Saturday, October 01, 2011

Shung Hing (Sheung Hing) - Chiuchow Chow

Not bugs! They're mini-clams
Chiuchow (or Chaozhou, or Teochew) is, geographically speaking, merely a city in eastern Guangdong province. Yet it has its own dialect (Teochew and Cantonese are generally not mutually intelligible) and own distinct cuisine*, specialising in seafood, and with a clear preference for the sour, spiced (but not spicy) and savoury, often all at once. This is awfully unscientific of me, but when I see/hear/taste lu shui (滷水), a braising broth/sauce of soy, star aniseed etc., or a more-than-usual amount of white pepper, I assume it's Teochew, or Teochew-influenced. And when you start a conversation about Chiuchow/Teochew food in Hong Kong, Sheung Hing in Sheung Wan will invariably come up.

Goose blood, lu shui'ed
Coagulated pig's blood is fairly common - after all, we eat a lot of pork and we don't like things to go to waste. The same applies to goose in Chiuchow food. Geese are killed for their flesh, and as much as possible is made into food. I'm not a fan of blood - it's like a grainy tofu with a weird metallic taste and a certain textural sensation that's the result of the toughish "skin" that forms around the blood as it coagulates. And after this challenging texture, the taste is usually unrewarding. This, however comes braised in a complex, supremely tasty lushui, that seems to have become richer and even tastier when combined with the blood.

Goose wings
When I look at those words, "goose wings", a shiver goes up my spine. I think of live geese flapping their wings as they're trying to take flight. I have a deep fear of live birds, so it's not a pleasant thought. When I think of them as chicken wings however, all is again well with the world and I can have more delicious lushui, this time combined with gristle and bones. I don't know if it's a Chinese thing (I think it is) but there's a certain satisfaction and enjoyment that comes out of sucking and gnawing meat off bones, contorting your tongue and mouth in unsightly ways. Maybe it's just a me thing.

Goose slices
If you're faint-hearted, or simply not used to "adventurous" food, you can let out a sigh of relief now - these are harmless slices of geese - breast, thigh etc. Bad geese tends to be tough, but the goose slices here are invariably fall-apart tender, and again, soaked in glorious lushui.

So that concludes the lushui starters, all of which are served slightly warm or at room temp. Underneath the geese there's also usually fried tofu - sometimes I ask for double - it's that good.

Cold crab
Moving onto the bigger dishes, this is still a cold dish. It's simply steamed with nothing added, so you can really taste the sweetness of the meat. This is truly a celebration of great seafood - there aren't any sauces or accompaniments to hide a subpar crab. In short, they're telling you, with a sort of arrogance, that this is an excellent crab. (They do serve it with a little vinegar, and soy sauce, if you must.)

Heh-roe crab
The meat is the main event, but the crab does of course have roe. As most on the table had cholesterol worries, I gladly took the poison. It's not the best roe I've had, and to be honest, I would have liked it warm, but it was still rich and pate-like. I tossed some of it through my rice later :)

Cold fish
Still going with the cold stuff, this was "yellow flower"(黃花魚), I think it's known as yellow croaker in English. Steamed whole, with the scales intact and served cold - the same philosophy as the crab, but this time with fermented soy bean sauce.

Cold fish, ready to serve
Chiuchow style fermented soy bean sauce is a salty, mustardy yellow sauce. Usually you can still see the beans swimming in something that ranges from thin cream to a runny clearish fluid. Not my fave - I think it's the fermented smell/taste that gets to me, but I like the fish!

Mini clams "thin shell"
This is something new to me - but as I soon found, a highly coveted mollusc in Chiuchow cuisine. These are teeny weeny clam-like marine creatures, each about the size of a kidney bean, with a very brittle, thin shell, thus their name 薄殼, literally, "thin shell". They're stir-fried with chilli and Thai basil - a very Thai combo, but apparently also very typically Chiuchow. Tony, Sheung Hing's manager, told us that these would only be available for a couple more days after our visit; the season was quickly drawing to a close. I'm glad we cam in time, because these were yummy little jelly beans of oceanic sweetness. Totally going into my mental seasonal-eating calendar.

braised garoupa
I took this photo too late - it had already been attacked by my hungry family. You can't call yourself a Chinese food lover if you don't like a wild fish cooked simply - be it steamed or braised/poached quickly in a tasty pickle-infused soup.

Fish head
If you wanna say "eww" that's okay, but let me tell you, the finest, most tender bits of a fish, especially the large ones, are in and around the head. At home, we have chopstick wars over the cheeks, and if I lose, I pretend to be sad, then get the bit just behind the crown at the 'neck'. It's fiddly but good. Besides, we don't waste food in my family.

"Both sides yellow"
These dish names are pretty literal, aren't they? This is a classic Chiuchow dessert - a panfried cake of noodles, served with dark vinegar and white sugar. Both sides of the 'pancake' are, well, yellow... (gold, rust, yellow, same same la). It's dry and crispy on the outside and moist inside. I don't mind this dish, I mean, they did it really well, but it's not really my thing.

Candied (or caramelised?) sweet potato, gingko and taro
Another typical Chiuchow dessert. The ingredients are put into a wok, raw, along with sugar. It means a continuous and controlled (and long) period of cooking - we're eating technique and patience here, as well as good ingredients. If some idiot like me went to buy taro from the market, I wouldn't really know how to tell the difference between a "powdery" one and a waxy one - you can't really tell from the outside, so the restaurant has to know how to select the right type too.

Kungfu tea
Even if you're not the ass-kicking type, you will probably want to kick some after too many cups of these. Just as some Italians finish their meal with an espresso, Chiuchow peeps finish off with shot of these caffeine-packed babies. They're so easy to knock back, but you'll pay the price when you're using your bed as a trampoline after dinner. True story. Consider yourself warned.

Kungfu, however, doesn't refer to the kicking, but the elaborate technique that apparently goes into brewing the tea. This comes from the other meaning of the term kungfu, which means difficult and/or troublesome to do.

*strangely it does not stand alone as one of the eight "major" schools of Chinese cuisine, though it is sort of similar to Min (Fujian) cuisine, but that's kind of like saying Sri Lankan cuisine is similar Indian cuisine.

Side note - longtime Hong Kongers will remember that Shung Hing used to be just 2 shopfronts. It's now 3, because they took over Leung Hing, another Chiushow restaurant. I suspect they were owned by the same family all along anyway, but that's something to find out another day.

Shung Hing Chiu Chow Restaurant (Sheung Hing)
29-37 Queen's Road West
Sheung Wan
Hong Kong
+852 2543 7794

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  1. That's five minutes away from my house. I am going to try this with my better half. Is the food pricey? I can't imagine so for chiuchow food.

  2. Razlan - you should def try it. Despite looking like a crappy hole, the prices can get a little scary for things like crab. Though we're talking maybe $2-300/head for a REALLY extravagant meal, unless you bump the bill up with sharks' fin, which I wouldn't - but that's another story for another day.

  3. Anonymous3:38 pm

    oh gosh! love the mini clams! i had it the last time when i was in chiu chow!! it's delish :)

  4. Oh gosh, I bumped my way back to this post again. I did Sheung Hing not long after leaving the comment... but had it been that long already?!