For me, a trip to Hong Kong is about nostalgia, about the things from my childhood, and the decade I spend here as an adult. The energy of the environment, the friends, the memories, and most of all, the myriad of food available to those who have the thirst for adventure. I have a list of things I want on this trip, and Shanghainese food is one of them. This is my family’s history, and these are the dishes I grew up with. Some dishes I am able to find in California, others, not even available to the inaccessibility of the ingredients.
My family will always eat Shanghainese food because we are originally from Shanghai — my parents, not me. There are several places we will eat at, one of which is 寧波旅港同鄉會 (Ningbo Residents’ Associations). This is where I remember lavish dinners hosted by my dad, my godfather, and so many of their friends. It is where you will hear the boisterous Shanghainese dialect freely spoken, while enjoying this very regional Chinese cuisine.
However, there is a catch. You have to be a member! I’m not a member, but my brother is, and my godfather is one of the directors, so I’m able to “name drop” and be able to get a table. You can secure a reservation via a member — if you’re in HK and want to dine here, let me know!
On this particular trip, I am excited yet saddened — excited that I am eating my first Shanghainese meal in Hong Kong, but sad because the food isn’t as good as I remember. I will highlight the ones I enjoy and comment on a few I love, but disappointed with. Please note the menu is completely in Chinese, so I am translating (as best as I can) the items into English. I also don’t have all the prices for this restaurant.
葱油海蜇 Jellyfish Topped With Scallion Oil (HK$95/USD12.20) is a dish I grew up eating. The one here is lovely, with a beautiful bouncy texture which crunches in my mouth. The scallion oil is fragrant and offers a wonderful heady finish.
韭黄鱔糊 Chinese Yellow Chives With Eel (HK$150/USD19.35) is one of my favorite dishes. I have never seen it in the US, therefore, I crave it whenever I am here. It is thick and rich, with the fragrance from the yellow chives I so love. The eel is bouncy in texture with a slight crunch, but not rubbery. This is the way it should be.
One of my most favorite dishes is 苔條黃魚 Yellow Croaker with Shanghainese Seaweed. Pieces of yellow croaker are coated in a batter dotted with 苔條 an aromatic dried seaweed which evokes so many memories in my mind. I am sorely disappointed by this dish due to the heavy coating covering the fish. It is a little greasy and not delicate like I remember.
蒸臭豆腐 Steamed Stinky Tofu is phenomenal. Topped with edamame, sliced shiitake mushrooms, bamboo shoots and julienned chile peppers. It is definitely an acquired taste and not for the uninitiated. Some restaurants in the US offer this dish, but to me, it is not stinky enough.
Last year, while visiting my parents, I asked my mom to make 腌篤鮮, a casserole comprising Chinese ham, tofu knots, bamboo shoots, pork and vegetables. We don’t get this in US restaurants, but here in Hong Kong, it is available at Shanghainese restaurants. It is time consuming as it requires hours of simmering to achieve the desired result. The one here is stellar, clearly visible from the “milky” broth.
The rest of the dishes are disappointing, a heartbreaker for me because I am so looking forward to it. However, my dad saves the day and we embark on a trip to 香港老飯店 Hong Kong Old Restaurant in Tsim Sha Tsui for another Shanghainese meal the following week. One of my dad’s friends joins us.
The owner, Mr Hin Wai Leung has a long history with my dad and his friend — a 40 year long history — when he was just a head server at 香港蘇浙滬同鄉會餐廳 Kiangsu Chekiang and Shanghai Residents (Hong Kong) Association — and darts over to shake their hands when he sees them. When my dad tells him I’m a food writer in the US, he is excited and wants to pose for a photo.
I’ve been craving 馬蘭頭 (HK$118/USD15.20) a cold salad using dried tofu and a wild vegetable called ‘ma lan tou’ or Indian Aster. The previous restaurant sold out of this dish, so it’s been quite a while since I’ve eaten it. The knife work is impressive, comprising an extremely fine dice. The ingredients are then tossed with soy sauce and sesame oil.
涼拌海蜇頭 (HK$128/USD16.50) is another dish I absolutely love. It is jellyfish, but using the ‘head’ of the jellyfish which is crunchier and thicker in texture than the body (see previous jellyfish dish for reference) and is also pricier. It is served with stem lettuce 莴笋 a delicacy which is blanched and tossed together with the jellyfish. The accompanying mustard is a perfect condiment to offset the fishiness that may come from the jellyfish.
My mother orders 醉鸽 Drunken Pigeon, one of her favorite dishes. It is rather customary to soak various steamed or boiled proteins in Chinese wine in Shanghainese cuisine. I eat a piece and it is good, but “drunken” is not a style of preparation I typically enjoy.
The next dish is 热素鹅 Hot Mock Goose (HK$108/USD14). This dish can be served cold as well, but will not possess the crispy exterior like the hot, which has been slightly charred on the outside. There isn’t any goose in this dish. In fact, it is vegetarian. Sheets of dried tofu is layered and stuffed with mushrooms, rolled into a packet, lightly pan-fried in a hot pan and then sliced. It is absolutely delicious and impeccable in taste and texture.
请炒虾仁 Sauteed River Shrimp (HK$198/USD25.50) is perfection! The shrimp is sweet and sauteed with oil, a little corn starch and salt. A dish of vinegar is provided to use as a condiment. This dish evokes childhood memories of my grandmother, who absolutely adored these sweet river shrimp.
We end the meal with starches — some of us have 雞煨麵 Slow Simmered Chicken Noodles (HK$60/USD7.75) while others opt for 青菜煨麵 Vegetable Noodles (HK$50/USD6.45). I pick chicken because it is what I’m familiar with. My mom makes this at home, and so have I. The one here is a little too thick and soft in consistency, but flavor-wise, it is decent.
The 葱油大餅 Scallion Bread (HK$88/USD11.35) here is incredible, so different from the US. It is so soft and light you feel like you’re eating air. It is a must-order when you come here.
My dad will be coming back on Monday. I’m debating if I should join in again, but there is just SO much to eat here and I’m torn between re-visiting, or eating something different.
Hong Kong Old Restaurant
1/F & G6 Prat Mansion
26 Prat Avenue
Tsim Sha Tsui
B/F & G5 Nan Fung Tower
88 Connaught Road Central