Friday, 10 June 2011

Trying to Push HK Food Forward

Canto charsiu creamy pork bone soup with lots of macaroni

Cha chaan tengs or Hong Kong-style diners are an institution here -- they're everywhere open at practically all hours offering hungry souls almost anything they want to eat. It can range from wonton noodles to deep-fried toast with syrup, and of course drinks like laichai or milk tea or yinyeung, a combination of tea and coffee.

These eateries are for the most part unhealthy -- they usually greasy, use Japanese instant noodles which are deep-fried and luncheon meat which is really spam.

So for the most part I avoid these places as not much of the extensive menu appeals to me.

However a new cha chaan teng on the block is trying to create a culinary revolution.

The place is called Cantopop and it's near my place on Queen's Road Central. It's started by chef Margaret Xu who is known for creating healthy dishes and at Cantopop she is offering a variation of the same cha chaan teng dishes but using organic ingredients and eggs laid by hens that listen to music daily. That's what the literature says in the restaurant.

Chilled tofu and sesame, topped with tomatoes and egg
I tried the place twice, the first time to have an afternoon snack of milk tea ice cream (HK$12/$1.54) and real chocolate fudge cake (HK$38). I liked the former as it's a different twist on the beverage. It was just served as a big scoop in a plastic bowl as if I was a child, but perhaps the option of a cone should be added. The cake was not particularly spectacular, and in fact wasn't very moist, and came with a few sliced strawberries.

The second time I went to Cantopop was earlier this week for dinner. I read through the menu but found it hard to decide what to have because nothing was particularly appealing. In the end I had a chilled tofu with sesame (HK$38) and Canto charsiu creamy pork bone soup (HK$88). I asked the waiter what creamy pork bone soup was, and he just said it was Chinese pork soup so I decided to have it with some macaroni.

The tofu was too firm -- it should have been the silky soft one and it was strange to see it topped with chopped tomatoes and hard-boiled egg. Excuse me? Where on the menu does it say this garnish? I don't appreciate menus that don't explicitly explain what is in the dish, especially with a new restaurant like this that aims to explain its concept to diners.

Soon after came my large round but very shallow bowl that was 80 percent macaroni and 20 percent soup. It came with a few slices of charsiu which is actually sous vide charsiu (cooked for a long time at a very low temperature), but didn't have much flavour. This dish was also came with things not listed on the menu -- a piece of choi sum, soy beans and an egg. I should have guessed as all the plates and bowls are white with a yellow circle in the middle.

I could barely make a dent in the pork soup with all that macaroni and had to ask the waiter for more soup which he gave me in another (smaller) bowl.

In the end I finished the broth but not the macaroni and was full, but not satisfied. It's too bad because I like the premise of this restaurant being organic and MSG-free, but is it because I don't like cha chaan teng food to start with or this restaurant?

I've heard the lionhead, the Shanghainese meatball (HK$98) is very good, as well as the Canto scotch eggs (shelled hard-boiled egg wrapped in a sausage mixture, HK$88), but that evening I just wanted a quick bite to eat.

It'll be interesting to see how Cantopop fares with its combination of local and expat customers. I imagine the place is busy for lunch, but is it worth it when people know they can get real cha chaan teng food around the corner for half the price?

Cantopop
UG/F, The L Place
139 Queen's Road
Central
2857 2608
www.canto-pop.com

1 comment:

  1. i tend to agree with the cantopop idea but the price seems a little too steep.

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