Durian Fried Rice and Crispy Intestines
By The Feiloh - Tuesday, Jul 02, 2013
THE Central Hong Kong Café chain may be found in upmarket malls like Vivo City and Star Vista, but its menu is decidedly down-to-earth. A glance at their menu will tell you so.
When you step into these outlets, you will be immediately transported back to a Hong Kong café in the 70s. The floor is paved in black-and-white mosaic, pictures of movie stars of bygone days adorn the walls and beloved Cantonese pop songs of that era play over the speakers.
One of the unexpected hits on the menu is fried pork intestine. This comes with the “skin” fried to crispy perfection while the inside remains tender and moist. Any strong smell has been banished with careful and delicate cleaning. Dip a piece into the tangy sauce provided, follow up with a piece of the accompanying pickles and you will taste something that is hard to find these days in Singapore.
Mr Chiu Ka Wai, executive chef of the chain, said: “We don’t make much from this item as the processing takes a lot of effort but we were surprised that many of our younger diners have taken to it.”
“In fact, when we stopped offering it some time ago, a lot of irate customers demanded that we put it back on the menu,” he laughed.
Another item that was a surprising hit was a fried rice dish chock full of luscious prawns and flavoured with, of all things, durian. This was a dish that his boss had to twist his arm to concoct. Durian is something Hong Kong is definitely not known for.
However, the other rice items remain authentic, like their “four treasure rice” that comes with crispy duck, chicken wing, Chinese sausage and half a salted egg. They also have variations of baked rice in a creamy or tomato sauce that comes topped with melted cheese.
While there are a few admitted concessions to local tastes, Chef Chiu strove to maintain a menu that is as close to a Hong Kong diner eatery’s as possible. For example, in their noodles dishes, the café had at first bowed to the local palate by having their locally-sourced noodles cooked quite soft, unlike the more chewy or “song hao” or resilient mouthfeel that Hong Kong customers prefer.
Over time, Chef Chiu, shipped in fresh noodles from Hong Kong and nudged his customers to accept a more original mouth feel to these dishes. He said: “In fact, in Hong Kong, diners will splurp up their noodles rather quickly as prolonged immersion in the soup will soften them.”
A sub-category of their noodle dishes is instant noodles. While some Singaporeans find it strange to eat something in a restaurant that only takes minutes to prepare at home, eating instant noodles outside is a phenomenon that is also found in other Asian countries like Taiwan, Thailand and Indonesia. A popular variation in Hong Kong is topping instant noodles with fried luncheon meat and egg. To each his own, I say.
Another class of beloved items is the toasted sliced bread that are done slightly differently from the Singaporean style. The slices are significantly thicker. In fact, their pork floss toast is extremely thick, prime-coated with a salad dressing that helps hold the generous layer of floss slathered on top.
One cannot eat at a Hong Kong café without being surprised at the choices for drinks. There is the famous “yin-yang” drink of tea and coffee with milk that strangely works. Another is an aromatic almond milk drink, soothing to the throat, made with a mixture of Chinese almonds that Chef Chiu refuses to divulge.
What takes the cake, I think, is a cola drink boiled with slices of ginger that one sips to quell an itchy throat early in order to pre-empt a trip to the doctor’s.
With these peculiarities of Hong Kong casual dining, is there a need to educate the Singaporean diner, I asked. Not really, answered Chef Chiu. He said that Singaporeans are well travelled now and are hence quite familiar with Hong Kong food.
In fact, the take-out counter in each of the café’s outlets replicates a common scene in Hong Kong streets where skewered meat balls, cocktail sausages, beef brisket, pig skin and cuttlefish sit simmering in broth, ready to be eaten on the move.
So, whether you prefer to dine in or take out, you can have wide variety of casual, authentic Hong Kong dining right here in Singapore.
Central Hong Kong Cafe #B2-13, Vivocity, 1 HarbourFront Walk Hours: 10am to 10pm