And they ask me why I go back.

Sunset over the museum, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
It is because I can see this. Sunset over the museum, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Although I still haven’t finished writing about Hong Kong, I’m actually back in Cambodia and have taken Phnomenon out of retirement. It’s just like wearing an old, fermented fish-smelling sneaker of which I could never dispose.

It is damn good to be back.

City Hall Maxim’s Palace, Hong Kong

maxim4

When people play the standards well, it is still exciting. To be sure, City Hall Maxim’s Palace isn’t the sophisticate jazz stylings of Lung King Heen but those culinary riffs wouldn’t exist without a benchmark. In Hong Kong dim sum, that ticking metronome is Maxim’s. They make the classics in plenteous quantity and they do it consistently well. Whatever your expectations are about Maxim’s dim sum, it is likely that they’ll be met.

After negotiating the queue, Maxim’s is like stepping into a Chinese wedding where you don’t know anyone. There’s a preponderance of movement, food, red and gold but the focus is getting you seated and a meal inside you at speed rather any nuptial function. The cheapish chairs and tables are somehow reminiscent of a suburban reception centre. It is a mixed crowd. Local families read newspapers while their children tend to their Pokemon, or whatever it is that children interact with on their Nintendos these days. Backpackers look bewildered.

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Steaming trolleys rotate through the cacophonous hall, waitresses yelling out the names of their contents. I speak yum cha. I don’t know the words for “Goodbye” or even “Thank you” in Cantonese but I can ask for a plate of fried squid. It isn’t the most functional or appropriate way to know a language but I never go squidless. I probably sound like the rudest person in the room, but also, the hungriest. The waitstaff are au fait with you poking around on their trolley and taking your time. You could nurse a few dumplings for the best part of a morning. It would be the most pointless of mornings, but you could do it.

Anyhow, on with the dumpling porn

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Har gau, two sizeable prawns lurk amongst the shredded bamboo shoot within. In the background is cheong fun but with chicken and shiitake instead of the usual prawn. Maybe Maxim’s does take the occasional liberty with dim sum standards.

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Sin Chet Kuen

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Siu Mai, plus corn and prawn ball that I picked out because it looked hilarious. Eating for one’s perverse sense of humour is probably not the best idea.

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The damage: around HK$400 for two.

Address: 2nd Floor, City Hall Low Block, Hong Kong
Phone number: 852 2521 1303

Lung King Heen: 3 star dumplings

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Scallop and prawn dumpling, Lung King Heen

It’s a strange thing to live in the bottom half of the planet that has no Michelin stars. In some ways, it has an internal logic for Michelin: the guide’s ostensible purpose was to get people out into the provinces by car and thereby burn through more Michelin rubber. Awarding stars to somewhere that can’t be accessed by automobile does not sell more French tyres. Hong Kong is one hell of a drive from France: it’s a possible but improbable journey, but the stars, they be there.

Maybe Michelin makes tyres for planes these days.

With low-cost carriers now offering flights for roughly the price of buying a beer onboard said plane, I thought that it was about time that I did some serious offshore eating and start collecting stars like a proper, credentialed food critic. Maybe it would convert me to the lifestyle of a high-end eater and my days eating delicious soup in the gutter would be over. I could credibly complain about foie gras and table linen like somebody that works for a serious but doomed print publication.

So I booked in for at Lung King Heen, Hong Kong’s only three Michelin-starred restaurant. I’m probably not making the most of the experience by eating dim sum but then again, what have I got to prove to anyone? I love dumplings. If I could take the chance at having a meal at the only Cantonese restaurant that Michelin has awarded three stars to, and have them make me a selection of dumplings I would. And did.

Critics probably like writing about serious dining because it gives you much more to write about. Filling a thousand words is easy when you eat twenty courses and you’ve got much more leeway to pick faults when you’re paying a huge bill at the end. They seated me five minutes late. The linen on the table was not perfectly flat. Service is obvious, cookie cutter silver service. English is great. The room is simple: wood panelling; huge windows frame Hong Kong’s harbour which is the “View of the Dragon” to which the restaurant’s name refers. These things are utterly meaningless when it comes to food, but maybe they’re supposed to matter to someone.

Physically, Lung King Heen’s menu has weight and silken texture. Inside, it’s much the same, classic Cantonese dishes subtly tweaked with premium ingredients and new presentation. It is a menu that plays with your memory of other Cantonese food from your past – if you don’t eat much of it, you’d never notice but if you’re an aficionado, I imagine that Lung King Heen’s head chef Chan Yan-tak is permanently winking at you from the kitchen.

There are both vegetarian and organic vegetarian options on the menu which must seem abhorrent to the average Cantonese chef, but if it’s bringing in the stars, maybe it matters. I skipped most of it for the dumplings but ordered roast suckling pig. On with the dumpling porn.

Lung King Heen Xiao Long Bao

Xiao long bao come served on individual baskets; minimising the chances of puncturing the soup filled dumpling as you extract it from the steamer basket.

lung king heen roast pork

The roast suckling pig is presented separated; squares of rich meat topped with a square of pancake and a larger, thin pork skin hat. It’s tough to tackle with chopsticks and keep together in a single bite.

Lung King Heen Goose ball

Sesame balls, unexpectedly filled with chunks of roast goose. Scallop dumplings have two whole scallops in them; spring rolls with sea whelk crispness on the outside and gooey interior with chunks of whelk that taste like the fresh sea. The pastry on the beef and morel dumplings tasted like unadulterated butter.

About ten dumplings in, the whole experience reminded me of Maytel from Gut Feeling’s assessment of Thomas Keller’s food:

I know that if I was to put an oyster with a big dolllop of caviar and cover it all in a butter sauce people would probably applaud me too

Top end dining seems to be caught in a self perpetuating cycle – you get lauded by Michelin, you ramp up the use of premium ingredients, you get lauded further. Lung King Heen’s use of luxury ingredients is still restrained and judicious amongst the dumpling menu but it could go awry very quickly.

Does Hong Kong need Michelin’s external validation? The locals already know that they’re onto a good thing and somehow quantifying that experience into a range of zero through three stars seems to do it a grand disservice. I’ve always found anonymous food reviewing somehow dishonest. We all bring our prejudices to the table and stating those prejudices brings out the best in critics; even if that prejudice is unadulterated dumpling love. I’m not looking forward to Michelin stepping south of the equator. We have our own laughable hat system.

Price: ~HK$400 a head
Location: Four Seasons Hotel, Fourth Floor, 8 Finance Street, Central, Hong Kong
Telephone. (852) 3196-8888

Parachute Foodblogging 2: Restoran Nasi Kandar KL

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is the perfect town for stopover eating: parachuting into town for the few hours between flights. I’ve done it once before but this time was a bit more of a nostalgia trip. For me, breakfast in KL is synonymous with nasi kandar; Malaysian Tamil Muslim food from a cheap restaurant, leaden curries matched with feather-light .

Restoran Nasi Kandar KL on Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock, just around the corner from Petaling Street is by no means the greatest nasi kandar in town, but it feels like my nasi kandar. The grime-streaked yellow facade seems unchanged and the Indian Malaysian guy at the front counter still seems overwhelmingly pleased to see me. It was just between the cheap backpacker joint where I spent the most of my time in Malaysia and Pasar Seni station. The obvious place to stop on the way to eat somewhere else every day. They do an excellent roti canai: the accompanying curry is passable but the roti is spot on: buttery, both fluffy and elastic. It’s some of the best eating in transit that can be done.

Just in case roti is not enough, there is a decent kopitiam across the road with the usual jumble of vendors: a roast meat guy, various noodle soups and fried noodles stands that encircle a coffee shop. I hit up the pork and rice just in preparation for Cambodia.

pork and rice, malaysia

Fatty rice but dry pork. I should have had that third roti.

How to food blog: breaking Food Buzz

I know that this is a little trite, but relearning how to play Javascript for the 4 Ingredients post has emboldened me to break Food Buzz, the giant “Web 2.0″ food blog content scraper. If you want to stop Food Buzz from using your content (but still retain the incoming links and traffic from Food Buzz), put the following bit of code between the <head> </head> tag on your blog.

<script type="text/javascript">

if (top.location!= self.location) {
top.location = self.location.href
}

</script>

This will redirect the framed Food Buzz pages back to your unframed site. For example, go to http://www.foodbuzz.com/blogs/kr/korea/960180-dosa-hut and you’ll be redirected.

Just as a small warning for Blogspot users: this affects the ability to edit the template on your blog. If you have any problems editing your template, turn off javascript in your web browser. Once you’ve finished editing, turn javascript back on.

Dosa Hut

dosa hut

Dosa Hut is the best restaurant in Melbourne; at least it is if you have $6.50 in your pocket and a hankering for Indian street food, which neatly outlines the problem with picking “best” restaurants. It’s contextual. I hate recommending restaurants to people that I don’t know because I’ll get their context wrong with invariable certainty. Dosa Hut has the utilitarian feel of a joint built by someone whose chief skill is making dosa rather than interior design. Cheap lattice and leftover Christmas decorations spruce up the hasty mango paint job.

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Above is the lamb dosa ($6.50), a pancake with a gradient from crispy on the outside edges to chewy at its core, filled with cooked ground lamb and masala. There are not less than 20 different dosa on the menu and I haven’t been in Dosa Hut once when they have had a stock of paneer, India’s favourite cheese, to make any of the three or four paneer dosa. The tray’s contents are spicy/sour tomato chutney, the ubiquitous sambar and coconut chutney. I’m still not sure how it is possible to make coconut chutney that keeps its whiteness whilst retaining chili heat.

Location: Dosa Hut, 604, Barkly Street, Footscray. Open 12:00pm to 10:00pm every day.
Phone: (03) 9687 0171

4 Ingredients

Thanks to the Twitter procrastination pipe and Ed Charles, I recently became aware of the 4 Ingredients cookbook and associated television show. After the unshakable rage and bewilderment had subsided on my first viewing, I realised that it should be me profiting from people’s inability to not only cook but select appropriate means of learning to do so, rather than a pair of nasal blondes from the Sunshine Coast.

Their recipes seem thoroughly random; the sort of thing that a 6 year old would concoct to impress a parent on their birthday, picking ingredients from what was at hand in the average middle class fridge and combining with gay abandon. Yoghurt, cornflakes and chicken, together at last.

No, seriously.

How could the public be so easily duped?

So I present to you the 4 Ingredients recipe generator.

Press reload for more recipes. Press it one hundred times to generate your own bestseller.

Press reload for more delicious 4 ingredient recipes!

Addendum: Sorry, I mixed up Ed Thomas with Ed Charles

Kebab Pizza

A few weeks ago, a Swedish friend contacted me to tell me that she couldn’t believe that we never had discussed kebab pizza. I’m sure that I had discussed both of these foods with her, but in complete isolation. Someone in Sweden has popularised the notion of combining two of the world’s disparate s into something loosely obscene but nonetheless popular in Scandinavia. The photo that I saw looked more like an actual kebab only served flat. Maybe someone in Sweden decided that kebabs needed to be shared in an equitable manner; there is no way to slice a rolled kebab once the meat is removed from the rotating platform.

Kebab pizza

Within a few days of becoming kebab-pizza aware, I discovered that a local pizza joint cooks kebab pizza without me having to con them into it on behalf of a drunken homesick Swede (above pizza).

This version is pizza base, tomato paste, lamb kebab meat, red onion and finished with a generous spray of tzatziki.

Spotted at the sacrilicious Mama Theresa’s, 587 Barkly St, Footscray, VIC, 3011 (Note, March 2011: Mama Theresa’s is now closed. No kebab pizza for you.)