Searching for Hakka restaurants in Bangkok

On past trips to Thailand, I had never found any Hakka restaurants. I knew Hakka lived in Thailand, but most Chinese I had met previously were Teochow. Through my book, I had met a Hakka who grew up in Bangkok. Luckily when visiting Thailand a few months ago, my new Hakka friend offered to give me a tour of Bangkok’s Chinatown.

Piang Ki Pochana
Tel: 02 221 6024

As we explored the streets bustling with Chinese New Year shoppers, we decided to try a hidden, old time Hakka restaurant in the area. Piang Ki Pochana is tucked into an alley on the way to Wat Kusolsamankarn and The Hakkas Association of Thailand. This tiny hole-in-the wall restaurant specializes in Hakka dishes. We ordered the tofu skin stuffed with minced pork, steamed stuffed tofu, pork belly with picked vegetables, and red-hued stir-fried rice noodles. Our favorite was the paper-thin tofu skin wrapped around a bit of minced pork and fried until extra-crisp. We dipped the crispy morsels into a sweet sauce infused with bits of pickled garlic.

Library at the Hakka Association of Thailand

Afterwards we visited the Hakka Association that includes an event hall and a small library. The library contains Hakka books and publications, most are written in Chinese. If you’re ever in Bangkok, check it out.

A few days later, we tried another Hakka restaurant Aiew Hin Pochana, a short BTS ride outside of city central.

Aiew Hin Pochana
Tel: 086 9456261

At this small homey restaurant we dipped small fried spring rolls filled with pork and water chestnuts into a sweet garlic-infused syrup (photo below).

Pork-filled spring rolls at Aiew Hin Pochana

Their version of pork belly moi choy was dark and succulent. Pork-stuffed tofu chunks, pan-browned on one side and braised in a clear sauce, flecked with red yeast had a mild flavor (photo below).

In our limited tasting of Hakka food in Bangkok, I was surprised to find the dishes rather mild in flavor, especially in the local environment of very spicy Thai cuisine. I need to try more dishes to get a bigger picture of the Hakka restaurants in Thailand. The red yeast rice (kuk 紅 米 麴 ) was present at both meals. These tiny dark red particles are a fermentation by-product of the red yeast growing on cooked non glutinous rice. It adds a deep red color and faint mineral flavor to rice wine, soups, sauces, and fermented bean curd.

Anyone have recommendations for Hakka restaurants in Thailand? Perhaps Hakka cooking only remains in home kitchens. Love to hear from you.

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Hakka sweets in Hong Kong

Chuen Cheung Kui Restaurant

Have you tasted these Hakka sweets–deep-fried milk or steamed Hakka buns?

Days before Chinese New Year, anthropology professor Sidney Cheung of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, took us to a local Hakka restaurant, Chuen Cheung Kui Restaurant in Hong Kong. We ate traditional Hakka dishes such as salt-baked chicken and stuffed tofu, but for me, who loves sweets, what I remember the most were the desserts. Like most Chinese desserts, they had intriguing textures but were not very sweet compared to Western versions.

Deep-fried Milk

I had read the deep-fried milk was a must-try at this restaurant. Big lumps of mildly sweet milk pudding were coated in a thin light batter and deep-fried until crisp and golden. Served hot with sugar to dip into, they were irresistible. Unlike other versions of fried custards or puddings I have eaten, these were softer and more voluptuous in size. The crisp exterior deliciously contrasted with the smooth pillow-soft milk pudding interior.

Steamed Hakka Buns

Cheung’s kids insisted we also order the steamed Hakka buns that they had eaten here before. I’m glad they did. Steamed buns, the color of aged ivory, cratered with craggy fissures, sat on a square of banana leaf. Their texture and appearance resembled the bready exterior of a steamed pork bun. The bread boasted a fine, dense, moist, tender crumb. I detected a mild caramel sweetness and golden color that might have originated from brown sugar or the Chinese brown slab sugar. Even though they had no filling, we couldn’t stop eating these soft, slightly sweet buns.

Do you know these Hakka desserts? If so, please share your recipes.

Details:

Chuen Cheung Kui Restaurant
Shop C, 1/F, Alliance Building, 133 Connaught Road
干諾道中133號誠信大廈1樓C舖
Hong Kong
Hong Kong Island, Sheung Wan

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Toronto Hakka restaurants

Chili Chicken at Royal Seafood Chinese Restaurant

Chili Chicken at Royal Seafood Chinese Restaurant

In my last post I asked for Hakka restaurant recommendations in the Toronto area. With my upcoming trip to the Toronto Hakka Conference, I wanted to try some of the local Hakka food. Interestingly, most of the suggestions feature Hakka-Indian food (aka Indian-style Hakka Chinese Cuisine). Hakka chefs from India created this cuisine by blending Indian spices with Chinese cooking techniques. Often the resulting dishes such as Chili Chicken, Crispy Ginger Beef, and Shrimp Pakoras have a crisp texture and spicy flavor that customers love.

A few people also mentioned a couple of new restaurants run by young Hakka chefs who grew up in Canada and trained in Europe. Their parents are Hakka who migrated from  Jamaica or South Africa and India. Their cooking reflects their multi-cultural background.  Based on their online menus, a few dishes reflect Hakka inspiration, but most of the dishes are creative fusions cooked with Western techniques.

With the concentration of Hakka population in Toronto, I am puzzled why there aren’t restaurants that feature Hakka Chinese food. At Royal Chinese Seafood Restaurant and Esquire Great Eastern Restaurant–both Hakka Indian restaurants–I have eaten Hakka Chinese food in the past. Friends called the restaurant in advance to arrange for a Hakka Chinese meal. So perhaps, you need to call in advance to see if the chef is willing to cook a Hakka Chinese meal. I see on the website of Royal Chinese Seafood Restaurant, they now offer some Hakka Chinese dishes. Also where are the Hakka-Caribbean, Hakka-Singapore/Malaysia, Hakka-Taiwan, Hakka Mauritian restaurants?

Following are the suggestions from local Hakka. I haven’t tried them yet except for Royal Chinese Seafood Restaurant who I interviewed for The Hakka Cookbook.

Royal Chinese Seafood Restaurant, 735 Middlefield Rd. Unit 4- 5, Scarborough, ON M1V 5H5, Tel. 416 292 8888

Fedrick Restaurant,160 New Delhi Drive (off Markham Rd) , Markham Tel. 905 472 1682 OR 1920 Ellesmere Rd, Scarborough, ON M1H 2V6 Tel. 416 439 9234

Lotus Garden, 3460 Danforth Ave. Toronto, ON M1L 1E1 Tel. 416 686 7500

Lin Garden Restaurant,1806 Pharmacy Ave. Scarborough, ON M1T 1H6, Tel. 416 491 8484

Wanlee Loy, 5651 Steeles Ave. E. #7, Scarborough, Toronto, ON M1V 5P6, Tel. 416 291 4699

Patois,794 Dundas Street W, Toronto ON  M6J  1V1, Tel. 647.350.8999

Dailo, 503 College St. (at Palmerson Blvd), Toronto, ON M6J 2J3,  Tel.647 341 8882

 

 

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Hakka in Toronto

Poster#1 THC2016 copyI’m working on my presentation for the upcoming Toronto Hakka Conference. Of course, I will be talking about food.

I will be in Toronto a few extra days and wonder where to eat. Do you have any suggestions for restaurants with Hakka chefs in the Toronto area? Would love to know where you eat and what your favorite dishes are. What’s new? I know many Hakka chefs come from India but have heard there are some with Jamaican roots. Please share your suggestions with me!

Visit Toronto Hakka Conference to register and see the program. From July 1 to 3, participants have a chance to meet Hakka from all over the world. Listen to experts speak about subjects ranging from Hakka genealogy, food, dialects, history, and much more. The Toronto area holds a concentration of Hakka from that spans the globe. At my first conference in 2008 I connected with many Hakka and interviewed them for The Hakka Cookbook, Chinese Soul Food from around the World.

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Hakka restaurants

Anthony Lin, chef/owner at Danforth Dragon in Toronto

Anthony Lin, chef/owner at Danforth Dragon in Toronto

Where are the Hakka restaurants?

I am surprised there are so few. In San Francisco, I only know of a couple—The Hakka Restaurant and Ton Kiang. Both are owned by Hakka and serve some Hakka dishes as well as other popular Chinese dishes. But in a city with such a large Chinese population why are there so few?

I suspect some restaurants may be Hakka-owned but to attract more customers they may promote a more recognizable Chinese cuisine or generic Chinese dishes. The scarcity of Hakka restaurants may exist only in North America. Although I did find more Hakka establishments in S.E. Asia, China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, the numbers still seemed rather minor. Since I don’t live there, perhaps I may not be aware of them.

Because Hakka chefs come from all over, there are variations on the cuisine they serve. Some serve Hakka-Indian, Hakka-Caribbean, or Hakka Chinese food.

Do you know any Hakka restaurants anywhere in the world? If so, please share. Provide the restaurant name, address, phone, website, email address, type of Hakka food (Chinese, Indian, etc.), house specialties, your favorites, and any other comments.

I am happy to share the information here. Looking forward to your recommendations. Thanks!

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Indo-Chinese fusion cuisine

Cumin BeefLast night I made one of my husband’s favorite recipes in The Hakka Cookbook, Stir-fried Cumin Beef (page 183). This recipe is a delicious example of creations from Hakka chefs from India. They invented a cuisine that merges Chinese techniques and ingredients with Indian spices. The result is fiery fusion that appeals to their Indian customers and made Chinese food so popular in India. Although it is not traditional Chinese Hakka food, I love the vivid, bold, spicy flavors.

The editor of Flavor and Fortune, Jacqueline Newman, first introduced me to this exciting cuisine at Tangra Masala, a restaurant owned by the Lo family in Elmhurst, New York. The flavors exploded in my mouth.

Later in the Toronto area of Canada, I discovered a large community of Hakka. Many of the chefs from India owned restaurants serving this Indo-Chinese fusion cuisine. Anthony Lin, owner/chef of the Danforth Dragon shared some of his recipes with me. I often make his cumin beef. Stir-fry thin beef strips and season with soy sauce, onion, garlic, ginger, and lots of spice, including cumin seeds and three forms of chile: chopped fresh chiles, dried chile flakes, and chile sauce. It is dry stir-fry without sauce, just lots of seasonings clinging to the meat.

For specifics follow the recipe on page 183 of The Hakka Cookbook. Or create your own version, tailoring the spice and heat level to your taste. Once I added slivers of red bell pepper to my cumin beef which added a shot of bright color. You can substitute chicken thigh for the beef.  Eat with lots of rice. Enjoy this culinary merger created by the Hakka chefs from India. You will love it!

 

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Asia Society Hakka dinner

 

Martin Yan at Asia SocietyA few days ago, the Asia Society Northern California sponsored an event on Chinese Soul Food: Hakka Cuisine at M.Y. China in San Francisco featuring Chef Martin Yan, who wrote the forward for my book, and me. Robert Bullock, Assistant Director for Programs Northern California, proposed the idea almost two years ago. When we got a date from the globe-trotting celebrity Martin Yan, we were able to pull together an off-the-menu dinner program. So many people helped–Asia Society, M.Y. China, and A.F. & Co. They organized and publicized the event. Hanson Li of Saison Restaurant donated wine.

M.Y. China vegetable carvingMartin Yan and his chefs Tony Wu and Kin Fong and I collaborated on the menu. I was impressed that the chefs had studied my book and were able to convey an authentic Hakka flavor to the dinner. Even the intricate vegetable carving by Executive Chef Tony Wu reflected the mountain home of a Hakka village. With the exception of the bitter melon palate cleanser and the dessert, the menu reflected recipes from the book. Let me share the evening with you.

M.Y. China Pork BellyAfter Martin and I talked about Hakka history and cuisine, the meal opened with a Hakka classic, Pork Belly with Preserved Mustard Greens (kiu ngiuk moi choi). This dish epitomizes traditional Hakka characteristics: robust flavors, hearty satisfaction from the rich pork, and salty savoriness from soy sauce and preserved vegetables. M.Y. China’s rendition melted in my mouth. Individual portions were presented in small clay pots. To make this dish at home, see pages 42 to 44 in The Hakka Cookbook.

Bitter Melon M.Y. ChinaFor a innovative palate refresher, M.Y. China chefs created a new dish made from bitter melon, a popular vegetable in Hakka cuisine. I was a bit surprised when Executive Sous Chef Kin Fong suggested serving the bitter melon raw. Traditionally the bitter vegetable is cooked. It is often stuffed with a meat filling, then braised or poached. Slices may also be stir-fried. The chefs shaved raw bitter melon into paper-thin slices, blanched them briefly, and served them cold in an ice bowl. A scattering of edible flower petals and a dressing of acacia flower honey and wasabi elevated a humble vegetable to royalty status. The bitterness of the vegetable was toned down by blanching and balanced with the sweetness of the honey. Although Chilled Bitter Melon is not a traditional Hakka dish, it fit the meal beautifully, refreshing the palate and cutting the richness of the preceding pork belly.

Salt-baked Chicken M.Y. ChinaOne of the most famous Hakka classics is Salt-baked Chicken. In China, the chicken is rubbed with seasonings, wrapped in paper, and cooked in a hot salt. The chicken emerges juicy and aromatic. Outside of China, most restaurants and home cooks do shortcut versions, either rubbing the chicken with salt and steaming or poaching the chicken in salted water. The results more closely resemble Cantonese white-cut chicken. M.Y. China took no shortcuts and cooked the classic version in salt, a rare treat. They showed the guests the whole chicken, partially wrapped in paper and nestled in the hot salt. Then they returned to the kitchen to cut the chicken and brought it out with a ginger and scallion sauce.  For a recipe for the home cook try my version on page 64.

M.Y. China cumin beefCumin Beef is creation of Hakka chefs from India who created a new fusion cuisine to appeal to their Indian customers. It blends Chinese cooking techniques and ingredients with Indian spices. In this dish, beef is stir-fried with cumin seeds, chile, and soy sauce for a cross-cultural fusion of enticing flavors. M.Y. China used American Kobe beef in their version. This is an easy dish to make at home, see recipe in The Hakka Cookbook on page 183.

M.Y. China gai lonThe simplicity of the Chinese broccoli (gai lan) with Sweet Rice Wine (page 230) balanced some of the stronger flavors of the meal. The same basic recipe could be used with other vegetables.

 

 

M.Y. China almond royaleM.Y. China ended the meal with Almond Royale with Ginger Syrup, a sophisticated variation of the Chinese pudding. A fresh zesty ginger syrup floated atop and seeped into an almond-scented panna cotta-like base.

The evening ended with noodle dances by the M.Y. China chefs. Imagine pulling noodles Gangnam-style.

Heartfelt thanks from a very grateful author to all who made this event so special and help me share the taste of Hakka soul food.

 

 

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Mushrooms for Hakka recipes

king oyster mushroom, noodlesExplore the rich variety of mushrooms in Asia’s cuisine.  In China, these umami rich fungi delighted us with their versatility. In Luodai  a Hakka village near Chengdu in Sichuan province, we ate the local wild mountain mushrooms braised in broth and fried as fritters. In Yunnan province we sampled a dozen varieties in the famed mushroom hotpot.

Assorted mushrooms in Yunnan.

Assorted mushrooms in Yunnan.

In North America, some of these mushrooms are cultivated or imported from China. You will discover a wide variety in Asian supermarkets. I have always loved the dark, meaty, shiitake mushrooms. Dried shiitake reside in my pantry as a flavor-building staple.

A new discovery for me was the king oyster mushroom that goes by many names such as xing bao gu, shing bao goo, king trumpet, royal trumpet, or Trumpet Royale. With these big fleshy mushrooms their large, thick white bulbous stems predominate over their rather small light brown caps. Both stem and cap are edible. These mushrooms have a  firm, meaty texture that keeps their shape when cooked. Their mild flavor deepens and becomes more robust when cooked.

These large mushrooms are wonderfully versatile. In the Hakka Cookbook, I deep-fried them and served them with Sichuan Pepper Salt (page 68) and braised them in broth (page 70).

noodles with pork mushroom sauce 2In one of my favorite recipes, Noodles with Pork Mushroom Sauce (page 104), I diced and stir-fried the mushrooms with pork, shiitake mushrooms, and garlic chives to make a robust sauce for noodles. Recently I made a vegetarian version of this recipe by replacing the pork with more king oyster and shiitake mushrooms and vegetable broth for the chicken broth. I used Pearl River Bridge Mushroom-Flavored Dark Soy Sauce to intensify the flavor. To see the recipe, visit the Asia Society San Francisco Newsletter. The recipe was featured to promote an upcoming Off-the-menu dinner featuring Chef Martin Yan and me, discussing Hakka Soul Food at M.Y. China in San Francisco on March 3, 2014.  Hope to see you there.

Discover the delicious world of mushrooms. You’ll find great variety at the farmers’ market and Asian supermarkets. They are often interchangeable, although each variety contributes their own distinct personality.

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Chinese Thanksgiving

If you live in America, you know that Thanksgiving is the greatest food holiday for Americans. Of course, if you are Chinese, you get a second chance with Chinese New Years. Since I am both Chinese and American, I celebrate both.

Chicken stuffed with Preserved Mustard Greens at the Hakka Restaurant

Chicken stuffed with Preserved Mustard Greens at the Hakka Restaurant

Ever since I ate the Chicken Stuffed with Preserved Mustard Greens (moi choy gai)  at The Hakka Restaurant in San Francisco, I always thought it would make a great Thanksgiving alternative to traditional turkey. The chicken is stuffed with a savory blend of preserved mustard greens (moi choy), pork, and mushrooms, then braised in broth. After cooking the chicken, the broth is reduced and thickened to make a luscious gravy. If you are lucky to live nearby, you can order the chicken from the restaurant. Otherwise, with a little effort, you can make it. Another alternative to a centerpiece bird would be salt-baked chicken.

If you want to celebrate Thanksgiving with a Chinese feast, consider this menu culled from recipes from The Hakka Cookbook. It is just right for a group of six adventurous diners. For a cooperative effort, ask some guests to bring the appetizer and makings for the side dishes. They can quickly finish them off in your kitchen.

Hakka Thanksgiving Ginger-Scented Squash and Peas

  • Shrimp and Chive Fritters (p. 212) or Salt-Baked Shrimp (p. 62), optional
  • Braised Chicken Stuffed with Preserved Mustard Greens (p. 233) or Salt-Baked Chicken (p. 64)
  • Ginger-Scented Squash, Peas, and Lily Bulbs  (p. 52)
  • Fresh Bamboo Shoots and Mushrooms (p. 159) and/or Chinese Broccoli in Sweet Rice Wine (p. 230)
  • Fragrant Rice (p. 59) or Steamed Rice Bowls (p. 270)
  • Ginger Soup with Sweet Rice Balls (p. 117) or Tangerines, Fuyu Persimmons, and Crystallized Ginger Slices

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Hakka Restaurant in Hong Kong

Stuffed tofu topped with fried egg with pork as served at Kong Hing in Hong Kong.

A couple of weeks ago on the way back from China, we stopped in Hong Kong for a couple of days.  Professor Sidney Cheung, whose interview appeared in The Hakka Cookbook, invited me to dinner at a Hakka restaurant, Kong Hing in Tai Wai. In this modest restaurant, we sampled several Hakka specialties such as salt-steamed chicken, stuffed bitter melon, and steamed pork belly with preserved mustard greens.

One of my favorite dishes that night was the stuffed tofu. The chef’s version came capped with fried eggs laced with bits of fried ground pork. To recreate, make the Fried Eggs and Chives (page 80) except replace the chives with bits of fried ground pork. Place the eggs over stuffed tofu (page 31, 33, 76, or 215) in a little broth in a clay pot or other small pan. Heat until bubbly, then shower with chopped green onions and cilantro. The eggs add an extra savory element to the tofu and stretch the number of servings.

Chef Lau Chung Khong

After dinner, Chef Lau Chung Khong stopped by the table. We learned he originally came from the village of Shinling, also home of the Lau Family Association. His village was a neighbor of Moiyen, where my family was from, in Guangdong province. He came to Hong Kong as a teenager and worked in some Hakka restaurants. In 1988 he started his own restaurant. At his restaurant he serves homey Hakka dishes. At lunch, the rice plates are popular with local workers.

I asked my host, Professor Cheung, if there were many Hakka restaurants in Hong Kong. He said there aren’t many because of the high rents. Hakka food has modest ingredients and most are not able to charge high enough prices to cover the rent. Too bad, since the food is so delicious.

 Kong Hing Restaurant G/F,  79-81 Tsuen Nam Rd, Tai Wai, Tai Wai

大圍村南道79-81號地下   Tel. 2691 6726 / 2601 2982

 

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