Monday, September 26, 2016

Kin's Kitchen - Is this the future of Hong Kong's Cantonese food?

Deep-fried pigeon with Chinese leeks at Kin's Kitchen
There's a bit of a backstory to this post, which I won't get into, but suffice it to say that I was thinking about restaurants I go to more than once a year. Yes, once a year. I eat out a lot, and go to different restaurants because it's a big part of my job to eat at as many restaurants as possible, in order to find good stories, to be on the ball, to... just do my job.

Kin's Kitchen, I have been to about 6 times this year - that's almost once a month (that's more often than I write on this blog, #burn). I take out-of-towners there, I go there for my own dinners with friends and family, I go with the hyper-discerning Little Adventures crew, I go for fun. And dining out for fun does not happen for me as much as it might seem (have pity on me, LOL!).

Bamboo kneaded noodles with spring onion
I choose to go to Kin's Kitchen all the time because it's awesome. It's exactly what I want all the time, any time. It's casual, unpretentious Cantonese cooking for curious eaters, with an understated modern spin.

And by Cantonese, I mean the Pearl River Delta - encompassing the sub-regions of Zhongshan, Foshan, even Chiuchow - somehow a much more apt way of how I have experienced "Cantonese" food throughout my teenage years, when my parents would take me on ridiculously arduous trips on rickety vans (okay, I admit it was luxurious compared to public buses and I'm just a spoilt brat, and in hindsight I'm incredibly grateful to them for these intrepid food journeys) to remote villages and raucous cities all over Guangdong province (and beyond). It was always in search of food, sometimes as specific as just one style of tofu, or a type of fish (I won't go into the specific type of fish... Let's just say this is before I knew what an "endangered species" was).

Fresh and dried squid stir-fried with Chinese chives
If you go to Kin's for lunch, sure, there is har gow, but there are also village-style fun gwo with opaque wrappers (more rice flour) rather than translucent ones. If you go for dinner, you can (you must!) have smoked soy sauce chicken, but also steamed minced pork mixed with squid ink, or semi-dry local squid stir-fried with fresh squid and vegetables, and almost-lost dishes like guo za. And oh, like 4 types of "plain" white rice to have it all with.

Guo za - savoury custard, deep-fried
The restaurant is operated by the Lau family - famous food (and art) writer Lau Kin-wai, his wife, and his son, Lau Chun, also a food writer (and chef). Their approach reminds me of how a certain kind of Hong Kong foodlover approaches food. They're not looking for the next big, fancy thing, or rarity for rarity's sake, they're looking for flavours that explain their roots, perhaps something they once experienced in their childhood, or heard elders talk about when they talk about the ancestral regions we're all from (remember Hong Kong is essentially an immigrant city - very few people three generations ago were born here, and till this day, it's very common to ask someone where their ancestral region is).

Yi O rice from the July harvest 2016
Recently, they've begun working with a local farm in Yi O, a few minutes by water taxi from the touristic village of Tai O on Lantau Island. (I wrote a piece on Yi O for SCMP earlier this year). Yi O is primarily a rice farm, but they've got veg and herbs too, which Kin's Kitchen is buying and serving at the restaurant. They're also using locally farmed pork, which is especially awesome as their house-made char siu. I don't see this whole farm-to-table approach as a gimmick, and to be honest, I don't even think it was born out of the newfound "support local" philosophy. The way it looks to me, is that it's a contemporary way to reconnect with the roots of Cantonese cooking, as the rich, varied, agronomically-dependent culture it is and always has been - how ingredients extend beyond "freshness" (which HKers these days are obsessed with but never go beyond), and are also identified by their provenance and farming techniques.

Steamed minced pork with squid ink, salted egg yolk and (regular) egg white
Going back to the squid ink minced pork dish - it's striking in its appearance, and it's also untraditional. It is, as far as I know, a new invention by Kin's. To me, this dish is a symbol of how Hong Kong Cantonese dining should be moving into the future. For too long, it's been about "fusion". Iberico pork for char siu. Caviar on siu mai. They're not wrong, and a lot of them are darned tasty, but why don't we spend more time breeding and looking at southern Chinese pig varieties to make Cantonese dishes? Why don't we look at our existing range of native ingredients and the sauces, pickles and herbs in the backs of our grandparents' pantries and think about what else we can do with them?

Hongkongers eat steamed minced pork patties (蒸肉餅) all the time, mixed with anything from shiitake mushrooms, pickled vegetables, salted duck egg to dried squid. The addition of squid ink at Kin's, as I see it, is a play on the very classic squid and pork combination. That's innovation, and it feels much more genuine to me than stir-frying Wagyu with black bean sauce and topping it with a gold leaf.

Basically this is a very long-winded way of saying that Kin's is at once traditional and innovative, which is incredibly impressive, and it's all done in that thoughtful yet subtle, everyday kind of way. They go about it as if they're not doing anything special, but they are.

Just off the top of my head, here are some other dishes, in addition to the ones in the pics and mentioned above, that you should try:
Yellow croaker soup
Blanched pork tendons
Steamed egg with morels

(I just found an old post I wrote on Kin's - they've since moved and I must say, looking back at those photos, they've definitely upped their game on the food front too).

Kin's Kitchen
5/F, W Square
314-324 Hennessy Road
Wan Chai
Phone: +852 2571 0913

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