Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Ruamjai Thai - Kowloon City Searching

Minced pork and basil stir fry (krapow moo) with rice
Kowloon City is known as Hong Kong's Little Bangkok, brimming with Thai restaurants. In recent years, it's also become known as something of a destination for gourmet grocery shopping, probably due to its proximity to well-to-do residential areas like Kowloon Tong, and its relative ease for car parking (rather, stopping the car - having a driver wait). If you want to buy crazy expensive Japanese watermelons in the shape of Hello Kitty, top of the range beef etc., you'll probably find it in these parts. It's also home to what was one of my favourite Chiu Chow restaurants, Cheong Fat. They've become a bit sloppy nowadays, but that's another story for another day.

Clams in "spicy sauce"
When I first came back to Hong Kong as a kid, one of my favourite restaurants was in Kowloon City. It was called Sweet Basil and served a tom yum and pandan leaf-wrapped chicken I couldn't refuse. The restaurant still exists in some form - it became a mini-chain and eventually moved out of Kowloon City, and the quality dropped dramatically. I was devastated, not to mention stranded. For many years I'd just been floating around aimlessly going from shop to shop, trying to find those flavours again, but it wasn't till this night at Ruamjai, about 5 years on, that I think I've gotten a little closer.

Tom Yum Kung
Rumajai is on the edge of Kowloon City, next to a tiny park full of dogs, with a sign that says "No Dogs Allowed". Admittedly, I didn't just stumble upon this one. It's actually listed in one of local food writer Chua Lam's books, in which he lists the 160 restaurants he frequents. So apparently the guy doesn't do much other than smoke, drink and chinwag with hot young girls nowadays, but he does have a fair bit of food knowledge.

Grey mullet "steamed" (poached) in a broth of lime, chilli, basil and coriander
Rumajai didn't disappoint, the krapow moo (basil & pork mince stir fry) was a bit rough n' ready (mince could have been a little finer) but the flavours were definitely there, and the tom yum was well balanced. Though being slightly Hong Kong-ified, they were a little heavy handed with the coconut milk in both the soup and the clams, detracting a little from the delicate, tangy balance. The fish poached with limes could have been a little tarter but now I'm splitting hairs. I spied some roast chicken while outside waiting for a table, lightly charred caramel-coloured skin and all, so I'll be back to try that. And the Chiu Chow-influenced stewed pork knuckle too, mmm... Ruamjai can't substitute a jaunt to Bangkok, but it's good enough for now, before I find my Sweet Basil again.

Ruamjai Thai
11-13 Tak Ku Ling Road
Kowloon City
+852 2716 4588

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  1. So sweet basil is no longer there? It means I have not been there for a long long time! After reading your post I cannot wait for next tum yum tong.

  2. Thai cuisine in KLN CITY is always my favourite..but i dont have a car so it's not easy to me to go there too often.

  3. Anonymous10:59 am

    Does anyone know of any Isaan places out there?

  4. Christine - Sweet Basil is no longer in Kln City, they've opened about 4 branches around HK - I've tried 2 - no good :(

    為食公關 - I've recently moved house and I have a direct bus there, so happy!

    PhilD - actually I heard of one recently, but of course the name has escaped me... will let you know if I find it - we should meet again & go together! :D