The International Writers Magazine: On the Importance of Custard
Chop Sticks Are Outshined By A Spoon in Hong Kong. - adapted from “A La Carte”; Tales of Food & Drink Digested From 55 Years Of International Travel
Little did I know when leaving Mainland China’s Hung Hom Rail Station for Hong Kong, that a spoon would be my hero in what was obviously a Chop Stick city.
It didn’t happen on day one, when less than an hour after arriving we joined friends on a Star Ferry to cross the teeming Harbor, headed for a Burger King on the Kowloon side to satisfy the hunger of a women traveler who craved a Burger, Fries and a Coke; she’d been a fussy eater all during our mainland tour.
After Lunch, Claryce and I left the group to push through the crowded Hong Kong streets, window shopping stores that featured factory made copies of Cloisonné originals we’d seen on the Mainland. When we asked why Hong Kong prices were 10 times higher than the better made Chinese originals, the store owner sneered, dropped cigarette ash on his vest and walked away.
Next morning, from the top of Tiger Balm Park with its impressive statuary and ugly overview of hundreds of the slum homes below, we bussed to the Victoria Peak high rent district with its panorama of the Harbor that owners of the Million Dollar Mansions and $5000 a month condos have. Then to the Repulse Bay Jockey Club where we bid fond farewell to tour members flying home that evening.
Since we weren’t, having opted to spend another three days on our own, we hailed a sampan for a ride past the countless boats which served both as transportation and family living quarters. Our get off point was the giant floating restaurant “Jumbo”, for a look see and to book reservations for dinner that night.
Finished with that task, we shopped shops in the area including Wu Fen’s impressive Chinese Goods and On Wing Department stores.
At six that night we were back to a spectacular greeting; “Jumbo’s” multi-decks were ablaze with blinking, sparkling and moving lights giving the restaurant the look of the gaudiest honky-tonk. Expecting more of the same on board, we were delighted to find a sedate sense of gaud; a riot of color and gold leaf, yet, the seating on its three decks gave tables sufficient separation to afford a sense of privacy.
Sipping cocktails, we tackled an unbelievable menu of more than 100 seafood dishes. Almost anything that swam was in one of Jumbo’s more than 60 holding tanks. On the menu were specials such as Scallops in an Egg White Cream Sauce or Wok-Tossed with Mango and Macadamia Nuts. One whole page was dedicated to Crab dishes, another to Maine or Australian Lobster as you’d like it. Clams, Oysters, Mussels and most every eatable shell animal filled other tanks.
Though the options were daunting, our picks were mundane by Asian standards, sticking with our more traditional favorites, starting with a Barbequed Pork appetizer, then succulent Indian Ocean Prawns with Chinese Spinach and a small dish of cracked Crab with Bok Choy flavored Noodles.
For my beverage a tankard of Tap Tsingtao fresh from a nearby brewery proved again how good that beer could be. Actually, the menu had a full page of beers both on tap and in bottles with local names we didn’t know and familiar imported brands we did.
On the ride back to shore Claryce and I agreed our “Jumbo” experience had been worth the effort and cost. The Sampan ride was free.
The next day, not knowing what wonder awaited us that evening, we repeated much of we’d done with the group, but at a leisurely pace, getting a good feel for the shops on Hollywood Road and the Cat Bazaar. We actually bargained for a handsome Porcelain vase, but bugged out, even though they offered to ship it. We’re good shoppers, bad buyers.
Lunch was Dim Sum in a huge restaurant with seemingly hundreds of bustling Chinese. Choosing from passing carts, we had our bill “chopped” for many of our favorites but all better than we’d ever tasted them before, working our way through Barbequed Pork Buns still warm from the oven, a plate of Spinach mixed with those huge, delicious Black Mushrooms, Shrimp Sui Mei and Chicken pot stickers, all wonderful, all considerably pricier than on the mainland,
but much less than L.A.
4 hours later after visits to The Heritage and Art Museums and a tour of the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Museum, we ducked into the Sushi house Nadama ahead of a rising storm. Sitting at the counter, we admired what the Chef’s flashing knife did to bits of Fish, Seaweed and Rice. Our order was Yellowtail and Sea Eel, then a Spicy Tuna Roll and slices of Octopus, very generous slices. Still hungry, we ordered a second Yellowtail and a Crab Avocado Roll which
at home is called a California Roll
During our two remaining days, we visited a Government sponsored Arts and Crafts showing of wood work from many cities we had visited and just enjoyed the energy and competitive spirit evident everywhere.
That night was for us, a much looked forward to return to Victoria Peak, this time with a tram ride to the top for dinner at the Peak Restaurant. From its balcony with Martini in hand, there was that harbor panorama we’d seen earlier, but this time every building and billboard abutting the harbor was a blaze with lights. Who pays that hefty electric bill?
Looking at the Peak menu for what turned out to be a superior and surprising dinner, we sipped away. When dinner was ready, our drinks were brought to a table where our soup was waiting; how sensible. On the table surface sat silver ware and chop sticks side by side, not aware that later one would far outshine the other.
Our soup was delicious, a Thai Hot and Sour Seafood pouring with generous “chunks” of prawns and lobster among other fish bits. For her main course, Claryce had Indian Chicken Curry while I spooned and forked my way through Italian Penne surrounding whole, huge Indian Ocean Prawns.
But for all that, it was the end of meal sweet where the dessert spoon proved it’s superiority by introducing me to a heavenly dish, cooked Almond Custard. How good was it? Anywhere in worldwide, whenever the menu is Chinese, it’s the first thing I look for. No Chop Sticks needed. Luckily, Almond Custard was also on the menu next night at Kim Chiang Lee, a
Restaurant with a sister operation in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Again the custard was a touch of heaven.
With the Almond Custard as the draw, next night we met again at Kim Chiang Lee after C had shopped her fill and I had visited Hong Kong post production facilities
Arriving at Kim Chiang Lee with our hunger on high, we dug in, sharing a dish of Sautéed Shrimp, a plate with those colossal, delicious Black Mushrooms, then finishing with Pork and Mixed Chinese Vegetables.
Well not quite finished. There was Almond Custard to reckon with, this time better than the night before, because it had been heated and sprinkled with almond nut shavings. Never was there a more satisfying dessert than that dish of Almond Custard. Never had a dessert spoon deserved to be honored for a more noble purpose.
Next day, as we said “Zai Jian” to Hong Kong, the unspoken question was what new wonder would come our way, courtesy of some soon to be met imaginative chef.
Flying home on my Birthda I was feted twice celebrating with a candle on a cupcake on each side of the International dateline. But, darn no Almond Custard.
ALMOND CUSTARD RECIPE
* 3-1/3 cups butter, divided * 1-1/2 cups sugar * 6 egg yolks, beaten * 1-1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin * 1 teaspoon almond extract * 1 teaspoon Spice Islands®, All Natural, No Corn Syrup Added, Pure Vanilla Extract * 2 cups heavy whipping cream, whipped
*1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
In a double boiler, combine 3cups milk and sugar; add egg yolks. Cook and stir over medium heat for 10minutes or until mixture coats the back of a metal spoon and a thermometerreads 160°.
* In a saucepan, combine gelatin and remaining milk; let standfor 1 minute. heat on low until gelatin is dissolved. Stir into custard. Chill until partially set. Stir in the extracts. Fold in whipped cream. Pourinto a shallow serving dish. Refrigerate until set, about 45 minutes.
Sprinkle with almonds before serving. Yield: 8-10 servings.
© David Russell December 2010
“The Loch Lomond Monster”