solely because I knew I would be able to stuff my face with cheap and authentic food the next time I went back to Hong Kong. I know it is a very stupid stance, and I am working on it. I have improved over the years, and although I still have a mental barrier against places like HKK and Bo London, I have finally found a middle ground for this ridiculous dilemma – ‘fancy’ dim sum.

I used to have dim sum every Sunday when I was growing up. We would order a table full of dim sum – steamed, fried, boiled, baked, until there was literally no more space on the lazy Susan and we had to start stacking the bamboo steamers on top of each other, like this. But we would always finish ALL of the food. On occasions like this in London, where the main purpose of the meal is to catch up with family and friends, and the price should be reasonable enough for us to order whatever we want, I would go to Crispy Duck in China Town or Dragon Castle in Elephant and Castle. Both cost around £15 per head including Chinese tea and service.

I only discovered ‘fancy’ dim sum - the kind available at higher end Chinese restaurants - in this country a couple of years ago. They tend to be £1 to £3 (per portion) more expensive than my usual dim sum outlets, but the final bill is rather reasonable compared to the full a la carte menu offered at dinner. My favourite dim sum place in London - Princess Garden of Mayfair - is a great example. For around £20 per head, you get a more delicate touch to the food, space between tables, and more attentive service (Mr Noodles has blogged about it here).

An interesting find recently was A.Wong in Victoria. They do regional Chinese dishes in their a la carte menu, and they also have a short dim sum menu available at lunchtime. Here, unlike the traditional format of three or four pieces of dim sum per portion, you order by individual piece. I was sceptical about it at first, but I found that the size of each dumpling is noticeably bigger than most restaurants, so that somewhat justified the price (from £1.30 each). And traditions aside, this approach works brilliantly with solo or small group of diners who want to try different items on the menu.

We ordered almost one of everything on the dim sum menu, and a few starter dishes from the a la carte. I cannot praise the steamed dumplings highly enough – fresh prawns mixed with pork fat were generously stuffed into the siu mai and topped with a piece of pork crackling. The translucent har gau was lightly covered with subtle citrus foam which was just enough to make my tongue tingle. And the xiao long bao with truffle and Yunnan mushroom was cleverly topped with black vinegar soaked tapioca.

The real triumph was the beancurd cheung fun, filled with crab meat with a layer of crispy bean curd sheet between the filling and the rice skin. The texture was excellent and was further enhanced by the clam and crunchy deep fried garlic toppings. That was a steal for £3.50. The crispy baked char siu bao was a replica of the Michelin starred version found at Tim Ho Wan in Hong Kong. Both are filled with a hearty portion of roast pork, but I prefer A.Wong’s version as it was less sweet.

Not all dishes worked quite so well, though. I found the combination of deep fried quail egg and spring onion and ginger dip unusual. It was not unpleasant, but the ingredients did not seem to complement each other either. The 63 degree egg was perfectly gooey in the middle, however the supposed tea smoked flavour did not come through.

The bill came to £30 each on our first visit including tea, service and way too much food. We were more sensible (15 dim sum items and a plate of fried beef noodles between two) on our second visit, which brought the price down to £22. With the friendly front of house and quality of the ingredients, I thought that was very reasonable.

A.Wong is no traditional Chinese restaurant, but I would not classify it as fusion Chinese either. Although certain modern western cooking techniques were used, it is more like a development of Chinese cuisine itself, and I think it is quite a fascinating one.

A. Wong on Urbanspoon
Square Meal

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Century Egg And Pork Congee

My parents moved to Tuen Mun for a while when I was small. It is a town near the sea in the North West of Hong Kong. I have quite a few childhood memories from there, as it was the place where I first went to school, learnt how to ride a bike and owned my first pair of roller skates. Like many other Asian parents, my mum would arrange extensive activities for me to attend after school - singing, ballet, swimming, pretty much everything I am not good at now. Sorry mum!

There was a congee breakfast place that my dad used to take me to almost every day before school.  I would always share a bowl of century egg and pork congee, and a plate of deep fried dough with him. The owner’s wife recognised us as regulars so she would always give us a bit more century egg in our portion. Sometimes we would also have a small plate of soy sauce fried noodles with beansprouts instead of the fried dough, but only if I was very good. 

This is a cheat congee recipe as I used frozen cooked rice to speed up the cooking. The proper way (according to me) of cooking congee, is to marinate washed rice grains with sesame oil and salt the night before, and then boil in water or stock for at least 1.5 hours until the desired consistency is achieved. I like mine thick and heavy.

I used pork shoulder in this recipe because I like to have a bit of fat in my meat. Traditionally we use lean pork (瘦肉), like loin, which is poached until tender and then shredded to mix into the congee.

Century egg and pork congee

Serves 2

2 Century eggs
250g Pork shoulder
300g Cooked rice (frozen)
1.2l Water
Thumb sized piece of ginger, cut into short and thin strips 
1 Stalk spring onion, roughly chopped

For the pork marinade:
1 tbsp Soy sauce (this will make the congee looks a bit brown, you can use 1tsp salt instead)
1 tsp Sesame oil
1 tsp Cornflour
0.5 tsp Sugar
Pinch of white pepper

Cut the pork into small slices and then mix with the marinade, set aside for at least 30 minutes.

Put the rice and water into a medium saucepan, bring to the boil. Keep boiling at a medium high heat for around 10 minutes. Do not leave the pan unattended as it may overflow. Add the pork and a couple of ginger pieces to the pan, and then turn the heat down to medium low. Put the lid on but leave a small gap between the lid and the pan by using a wooden spoon or chopstick. Simmer for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, remove shell of the century egg, and then cut it into small pieces. Add half of the century egg pieces to the congee. Simmer for further 15 to 30 minutes, depending on what consistency you are after. The longer you leave it, the thicker the congee will become.

Use a ladle to serve the congee in a large bowl, and then put the rest of the egg and the spring onion on top to finish.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Tofu With Century Egg

凉拌菜 - literally means cold-mix dish, and they are very popular in the summer. They are normally appetisers consisting of blanched vegetables or cooked meat, which are mixed together with nuts and herbs, to be served at room temperature. Both jellyfish with sesame oil and "bang bang chicken" are types of 凉拌菜.

Soft tofu is perfect for making these cold starters. It can taste great by just adding ingredients as simple as chopped preserved vegetables, spring onion, a couple of tablespoons of soy sauce and sesame oil. I am using century egg as the main topping in this recipe, and adding extra crunch with some celery. Soft tofu generally does not require cooking, but I would always blanch it whole in hot water for a few minutes before using it. You can also steam it.

Tofu with century egg

Serves 2

1 Century egg
300g Silky soft tofu
1 stalk of celery, cut into short and thin strips
A couple of Celery leaves
1 stalk of Spring onion, roughly chopped
1 tsp Toasted sesame seeds
2 tbsp Soy sauce
1 tbsp Sesame oil
2 tbsp Vegetable oil

Remove shell of the century egg, and then cut it into 8 segments. Place tofu on a serving plate. Carefully arrange 6 segments of the egg on top of the tofu. Chop the rest of the egg into small pieces.

Place the celery on top, followed by the chopped century eggs and sesame seeds. Add soy sauce and sesame oil, and then sprinkle the spring onion and celery leaves to decorate. Heat vegetable oil over a high heat, and then add a splash to finish.

Spicy version: Add 1 tsp ground toasted Sichuan peppercorns and 1 chopped red chilli on top of the century egg. Add 1 tsp of chilli oil together with the soy sauce and sesame oil for extra heat.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Steamed Eggs With Century Egg

Steamed egg (蒸水蛋) is one of my favourite comfort foods. It only takes little time to prepare, yet is so satisfying. To me, the perfect wobbly steamed egg has an egg to water ratio of 1:1.5. The easiest way to measure this is to use the egg shells so you do not have to use scales. I use warm water in the recipe, as this is the way I was originally taught, and the result is always better (more smooth) than using water at room temperature. Boil a kettle full of water and then leave it to cool. Put your finger in the water, if it is warm but not painful then it is good to use.

Steamed eggs with century egg

Serves 2

4 Medium eggs
1 Century egg
12 Half egg shells of warm water
Pinch of salt
1 tsp Sesame oil
1 stalk Spring onion, roughly chopped
2 tbsp Soy sauce
2 tbsp Vegetable oil

Remove shell of the century egg, and then cut it into 8 segments. Arrange the slices evenly in a steam proof dish (at least 3cm deep).

Beat the eggs in a bowl until the white and yolks are fully combined. Add warm water and mix well. Add sesame oil and a pinch of salt, give it a stir. Pass the egg mixture through a fine sieve to get rid of any bubbles, and then pour it onto the century egg slices. Cover with cling film.

Place the dish on a rack over a wok of boiling water. Put the lid on and then turn the heat down to medium-low. Steam for 15 minutes. If the centre is still runny, steam for further 3 to 4 minutes.

Add soy sauce to the steamed egg and then sprinkle some spring onion on top. Heat vegetable oil over a high heat, and then add a splash of the hot oil to finish.

Variations: add salted egg (金銀蛋) , or replace century egg with soaked dried scallops (瑤柱), or just simply plain steamed egg. Best served with rice.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Century Egg 皮蛋

I have been asked so many times over the years by my non-Chinese friends, ‘Why do Chinese people eat century eggs?’. Looking at one, the shell looks just like a normal duck egg, but after removing the shell, a black jellified oval ball emerges. If I had never seen one before, I would be horrified too. I was introduced to it when I was little, probably around three, and I was not quite intelligent enough to know that a black egg is actually quite ‘unusual’. My dad used to take me to a local congee breakfast place almost every day before school. There was no better breakfast in the whole world than a bowl of pork and century egg congee(皮蛋瘦肉粥), and a plate of deep fried dough(油炸鬼).

While the gelatinous egg ‘white’ of a century egg does not taste of much, its creamy yolk carries quite a distinct metallic flavour. The classic way of serving it is cut in half, topped with pickled ginger slices as a cold appetiser. I am going to share some of my favourite century egg recipes with you in the next few posts. You are going to try them, yes?