Straits talking

Many Chinese Malaysians and Singaporeans blend in easily in Hong Kong, given their ability to speak Cantonese or Putonghua.

One thing that unites the people from the two countries on the Straits of Malacca is the love of local food – something that is hard to get as the lockdown has prohibited travel.

Luckily, Hongkongers have started developing a taste for the cuisine so there are many new restaurants opening to offer familiar fare such as Hainanese chicken rice, laksa, rendang and satay.

Palm Court at The Langham, Hong Kong, has a secret weapon to ensure the success of its new Gourmet Malaysian & Singaporean Hawker Delights menu: Malaysian executive sous chef Ng Tzer Tzun.

Ng, who hails from the northern state of Kedah, joined the hotel in December and this menu is his brainchild. He got the idea from seeing how well received Malaysian and Singaporean dishes were whenever they were featured in the buffet at The Food Gallery.

Available as a la carte or a three-course lunch (HK$268) are all the hawker favorites – but elevated with premium ingredients. The two biggest hits are the lobster laksa (HK$288) and wagyu beef rendang with nasi lemak (HK$288). “We have also received great comments on our rojak. It is an ideal summer dish,” he said.

None of the dishes have been watered down or changed to cater to Hong Kong tastebuds. “We find our local diners prefer the authentic flavors. As both countries are so close to Hong Kong, our local diners are very familiar with the dishes and really enjoy the strong flavors. We use authentic ingredients and traditional recipes as much as possible.”

His favorite item? The durian puff (HK$88 as a dessert set). “The musang king durian is hard to source as there isn’t a consistent supply in the Hong Kong market and the fruit is in season only twice a year.”

Also keeping it authentic is Bibi & Baba’s Malaysian head chef Ho Wai Kong. His new sharing-style set menus for two (HK$288 per person) and four (HK$338 per person), as well as a la carte dishes all feature his favorites from home.

Every Malaysia/Singapore restaurant worth its salt will have Hainanese chicken rice. Ho’s version (from HK$168) is made with three local poached yellow chickens, homemade chili, ginger jam and traditional dark soya sauce. It is best enjoyed with the chicken oil rice (HK$28).

Another signature is the Penang prawn noodles (HK$102). A soup base of shrimp shells, pork bones, and spices is spiced up with dried prawn sambal paste. Sliced pork shoulder gives the dish extra bite.

Embodying the essence of Peranakan cuisine which the restaurant takes its name from, the Nonya fish head curry (HK$388) comes with assorted vegetables and is perfect for sharing.

At the newly opened Whey in Central, Singaporean chef Barry Quek does it differently. Traditional dishes are given a modern European twist in his nine-course (HK$890) or 12-course (HK$1,190) tasting menus.

The 12-course meal kicks off with three starters, followed by cherry tomatoes. But what truly wakes up the tastebuds are the spring peas, which are combined with fresh Fukuoka oyster, preserved lemons, caramelized whey and mixed herbs and topped with caviar.

Given how generous the Whey’s Bread portions are, you might think you would never finish it all but it is surprisingly moreish – especially the brioche with buah keluak, an earthy nut from southeast Asia, and sourdough made with locally grown leaven.

The grilled kinmedai is another favorite. Asam sambal balances the charcoal-grilled local fish with diced cuttlefish, which is accompanied by grilled petai beans and pickled banana shallots.

The mains include a bak kut teh-inspired dish featuring New Territories pork ribs and Kagoshima A3 wagyu striploin (additional HK$230). Two unusual sauces – homemade satay sauce and salt-baked jicama and kaffir lime puree – perk up the charcoal-grilled meat.

For dessert, Quek’s original creation of homemade musang king durian ice cream (additional HK$128), topped with a quenelle of Cristal caviar, surprises the palate with every bite.

(This article was published at The Standard on July 2, 2021: Weekend Glitz: Straits talking )

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