Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The Dim Sum Diaries (Part III - Birds and Pigs)

Being hearty healthy ravenous people, just the thing after a long cold face-numbing hike in the hills or along the dark city streets was the beckoning fragrance of a freshly roasted bird or pig, just off the spit.

Due to pollution control regulations, very few places are now allowed to roast their meat over charcoal fires. Wing Yup Lung is one of the few remaining restaurants with a permit to do so. They are well-known among locals for their roast pork and goose. The pork was crispy and moist and the skin of the goose came off easily from the tender flesh. (Detractors say this is achieved by the insertion of a bicycle pump just under the skin before the goose is carved up. But the meat is delish regardless.)

The fast turnover ensures that the meat is always fresh and hot from the spit. While we were there, a whole pig was brought in, still steaming from his restful sizzling over the fire. He was hung on a hook, almost reaching the oily floor tiles, and sliced open immediately still dripping with his own delicious fat and served to ogling customers.

We could not miss an expedition to Yung Kee of course. Trooped into the restaurant after a long nippy hike up to the Peak and a chilly stroll some way round it. The goose came when our numbed faces had thawed in the warmth of the boisterous chatter of families around us and small cups of hot tea. Preserved egg and ginger were served as appetisers.

Yung Kee apparently started as a roadside stall catering to seamen in the 1940s. But good roast geese can't be kept down and people started flocking to this institution. Yung Kee is another place with a permit to continue roasting their lovely geese over charcoal fires; fresh geese tender from their diet of maize from the family farm on the mainland. Flew some home.

They were flavourful and roasted to just the right crisp without dryness. Moist and succulent with a hint of gamey aftertaste.

When we moved our field HQ to the New Territories, we set up camp in Sha Tin, minutes away from the famous roast pigeon of Lung Wah Hotel Restaurant. Red lanterns led the way past cockatoos, pigeons and a peacock (hmmm...wonder how he would taste...) to a crowded restaurant lit by flourescent lights. The roast pigeon was wonderful and juicy. Too little meat though. Maybe the peacock would have done the trick...

The salt-baked chicken at Chuen Cheung Kui Restaurant was mind-blowing. Mostly reluctant to venture beyond the suppleness of the mid-wing joint (never understood the chicken breast phenomena), I couldn't comprehend how so much white meat could be so tender and soaked with taste. Walloped about half the plate before anyone had the presence of mind to take a photo.

Yet somehow, all these birds can't seem to compare in my memory, to the roast duck from Four Seasons in Queensway, London. Almost cried when I ate that one starving student winter. Have never tasted anything like that since. Remembrance of Things Past would have been far thicker if Proust had dined on roast bird instead of nibbling at an insipid madeleine.

PS: It is often suggested that birds be poached/steamed before roasting to ensure tender flesh and crisp skin. Like Nigella Lawson's mother, I'm fairly confident of a lemon and an onion up the butt. Lawson quotes Kafka's (Barbara that is) suggestion of high-heat blitzing. Does anyone in Singapore even own an Aga?

The Dim Sum Diaries (Part II - Dim Sum)
The Dim Sum Diaries (Part IV - Noodles and Rice and some noodling around)
The Dim Sum Diaries (Part V - Snacks)

Wing Yup Lung
392 Portland Street, Mongkok

Yung Kee
32-40 Wellington Street, Central

Lung Wah Hotel Restaurant
22 Ha Wo Che, Sha Tin

Chuen Cheung Kui Restaurant
108-120 Percival Street, Causeway Bay

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