Eel Skin Chips and Roast Goose: Chef Jenn Louis's Guide to Hong Kong
Star chef Jenn Louis shares her favorite places to eat and drink in Hong Kong.
When one of your super talented and favorite friends asks you to help out cooking some dinners and classes in Hong Kong, you say: “YES, I WILL BE YOUR SOUS CHEF!” That chef was Anita Lo of Annisa Restaurant in New York City, who was asked to cook a few dinners and teach a few classes for the Asian Society of Hong Kong. "It was my first trip to Hong Kong and I fell in love with the people, their food and the culture," says chef Jenn Louis. Here, here must-visit spots in Hong Kong.
WHERE TO STAY
The Conrad Hotel is connected to the MTR, the underground subway system, making it super convenient to maneuver all over the city. The rooms are large and modern, the hotel staff is friendly and the view from the upper floors is amazing. There is a really nice pool and gym—necessary when you eat as much as I do when I travel.
WHAT TO EAT
Wah Lam Noodle
The first day on the trip I met up with a high school classmate, Tim, who lives in HK. I told him I was hungry and wanted something delicious and authentic. He took me to a small hole in the wall with scattered tables, white walls and chopsticks on the tables. He ordered for me and we ate brisket, beef ball and fish cake soup with rice noodles. It was the perfect introduction to HK and all of the rustic and authentic flavors of the culture, plus Asian soups are some of my favorite foods. Of course there is nothing like a hot soup culture when the weather is 90 degrees and so dense and humid!
That night we met up with Tim again. He brought a bunch of friends who grew up in HK with him. They were Chinese-British, Chinese-French and Chinese-Chinese. HK has such an incredible mix and combination of people from all over the world and so many languages are spoken interchangeably. We ate fried flat-headed shrimp; crab with mung bean noodles; and greens with fermented mustard greens and pork belly.
Lin Heung Kui
The following morning we met up with a local restaurateur and the director of the Asian Society for dim sum. A friend had recommended a local joint, and she was so right. This restaurant is on several floors of a building, still using the dim sum cart system. It was bustling and fortunately for us they took reservations. The food was outstanding. The tripe was the best I had ever had. Tender rice noodle rolls with sesame seeds were delicious dipped in their accompanying oyster and chili sauces. The restaurateur who we were with knew of an off-menu item of skewered fat back, char siu and chicken liver that was grilled, then separated off the skewer. It was crazy rich and so, so tasty.
Late-ish night, after a dinner that Anita and I cooked, we headed out to Tsui Wah, an institution: think American diner goes HK. The food was a multi-cultural mash-up. We had delicious Malaysian curry with chicken, a pork chop baked on fried rice with tomato and cheese (what?!) and a fish ball soup that had a sweet seafood broth.
We then headed to Kowloon, a neighboring area, to try Chiu Chow cuisine, which was a very different style than anything we'd eaten so far. We had an oyster omelet with vinegar sauce, goose meat, intestine, kidney, pork belly and egg on a large platter, whole fish and braised mustard greens with garlic, ginger and a bit of pork.
After lunch we were treated to fresh, soft tofu with light syrup and sprinkled raw sugar on top. The tofu was made in large ceramic crocks and was so soft and delicate.
Second dessert (yes, second dessert) was a gorgeous and warm egg custard tart. It is preferable with flakey pastry, which is said to be old school, rather than the crisp short crust that is substituted these days.
The next morning, we walked around the Landmark area, through the windy streets filled with shops (both casual and very posh), restaurants, bakeries and tea houses. A regular customer from my restaurant, Lincoln, told me that I must stop at a small local bakery and have a pineapple bun with roast pork. The bun was the size of a large hamburger bun and was the texture of tender brioche. The filling was chopped pork in a sweet in savory sauce and the bun was topped with a sugary crunch.
The bakery also specialized in a good wife pastry: a small flakey pastry disk served warm with a filling somewhere between sesame paste and soft almond paste.
San Xi Lou Sichuan Hot Pot
This was a really amazing dinner, albeit crazy hot. We could not decide what to order so…we ordered everything. From thinly sliced pork belly, pork dumplings and beef, to ong choy, cilantro and yam. Our table was full and we ate way, way too much.
My friend met up with us again and promised to take us to a roast goose restaurant: think awesome roasted Pekin duck but substitute goose. The crispiest golden roast goose was delivered to our table with bowls of delicate broth and noodle soup to eat alongside. We chose to eat it with two sides of bok choy with fermented tofu sauce and gai lan with oyster sauce.
That evening we took a boat ride to Lamma Island, about 30 minutes from the ferry building. The views of HK were amazing, and the breezes off the water were very welcomed, as the heat and humidity can be stunning. Lamma Island is known for its seafood: we chose what we wanted out of the tanks and our table was slowly filled with one unique preparation followed by another, from whole fish and clams, to squid and shrimp. We ended the dinner with tender rice pastries with mango and durian.
WHAT TO DRINK
Coffee is on the rise in HK, but there is a deep tradition of British tea. The quality is excellent and afternoon tea is served throughout the city. There are many cooling teas, made with herbs that are said to have cooling effects from the intensely hot weather. Milk tea is a sweetened black tea on ice—think Vietnamese coffee with less sugar. It is super tasty. The people of HK also drink beer, the local is Tsing Tao, but there are lots of varieties readily available.
WHERE TO SHOP
Shanghai Road kitchen Shops
This old shop is the place to go for wood cutting boards cut from a single piece of wood, bamboo steaming baskets used for dim sum and seasonal items such as wood mooncake molds. You can also find all kids of kitchenware ranging from stock pots and wooden spoons to drinking glasses, serving platters, olive oil dispensers and much more.
Chan Chi Kee
This is the place to purchase genuine handmade woks and knives. They make their own knives and each is stamped with the company name and that they were made in HK. I love collecting kitchen tools when I travel, and bought a couple of cool whisks and a knife at this family-run shop.
Tai Po Wet Market
This wet market is a great market to tour. There are several floors alternating prepared food stalls, produce, dry goods, fresh noodles, salted meats and fish, and housewares, plus one floor with an incredible selection of seafood. We tasted a bunch of dishes from the prepared stalls. Some standouts included soup with beef brisket, tendon and tripe; fish soup with noodles and eel skin chips; quail egg and pork dumplings. I loved all of the greens in the produce areas, and tasted a few fruits that were new to me, like Indian mango and round mulberries with a big pit in the center.
If you are a mall rat, which I am not, there are some truly baller malls: Pacific Place, Landmark and all of the underground labyrinths stemming from the MTR, the public (and so very clean and orderly) subway system. The malls house beautiful clothing shops, very high-end jewelry stores, restaurants and some theaters. The afternoons get hot, so these are good options to check in and cool off.