Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Killer Dim Sum!

I first heard about it in November of 2011 -- how famed masterchef Chen Xun had been coaxed out of retirement for a month-long dim sum promotion in Guangzhou. I was not able to make that trip, and have regretted it since. It was a meal I would have gladly killed for.

The Guangzhou-based 87-year-old Chen is regarded as one of the greatest dim sum masters of his generation. He is advisor to the Guangzhou Culinary Association and author of many cookbooks.

So imagine my surprise and glee when I learned that the masterchef had been invited to repeat his feat, this time in Hong Kong for two weeks. A few days back I finally found myself seated at Nanhai No.1 restaurant in Tsimshatsui, looking at dim sum that had been served by Chen since the 1940s.

We opened with Steamed Mountain Yam and Duck Web with Bean Curd Skin (right). The duck web had been braised and steamed along with the yam, allowing the yam, which was tied together with string made from an omelette, to thoroughly imbibe the flavour of the duck web. The taste was subtle with a light hint of superior soy sauce.
Next came Steamed Prawn stuffed with Quail Egg (left).  The prawn was minced and beaten into a paste that was smooth and slightly crunchy. The acid test for me was the taste of prawn, which came through with light seasoning. The quail egg also gave a heavier body to the bite.

This was followed by morsel-sized pastry birds, actually Baked Chicken Liver Pastry seasoned with Spring Onion Oil (below, left). The liver was light in taste, unlike the heftier flavour of most chicken liver. The pastry was typically Chinese in style, and a little on the heavy side with a hint of spring onion oil.
葱油凤肝酥 (left), 窝烧鸭脑饼 (right)

The fourth item was unusual---Baked Duck’s Brain Pancake with Cinnamon Flavour (above, right).  Each pancake used two duck brains blended with minced meat. The taste of duck brain was subtle but the texture was unforgettable. It reminded me of tofu but with a meatier smoked taste. My favorite!

When the ha kou was presented, it looked like any other ha kou except for a pronounced red blush shining through the skin. The first bite of the Steamed Shrimp Dumpling with Fresh Tomato (right) produced a light hint of tomato sourness accompanied by the crunch of prawn paste.  But the second bite clearly justified the presence of the tomato paste; the flavor of tomato and prawns is a marriage made in heaven. Yum!

I’ve never been fond of chicken siu mai (below, right), and the only occasion I would eat chicken siu mai would be in Muslim Malaysia, where the use of pork in hotel restaurants is forbidden. But Masterchef Chen Xun’s version was exquisite, the meat finely chopped and marinated with superior oyster and soy sauces. The meat on its own was already flavoursome but the marinate enhanced it even further.
网油牛肉卷 (left),  鸡茸干蒸卖 (right)

The Steamed Beef Ball (above, left) was lean beef hand-chopped, and wrapped in caul-oil which serves to moisten the meatball during steaming. The beef was further enhanced with dried mandarin peel, water chestnut, lemon leaves and coriander. From the first bite the parade of flavours from the ingredients came through, one after another!

The preparation of pomelo skin is always tedious and time-consuming, making pomelo skin as an ingredient a rare treat in restaurants. Masterchef Chen Xun mixed Pomelo Skin with Pork Belly (left) and cooked it until soft. The final mixture was then stuffed into a bun and steamed for about 20 minutes, giving it a refreshing taste quite unlike the usual char siu or chicken bun. Furthermore, the pomelo skin soaked in the oil from the pork belly, while sending hints of fruitiness seeping through the meat.

Two desserts were prepared and served for this promotion. The first was lotus paste coated with flour mixture and sesame seeds (below, right), and deep-fried until golden brown. The lotus paste was light and not too sweet like most Chinese desserts. And the sesame seeds gave a nice bite with a pungent seedy flavor.

The last dessert was my favourite -- deep-fried Banana stuffed with Red Bean Paste (below, left). The combination was refreshing and somehow tasted modern. But the restaurant staff assured me that such a combination had already existed more than 50 years ago.

Level 30, iSquare
63 Nathan Road
Tsimshatsui, Kowloon
Tel:   852 2487 3688