Monday, March 21, 2011

Da Pai Dong, or Why I Moved to Hong Kong

Last night I had the distinct pleasure of being taken out to eat by some of my favorite people. They chose the place and I made my way out to the New Territories just as it was getting dark. The spot they chose was a da pai dong in the Tai Po Market Cooked Food Center. Oh they know me so well. Da pai dongs may be my favorite single thing about Hong Kong cuisine. Da pai dongs technically are outdoor food stands but since the whole SARS business a lot of them have been moved in doors to these huge cooked food centers. Basically da pai dongs serve incredibly yummy simple dishes in a wildly casual atmosphere. Think big crowds,piles of bones and shrimp bits all over the place, plastic chairs, and disposable plastic wrap table cloths that the waitresses replace for every knew group of diners. Also there are buckets of icey beer, the food comes out hot and fast and the old women yell a lot. Perfect.

I was with Rainbow, Piano and Lucky and we pretty much just let Rainbow (with some help from Piano I'm sure) order. My only request was one organ dish and one seafood dish, and Lucky wanted a chicken. Anyway, he did a REALLY good job and this is what happened.

First up was a big heaping plate of lovely succulent looking pissing shrimp. They were cooked perfectly and topped with sweet deep fried garlic. I love these little bastards. I remember getting them when I was like eleven when I was in Hong Kong with my parents at the Temple Street market and the flavor brings me back every time. Also they might be the perfect beer food of all time. Well, them and the deep fried intestines but we'll get to them later. Usually, as you may know, I eat the shell and everything but for these shrimps the shell is just too hard and painful so I have to dig in and peel 'em. Peeling these fellows is a real bitch and I still haven't quite gotten the hang of it. I met a guy the other night who has a wild technique of inserting his chopstick under the exo-skeleton in such a way that the naked shrimp just zips right out but I, for the life of me, cannot figure out how he does it. Lucky actually stabbed himself while peeling one the other night and got a nasty wound on his finger. My current approach is to first bite just bite the face off(by far my favorite bite cause of the nice crunch, the way all the garlic toppings get caught in the face and all the yummy brainy bits,) then one by one de-armor them by hand. I wish there was a way just to order their heads...

Next up where these little guys, spicy clams. These were very fresh and quite good. They were served in that typical brown Chinese sauce you find at a lot of American-Chinese restaurants but this version had a lot of heat. The sauce was really peppery and very nice. I love spicy and its not easy to find spicy food in Hong Kong so I was really happy to see this dish arrive.

God I love China. Two dishes in and out of nowhere comes this huge plate of pudgy chicken. Chicken is one of those things that the simpler it is the better. I want my chicken to taste chickeny. Why fuck around? And this it one of the simplest and most Delicious ways of serving a chicken out there, just steamed until the meat is nice and juicy and the fat has taken on that beautiful creamy opaque lemon-meringuey look. This was served simply with a sauce made from pouring scalding oil over a bowl of minced garlic. The chicken was pretty close to perfection and there was enough sauce left over that I could soak my rice in it.

Next to arrive was my good old friend, Fish fragranced Eggplant. I've talked about this delicious dish of stewed eggplant, ground pork and preserved fishies a lot on this blog. Suffice it to say that this was a really great version of this dish. Nice fresh chunks of eggplant, not overly cooked or too gooey/ sticky. Very nice.

Damn my shaky hands! This was maybe my favorite dish of the night and I couldn't get a good picture of it to save my life. Deep fried pig intestine served over pickled vegetables with a sweet sauce. Ok, maybe this is my favorite beer food. Crunchy, chewy, porky, fatty, the greasiness perfectly offset by the sweet sauce and the pickled veggies. I can't think of any food that tastes quite as uniquely unhealthy as this dish (and this coming from a man that is basically living on goose fat and milk tea). With every delicous bite your body just seems to scream NO. Also you really can't eat too many of these guys in a row to quickly or else they start tasting a little fecal. There I said it. Anyway, love them.

Next up were the old standard of razor clams with sweet garlic and vermicelli. This dish always tastes Thai to me but I'm assured it is as authentically Cantonese as they come. I never really eat razor clams at home but I love em here. They are just so meaty and satisfying compared to their non-razor cousin. The vermicelli looks like a garnish but it is actually incredibly important for soaking up all of that sweet vinegar garlic sauce. I think this dish is replacing "with preserved black beans" as my favorite preparation of razor clams and scallops too for that matter...

The damage done.

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