Monday, January 2, 2012

1MB Travels: Hong Kong: Farm House

"Healthy food" is something I have never enjoyed, as a concept - I know that's not a "smart" or "good" thing to say, but the reality is that it usually involves words I don't like - that for me boil down to restraint and/or sacrifice, and removal of joy. Like, eat this because it's good for you (not because it's tasty - because if you are honest with yourself, do things like flax seed or oatmeal or low-fat anything really taste good? I would have to make a conscious decision that it tastes good to me, in order to get it down - i.e. trick myself). Of course it's not good to eat yourself sick, so not overindulging or balancing it with exercise etc. is needed - but for what I put into my body, I choose to err on the side of allowing me to appreciate and enjoy life, instead of being in a constant state of resistance and denial. What's the point of a healthy body if you are going to malnourish your soul? I'm sure healthy-eating advocates are now going to say, there are ways to make health foods tasty, give it a chance etc...well, read on.

"Healthy" has become a bad trigger word for me - but "farm to table" and "seasonal", things that are TASTE-driven (because what is in season will be freshest and thus most delicious, same with what a farmer has nurtured with care locally, that has not had to be frozen or artificially preserved in order to travel great distances) I love. The health factor is a 'perk' of sorts, and not the singular goal.

So it was that my first meal on this trip back to Hong Kong, we arrived at Farm House in Causeway Bay.

Chinese food is of course not known for being health-conscious - but nose to tail, farm to table, local, seasonal, has been a way of life, forever (though often in the past without intention), and before these became trendy / buzz words. With the huge caveat that preserved foods are ingrained in the culture also - but they don't all involve artificial ingredients.

Farm House is an example of a restaurant that encourages health by understanding customers' needs, and offering taste via local, quality ingredients, and preparations that are mindful of health.

The restaurant opened in the '80s without a set menu, and was completely farmers' market driven - over time, they started catering more to customers' favorites, creating a menu that retains the philosophy of sourcing locally and never to use MSG, letting the quality of their ingredients shine through with great flavor. They wanted their little restaurant, tucked away in a corner of an office highrise, to continue to be a reprieve from the busy city life below. In 2010, they were awarded one Michelin star.
Our lunch started with a dish of bitter melon, with XO sauce on the side for dipping. Bitter melon is a Fall/Winter vegetable that is similar in color and texture to green bell peppers, but tastes, as its name implies, bitter.

I didn't like this as a kid, but now it's an interesting and refreshing way to wake up your taste buds in prep for a meal. Everything after will taste sweeter in comparisan.
Next up: one of my favorites as a kid - Baked Sea Whelk with Goose's Liver ($68HK each = ~$8US) made with chopped up sea snails and foie (!!!) and onions in a lightly curried sauce, baked for a nice light crust over the top.

My brother and I used to eat this up quickly so that we can take the shells home, it was so pretty. My poor mom's handbag always bore the brunt of debris from stray bits of food left in the shells.

Dim sum are also offered at lunch at Farm House, so we got a few classics to snack on. Their Fried Radish Cake tasted fresh, light and full of flavor - and most importantly didn't, as other places that make their food with MSG would, make us reach immediately for our drinks (thirst is a telltale sign of MSG).

We also got some Xiao Long Bao aka Shanghai Dumplings - made with smooth rounds of pork and a light, clear, flavorful broth inside a fresh-made dough wrapper that was lovely in its lightness. We didn't love the presentation, in individual foil cups (that lesser restaurants use with the expectation that their dough wrappers will fall apart - the foil cup can catch the leaked soup. Restaurants with craftsmanship will usually just place the XLB on a paper liner in the bamboo basket, knowing it will hold up).

But regardless of presentation, every element of these XLB were fresh and delicious, and we made use of a tip from a famous local food critic on the proper way to eat these: put the XLB in a spoon, then bite off only the top (so that the bottom is still there to hold the broth inside), then tilt spoon with the rest of the XLB back to drink the broth while eating the rest of the XLB in one bite.

This takes some practice and I've still to do it perfectly - a great reason to keep eating XLB as if I need one!

Then came my favorite dish, a special created by the chef at Farm House: "Whatever" Steamed Egg White with Seafood.

This is their upgraded version of a classic popular Hong Kong home-cooked dish - steamed egg with soy sauce. It's usually made with just those two ingredients, plus water, and eaten with plain white rice. Easy, simple and tasty. The shortened name of this dish in Cantonese also sounds like the words for "whatever", a popular phrase used to politely defer to the group when it comes to ordering at restaurants (since Chinese meals are served family style, it's considered rude if you are not the host to just order - it shows you don't care about others. There's always a few minutes of back and forth "whatevers" and "what would you like"s to show you are not difficult or selfish, and discussion of suggestions before a committee decision is made).

So out of this classic dish and restaurant custom, the chef created this upgraded, playful dish of steamed egg white only, that was smooth as the silkiest tofu but much lighter, and topped it with fresh shrimp, sprinkling of whatever veggie is in season, dried scallops, and salted egg yolks. The toppings give the steamed egg custard rich flavors while the egg custard gives it the smoothest base to hold the dish together. Everything again tastes so fresh and light going down. And the clever joke it that when customers can't decide what to order, they can go ahead and order the "Whatever". Everyone wins. (Plus, by the time you realize that it's 'healthy' - no grease, no MSG, high protein low fat - it's already too late, you've already decided it's delicious and inhaled the entire thing in one breath). Loved this dish.

We also got a Vegetable Stew at my dad's request that was a beautiful saffron color, but since I don't love vegetables this wasn't a stand out to me, and I would have liked more flavor from the stew.
For dessert: Fresh Make (sic) Sweeten (sic) Almond Cream with Egg White ($35HK / ~$4US) - this is a classic served hot with strands of egg white added.

I've always loved this soup - it's not overly sweet, and so smooth. Almond is also supposed to be good for your skin (as usual with Chinese foods, no scientific explanation of why, it's just thousands of years of learning from trial and error I guess?).
Another dessert classic with a twist: Steamed Bun with Bird's Nest and Custard Cream ($18HK each / ~$2.25US) - bao shaped and 'painted' to look like peaches used to be served as a birthday treat, but now are a fairly common sight on Chinese menus year round. Farm House makes theirs with a 'molten' filling made of egg yolk and sugar and bird's nest (bird's nest is essentially the solidified saliva of a species of birds - swallows or swiftlets? - used in building their nests - and is another Chinese delicacy that "everyone knows" to be good for your skin). Loved these fluffy buns with the subtly sweet center.
Farm House also makes their own preserved sausages. These flavorful meat tubes are typically served in winter, cut up and used for sticky /fried rice - and typically made with pork and/or pork liver.

There was a big display of them by the cash register, and we noticed that they had duck liver sausages as well (500g gift box for $130HK / ~$16US)!!!

Again these may not be 'healthy' products - but they are made locally from quality ingredients and supports nose to tail use of every part of the animal - so in our minds they are 'good'!
We had fun browsing through their little shelves of other house made food products as well by the exit - and left with several packs of duck liver sausages. Too bad US Customs will not let me bring some back to the LA!

All in all, a great time at Farm House and start to this year's culinary tour through Hong Kong!

[For more photos of fun / good eats from my HK trip, check out the album on my Facebook page!]

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6 bites
Presentation - 5 bites
Originality - 5.5 bites
Ambience - 5 stars
Service - 5.5 stars
Overall experience - 5.5 bites
Price - $$ (2 bite marks)
Probability of return visit - 90%

Hong Kong

Farm House Restaurant
1/F, Phase 1, China Taiping Tower, 8 Sunning Road, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
Ph: 852-2881-1331



No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...