Friday, January 29, 2010

Highlight #279: Michelin is only for Gwailos

Michelin came to Hong Kong and Macau in 2010. The welcome was not warm, not from the Chinese anyway. Call it superiority complex acting up or whatever, but no Chinese honestly believes that Gwailos (Catonese slang for foreigners) really know anything about the depth of Chinese cuisine, especially when all the regional nuances are concerned. The Hong Kong authoritative magazine on fine living actually included a letter from the editor-in-chief titled "Don't believe Michelin."

Resentful feelings aside, Michelin did give my favorite soup bun venue, Din Tai Feng's HK flagship, a one star, which in my eyes was quite on point (the food is spectacular, but the setting is shy of the three star golden standard.) The remaining star distributions on the two islands, however, do raise many question marks.

At Din Tai Feng, a meal should start and end with buns. We like to start with a steamer of crab and pork soup buns. Unlike the true Shanghainese version, DTF's take has thin and stretchy rather than thick (in comparison) and fluffy skin. The soup is ultra rich and intensified with crab roe.

Beyond the standard soup buns, almost everything that comes in a steamer is good here. These shrimp xiao mai are also soup filled and are quite what the Chinese call bouncy, meaning toothsome with some resistance, a good quality indicator for fresh shrimp.

The veggie dumplings have more than thirty handmade folds each. It's trance inducing to watch the helpers in the kitchen make these at break neck speed.

We like to progress to hand pulled noodles. Here are two very different noodle dishes made from the same batch of noodles. First up is this clear brisket noodle soup. If you are used to seeing briskets in heavy sauces, this is a revelation. The very plain looking brisket is immensely beefy and fall apart tender.

This Taiwanese Dan Dan noodle is a twist on the original from my native Sichuan. I am no purist, so I like this much peanutier and much less spicy version. When mixed, the peanut dust on top evenly coats each strand of noodle and form a peanut butter like paste with the spicy sauce.

Naturally dessert also comes in a steamer. Aren't these red bean peach buns just over the hill adorable? I love giving each fluffy one a nice squeeze to burst the skin before biting into the warm and melty middle.

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