Sunday, February 21, 2010

First Day – Hong Kong – Shanghai Xiao Nan Guo Cuisine

The Jumbo Kingdom Floating Restaurant off Hong Kong Island, near the Aberdeen Fishing Village (more like a very large and diverse marina) is a sight to be seen. It is a huge Hong Kong dim-summary: a gathering for parties, banquets, and tour lunches, although not a place to eat more than serviceable dim sum, less impressive than good (not great) establishments in New York, San Francisco, or even Chicago.

I spent much of my first day in Hong Kong on a Gray Line tour to gain a sense of the city, and the Jumbo was where they parked us for lunch. The dim sum selections, understandably, if sadly, were from the dark edge of the menu: a dry Steamed Barbequed Pork Bun, a greasy shrimp egg roll, bland curry noodles, and a flavor-challenged shrimp dumpling. The only two passable dishes were those that I ordered personally, a sweet Chinese Ginger Juice Pudding although with only a whiff of ginger, and a crispy fried sesame beef ball dumpling. The greatest compliment that such a meal can receive is: filling.

Jumbo Kingdom Floating Restaurant - Hong Kong

Things improved in that evening when my host – a Hong Kong native – selected a Shanghai restaurant, the Tsimshatsui branch of a chain, Shanghai Xiao Nan Guo Cuisine. The ambiance was clean and pleasant, muted, although somewhat generic, more what one describe as international style than distinctly Chinese (if Hong Kong can, in fact, be considered distinctly Chinese).

The first surprise came at the start of the meal when water arrived (Jetlagged, I didn’t care for tea). The water was served hot, which my friend informed me is considered healthful in China. The second liquid surprise was the Chinese rice wine – rather like a sweet, dark sherry, also served warm (like sake). When a dried sour plum was added the wine gained a distinctive and pleasant musky fruit aspect.

Even though there were only two of us, we ordered enough for a platoon: Asian trenchermen. The meal began with pungent marinated duck tongues. The enjoyment of the meat (and the very idea of the dish – no worse, surely, than foie gras) was moderated by the difficulty of consumption, nibbling the edges of cartilage while mismanaging chopsticks when half asleep: getting the tongue in my maw was easy, in removing less picturesque.

Shanghai Xiao Nan Guo - Hong Kong - Marinated Duck Tongues

The tongues were soon followed by a pair of lightly fried crispy yellow fish – a small white fish with a yellow tail (not tuna-type yellowtail), the size of a large herring. It was beautifully fresh, airy, and crackly in all of the ways that fried food reveals its perfection.

Shanghai Xiao Nan Guo Cuisine - Hong Kong - Fried Crispy Yellow Fish

Steamed pork dumplings are a well-known Shanghai speciality, and these bocce balls, with soup hidden inside were sturdy if not startling examples of the genre. Less special – and heavy – was sticky rice with pork rib. I am confident that this dish is no worse that how the dish was intended, but it lacked a special appeal.

Shanghai Xiao Nan Guo - Hong Kong - Pork Dumplings

Shanghai Xiao Nan Guo - Hong Kong - Sticky Rice with Pork Rib

For me – and my companion – the high point of the night was Fish Maw with Crab Yolk, advertising the Shanghai expertise with seafood. Astonishingly this dish was both eggy and slightly sour, a citrus note that cut through what could have been the unctuous quality of the loose egg sauce. Its revelatory golden color added to its appeal, as did the delightful fish maw and sweet crab. This plate was both inspired and awakening.

Shanghai Xiao Nan Guo Cuisine - Hong Kong - Fish Maw with Crab Yolk

We ended the evening with two sweet soups. First, was a light and fresh Papaya in Broth: a wake-me-up that would served as a palate cleanser had it not been warm. The final soup was a sugary rice wine soup with gelatinous rice balls. Had it remained with these ingredients, it would have been too heavy for a final note to this long symphony. Fortunately, in the liquid were some dried flowers which transformed this dessert into an incredibly fragrant memory – enough to recharge us into the warm January Hong Kong night on our way to the elegant Felix bar at the Peninsula.

Shanghai Xiao Nan Guo Cuisine - Hong Kong - Papaya in Broth

Shanghai Xiao Nan Guo Cuisine - Hong Kong - Rice Wine Soup with Rice Balls

Jumbo Kingdom Floating Island Restaurant
Aberdeen Fishing Village
Shum Wan Pier Drive
Hong Kong
2553 9111

Shanghai Xiao Nan Guo Cuisine
Unit 2, Level 6, MegaBox,
38 Wang Chiu Road,
Kowloon Bay, Hong Kong, China
2369 8899

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