There are many eateries in Hong Kong which sell a combination menu of “jook, fun, meen, faan” (粥粉麵飯) – congee, (rice-based) noodles, (wheat-based) noodles and rice. The origins of these were originally, of course, on the street – first by trolley vendors, then “dai pai dong” (大牌檔) street-side stalls and now either in temporary markets or permanent shop spaces.
|Congee, steamed plain rice noodle rolls, stir-fried noodles and deep-fried dough sticks|
|Trolley noodles: wide egg noodles with chicken frankfurts & pigs' blood jelly (left), flat rice noodles with beef brisket & chicken giblets (right)|
Trolley or cart noodles (車仔麵) are so called as they were sold by trolley vendors (licensed and unlicensed) offering a choice of noodles in soup with a certain number of toppings/accompaniments for a set price, allowing for customisation depending on the customer’s mood. People used to eat these standing or squatted on low footstools by the side of the road, before returning their bowls and chopsticks to be washed and the process repeated. Trolley noodles have all since moved into shop spaces with a greater array of accompaniments on offer, however the name remains despite the trolleys being long gone.
|Wonton noodles (left), beef brisket noodles (right)|
Wonton noodles (雲吞麵) are a Cantonese establishment with many purists believing that it should always be served with thin egg noodles. The wontons themselves should be smaller than a ping-pong ball and simply “squeezed” together to close, rather than being neatly pleated, to allow for the cooked result to resemble a goldfish with the excess wrapper forming a flowing tail. Smaller than a Sydney serve of wonton noodles, a bowl in Hong Kong should set you back around HKD$25 (approx. AUD$3.15). Beef brisket noodles are a little pricier and are usually served with flat, rice “hor fun” noodles (河粉) which take on the flavour of the richer broth.
|(from left to right) Dry stirred noodles with XO sauce, stewed vermicelli with pork & preserved vegetable, stir-fried flat rice noodles with soy sauce & beef|
Then we also have “lo meen” (撈麵) or dry stirred noodles. Egg noodles – wide or thin – are cooked and placed on a plate in a pool of or topped with oyster sauce, soy sauce or a combination of both. A bowl of broth is served alongside to be added to the noodles and tossed with the sauce to achieve a desired level of “wetness”. Often seen with wontons or barbecued meats, they can also be eaten plain (as above) simply with XO sauce and Chinese broccoli. Stewed rice vermicelli (燜米粉) are similar to dry stirred noodles but use their rice-based counterpart and are tossed together in a wok so that broth is slurped up by the vermicelli noodles. The result is a noodle dish which is partway between a stir-fried one and one which is in soup. Which brings us finally to the “wok hei”-laden stir-fried dishes which can be made with pretty much any type of noodle.
With trolley vendors being patrolled for licences, typically green “dai pai dong” street stalls which would set up early in the morning and dismantle and pack up late at night became popular for having outdoor seating (ha!) and the freedom to order food from neighbouring stalls. Offering a mixture of Chinese and Western-influenced fusion foods, these along with Chinese iced-drinks parlours (冰室) became the combined forerunners to “cha chaan teng” (茶餐廳) commonly referred to as Hong Kong-style cafés.
|(clockwise fromtop left): instant noodles with ham & egg, macaroni in soup with luncheon meat & egg, French toast, Hong Kong milk tea|
Dishes such as instant noodles or macaroni in soup with fried eggs, ham or luncheon meat can often be found on “cha chaan teng” value menus, as well as Hong Kong milk tea and Hong Kong-style French toast – an egg-battered, deep-fried thing of golden glory served with a pat of butter to melt over and drenched in as much golden syrup as you like (served interestingly with a fried frankfurt alongside above as part of an afternoon snack set).
Most will also offer noodles and rice with barbecued meats, especially those attached to a barbecued meats store, with the price increasing with the number of varieties chosen and usually capped at a maximum of four. The husband and I indulged in a double pork affair (above) of “siu yook” roast pork with its crunchy crackling and fat-ribboned salty meat, as well as tender “char siu” barbecued pork with its sticky honey glaze. And as it was winter – albeit a mild one whilst we were there – that made for perfect weather for claypot rice (煲仔飯) with its crispy layer of rice at the bottom and sides, and meat juices soaked into the rice through the cooking process. Rows of gas burners, often located outside an eatery, dedicated to heating up pots of rice with the lid trapping in steam to cook the meat toppings are a sight to behold. A single worker is assigned claypot rice duty, making each to order and definitely something I don’t get to see in Sydney.