Saturday, February 19, 2011

1MB Travels: Hong Kong: Fung Shing Restaurant

One of the greatest tragedies of western experience of Chinese cuisine, at least in my view in the U.S., is that in general the average diner immediately thinks of a limited and pedestrian variety of noodles (chow mein, chow fun), the ubiquitous fried rice, orange chicken - and for the slightly more experienced, dim sum in chaotic sensory-overload chambers in Chinatown. 

If only everyone can experience the variety, creativity and traditional yet ever-evolving flavors of regional Chinese cuisine, from the highest end temples of marbled magnificence to the lowliest hole-in-the-wall - like that which is on offer in abundance in Hong Kong!  I've enjoyed Chinese food all my life, and still find myself discovering / learning something new every meal.

I've covered a few of the good eats on my most recent trip in various posts, but one of my absolute favorites this time around was at Fung Shing Restaurant - mainstay of Shunde cuisine since 1954 when the late Mr. Fung opened his first restaurant in the group.

First off, I should say that Shunde cuisine is not 'haute cuisine' - it's hometown style comfort food steeped in tradition.  The particular location of Fung Shing Restaurant 凰城酒家 (translates to Phoenix City) that we visited in Causeway Bay is almost a hole-in-the-wall - no chandeliers, no frills compared to the glossy 5-star hotel or shopping center based eateries.  (Several of the other 6 locations in the group are higher end and serve as banquet halls) But sometimes simple is best - and the flavors of the dishes at this purveyor of authentic Shunde cuisine definitely had me hooked from the first bite / sip, and I still dream of some of the dishes!

As it was a relatively cold winter day - at least as cold as it can get that close to the equator - we started our lunch with Snake Soup 菊花五蛇羹, a winter favorite as it is believed to help raise body temperatures (because it's harder to digest than regular proteins?).  The snake is chopped into very narrow strips - if no one told you what you were eating, you would never be able to tell, and might mistake them for slivers of mushrooms (though the texture is firmer with more crunch).  The soup is served with chrysanthemum petals and crispy fried flakes of dough for texture contrast.  

After warming up with soup, our dim sum dishes started arriving.   The Fried Glutinous Rice Rolls filled with 'South Cheese' 南糯米卷 were my favorite - if I were a millionaire I would fly back every weekend to eat this.  Perfectly cooked sticky rice is mixed with 'South Cheese' (direct translation, not sure what the official English name is - a Shunde specialty of salty and slightly sour fermented bean curd made of soybeans, salt, rice wine and sesame oil or vinegar, pressed into blocks, soaked in brine and flavorings and sold in jars as condiments), then rolled in the most buttery, flakey crust and sesame seeds, then the whole thing is fried.  Amazing!!! 

Another Shunde specialty that we didn't get to this time is Milk Solids 大良牛乳 served in Congee (rice porridge) - this is what parents usually serve kids when they get sick, as it provides easily digestible protein.  I was saving room for all the other delicious dim sum dishes - and I don't remember liking the flakes of milk solids - but for those who do - Fung Shing sells them in bottles at the front of the restaurant.

Next were Fried Dumplings with Shrimp & Carrots, which you dip in broth.  This was a delicious dish, but not as unforgettable as the Fried Glutinous Rice Rolls.

We ordered a second fried dumpling dish simply because I'm addicted to foie gras, and this one was named Fried Dumpling with Goose Liver 鹅肝鹹水角.  Unfortunately this 'fusion' dish didn't work so well - the pieces of foie were small and dry - I couldn't even tell if they were liver or just pieces of dried up pork.

Sticking with traditional Chinese / Shunde for the rest of the meal, the next dim sum offering was much better - Shu Mai with Quail Egg & Pork Belly 鹌鹑蛋燒賣.  This was a reinterpretation of the traditional Shu Mai (cylindrical meat dumpling with pork and sometimes shrimp) - topped with a hard-boiled quail egg and a soft, fatty piece of pork belly as indicated in the name.  Another incredible dish - so much so that I forgot to take a pic while it was still in the steamer, and had to borrow my mom's before she could fully dig into it. 

The grand finale was another best of meal dish - Stir Fried Fresh Milk with Egg Whites, Shrimp and Pine Nuts 大良炒鲜奶.  I have always been fascinated by this dish growing up, as it was simply called "Stir Fried Fresh Milk" in Chinese, and I couldn't understand how you could possibly stir fry milk.  Now I know that it's mixed with egg whites to give it the full bodied yet incredibly smooth texture.  I don't know what seasonings they add to make simple milk and egg whites so flavorful, but it always tastes much more complex than you would expect from such simple ingredients.  It's at once savory and very subtly sweet - with lovely pieces of fresh shrimp, and pine nuts lending additional flavor and crunch.  I usually hate pine nuts as their shape and texture make me feel like I'm eating somebody's baby teeth - but for some reason the kind they use at Fung Shing is longer, flatter and softer - and I think they chop the nuts up a bit so that you don't get the nasty glossy enamel-like surface.  We inhaled this dish - and it is definitely another one I would fly to HK for!!!

For dessert, we had Mango and Coconut Pudding Cake 芒果椰汁糕- served cold.  Mango pudding (made into a gelatinous form) is a very typical dim sum dessert - but here they layered it with coconut and the tropical flavors work really well together to provide a refreshing sweet finish to the meal!

All in all, one of my favorite meals of the last trip -
and to top it all off, the best thing was that when the bill came, it was only HK$384 or roughly US$49 - the grand total including the 10% service charge typically built in to restaurant bills in Hong Kong - for a very filling meal for three people!!!

This place is definitely going on my list of top places to go back to on my next trip.

Note for tourists:  Fung Shing is super traditional and authentic - which also means there is no English menu (at least at this location - names noted above are my own translations), so either bring a native speaker, show your server the pics/Chinese names in this post, ask your concierge to write down names of recommended dishes before your visit, or I guess point to dishes you like that you see on other people's tables!

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6 bites
Presentation - 5 bites
Originality - 6 bites
Ambience - 5 stars
Service - 5.5 stars
Overall experience - 6 bites
Price - $$ (2 bite marks)
Probability of return visit - 100%


Hong Kong
Fung Shing Restaurant 凰城酒家
G/F, No. 30, Leighton Road, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
Ph: 852-2881-8687




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