Sunday, December 18, 2011

Hong Kong - a tale of 2 suckling pigs

The Cantonese are famous for their roasts.  No, not the kind you eat with Yorkshire pudding, but the kind where the carcass is hung or pierced through with a steel rod, then licked by open flames till crisp and done.  And where roast meats are concerned, some would take the view that the suckling pig is the holy grail.  And for good reason.  To cut short poor piggy's life because the skin is crispier and the meat more succulent and tender when cooked is reason for the premium it warrants over traditional roast pork.

And for that reason also, it is not meant for the everyday.  In the old days, if you were average Joe, perhaps wedding dinners were the only time you might see the roast piglet.  Nowadays, many Cantonese restaurants do the dish, and for those who want a treat every now and then, it is readily available, at least in Hong Kong.  But there are only a few which really tout it as the house specialty.

For traditional roast piglet, I do like the one by 新鬥記 (pronounced Sun Tow Kei in Cantonese or Xin Dou Ji in Putonghua).  I couldn't find an official English name for the place though.

Traditional Roast Piglet at 新鬥記
The crackling is done to a perfect crisp, with the fat underneath roasted away so that the taste is not greasy and on the contrary, quite addictive, especially if you've got cold beer at the table.  The meat underneath absorbs the spices rubbed on and is fragrant (none of that "piggy" taste) and tender.  Just quite perfect, really.

Kimberley's Roast Piglet
In contrast, the roast piglet at Kimberley is served 4-D, so you can still see the head and general shape of the pig.  Not for the faint-hearted who are used to eating everything filleted and balk at the sight of source of the meat they consume.  The wonder of this is the effort which goes into making this dish, where the insides of the pig are cleaned out to make way for a stuffing of richly flavored glutinous rice.

Cross-section view of Kimberley's roast piglet
The result is every diner at the table gets a "swiss roll" of rice on the inside enveloped by tender meat, then an "icing" around the cake of crisp crackling.  The combination of textures and flavors overwhelms and it is really quite rich as you struggle to fit it all in, especially since they served this as a final course.  Note to self: go even lighter with pre-dishes or just get at least 10 people at the table to enjoy this one comfortably.  For obvious reasons you cannot get a half order which you can at Sun Tow Kei.

For an overall experience, I actually like the menu at Sun Tow Kei better.

Sun Tow Kei's steamed crab on rice
The steamed crab on rice is what lures me back time and again, alongside the roast piglet.  Order these 2 dishes and you're all set.  The crab is really nothing to speak of but the rice soaks up the juices from the crab and is then accentuated liberally with roast garlic and spring onions.  Egg white is purely for texture to give the semblance that there is more crab than there is.  The result is pure carbo heaven.  I can down 2 bowls of this easily.

Whatever you fancy, both restaurants offer up their own specialties and make for an authentic Cantonese restaurant experience in Hong Kong.  If you prefer to avoid the decibel levels associated with most restaurants in Hong Kong, go to Kimberley.  Otherwise, brave the crowds at Sun Tow Kei and be prepared to wait (even if you make a reservation).

2/F, Express By Holiday Inn, 33 Sharp East Street, Causeway Bay
Tel: +852-3162 8899

君怡閣中菜廳 Kimberley Chinese Restaurant
M/F, The Kimberley Hotel, 28 Kimberley Road, Tsim Sha Tsui
Tel: +852-2369 8212 / 2723 3888

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