Tandoori Chicken at Clay Pot
We in Hong Kong have recently been talking a lot about heritage and 'collective nostalgia'. In the world of food, that's meant age-old recipes, classic restaurants and possibly above all, dai pai dong. The Wiki link on dai pai dong gives a pretty good overview of what it's all about. They're called "dai pai" (lit. big sign) because, back in the day, they graduated from illegal hawkering to getting a proper licence (a "big sign" that they would display in the stall). Fast forward to 2010, and most of these have disappeared. Even the ones near Graham Street market in Central, which have probably had more press than all the others combined, have temporarily closed for refurbishment - after which they'll probably look like botoxed concrete. No doubt an idea from that bright bunch we call our government. Anyway, I digress (again). What I wanted to get to was, apart from dai pai dongs on the street, many DPDs had, at some stage in the past 30 years, been moved into what we call "Civic Centres". These are municipal buildings that often include a wet market, municipal offices, theatres, a public library (sometimes) and a cooked food centre. The wet market and cooked food centre components were moved into such buildings for better/easier sanitary (and possibly administrative) control. Prior to their moves, they were street markets, and - you guessed it - dai pai dongs. However, as more of these buildings were built, there were simply more spaces for eateries, hence this common, but less-talked-about proliferation of market restaurants. There are tons, and I've blogged about one of the most buzzed about of late, ABC Kitchen, so here are two more - one petite and relatively unknown (Clay Pot Indian), and the other, a market superstar (Tung Po), both in North Point.
I'm a complete rookie when it comes to Indian food, so I can only tell you that I really liked the food at Clay Pot, a 3-4 table place in little Electric Road Market, North Point. I stumbled upon it while looking for something new to eat in the neighbourhood - I mean, much as I love Yat Woon Min, you can't eat the same thing every day...). It was pretty empty when we got there, but emptiness never really stopped me from plonking down in a restaurant seat. Especially when it comes to these super cute vintage wooden ones.
Aloo Gobi at Clay Pot
The tandoori chicken retained juices nicely though the chicken itself wasn't great (the usual overly fleshy factory-frozen variety, probably pumped with growth hormones). I also found it amusing that our dish consisted of two drumsticks plus two breast/chest bits - is that a HK thing? (We like our drumsticks).
I really liked their version of aloo gobi - starchy, soft potatoes with sauce-soaked cauliflower in a spicy curry. There was a spice that really stood out in it, I think it was cumin, that kept luring my spoon back into the that little pot. When I checked online later, some aloo gobi recipes/descriptions seemed to suggest that the combination should be drier and less sloppy than this, but I loved that we could scoop it up with our pratha.
Pratha is probably my favourite flatbread of all time, and even though this version was a bit greasy (you could see the gleam of ghee gracing most of the slices), it was still hot, fragrant, crisp and stretchy in that gluteny way.
Mango lassi at Clay Pot
Yes, it was really this yellow - I wonder if they added colouring (I don't know much about Indian food, but I do know they like their colours). After an apprehensive sip I found that it didn't taste like the artificial candy that its intense, unnatural hue suggested. It was, in essence, a good mango yogurt drink - exactly what it was supposed to be.
About 10 minutes walk away from Electric Road Market is Java Road Market, North Point's biggest. Inside is the (in)famous Tung Po, which is known locally for three main things:
1. They're creative with their (sea)food
2. Hard to book
3. The owners/waiters were once professional dancers for local divas like Anita Mui (RIP).
Taro crab, Tung Po
All are true, as far as I know, but let me qualify them a little. Firstly, they are pretty creative, but creativity doesn't always lead to success. The first time I went, we had their taro crab - basically a crab cooked in mashed up taro (creative), and steamed razor clams with garlic (traditional).
Steamed razor clams with garlic at Tung Po
On a more recent visit I had some deep-fried raviolo/wontons filled with bechamel (creative) and divine, sweet mantis shrimp - steamed, and served with nothing but a wedge of lemon (classic).
Steamed mantis shrimp at Tung Po
Personally I prefer their non-creative stuff, though I know some people would kill for the taro crab. What's most important about Tung Po, in my mind, is that they cook with what's fresh and in season. (So don't forget to ask about specials). The mantis shrimp, for example, might not be there next time I go, because there weren't any good ones that day, but you can be assured of fresh produce for permanent menu items too.
Deep-fried wontons filled with bechamel at Tung Po
Secondly, they're not any harder to book than other popular restaurants. Fridays and weekends will, of course, be more difficult - I think people forget that market restaurants can be like 'real' restaurants too - there's usually no harm in booking ahead if you really want to go. Lastly, the waiters are sharp tongued and sport crazy hairstyles (that seem crazier because they're now 40-50 years old). Sometimes they'll serve your noodles with a little pirouette - it's all part of the fun.
There are plenty more market eats worth trying - Chu Kee in Happy Valley, whose 'fung sha' chicken (roast chicken with a mountain of golden deep-fried garlic) is a Cantonese soul food joy; feather-light Mui Kee congee in Mong Kok; Shui Kee for their corned beef omelet sub (a mere $10!) and milk tea served in a bottle... So next time you're looking for something down-to-earth, give these markets a shot, you'll be surprised.
Clay Pot Indian (fuchsia marker without dot on map)
2/F Electric Road Market
229 Electric Road
+852 2566 7012
Tung Po (blue marker on map)
2/F Java Road Municipal Services Building
99 Java Road
+852 2880 5224
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