It is often the case that when one travels, one discovers a dish or a restaurant (or eatery), or both, that one remembers for the rest of his or her life. In our five-day sojourn to Hong Kong recently, that happened to me on the last day. While waiting to board the plane that would fly us back to Manila, I had brunch at Pak Loh Chiu Chow Restaurant at the Departure Area of the Hong Kong International Airport. It was the day that I discovered and fell in love with Teochew cuisine.
What is Teochew cuisine? Most people think that Chinese food is something generic but it isn’t. Outside China, probably the most well known is Cantonese cuisine but it is only one of the many regional cuisines of China. There are “Eight Culinary Traditions” of China, one of which is Guandong cuisine. Cantonese cuisine (traditional Guandong cuisine) is one of its branches. Less known but just as delectable is Chaozhou (Teochew or Chiuchow) cuisine of the eastern provinces of Guandong, the kind served at Pak Loh Chiu Chow.
But I didn’t know all that when I was ushered to my seat at Pak Loh Chiu Chow Restaurant. There was another Chinese restaurant across the floor but I chose Pak Loh Chiu Chow because it had a magnificent view of the airplanes being prepped for takeoff. My friends who had breakfast at the hotel wanted to do some last minute shopping but I hadn’t had breakfast and I wanted dim sum before we flew back to Manila.
At Pak Loh Chiu Chow, I ordered three dim sum items, two of which looked most UNfamiliar. The first item I am very much familiar with. Rolled rice noodles with meat filling is a dish that I have ordered in countless Chinese restaurants before. They were good but my familiarity with them didn’t exactly give me an adrenalin rush.
The second dish was steamed chiu chow dumplings. The textured and translucent skin was slightly chewy and the filling — a mixture of soft beans and vegetables — was subtly seasoned yet highly fragrant. I made a mental note to look for them in Manila’s Chinatown.
But the most unforgettable dish was the sweet osmanthus jelly. Not too sweet, not too chewy, and bursting with floral and fruity scents and flavors. I savored every morsel.
After I got home, I did a little digging. The jelly is called konnyaku, made from the roots of a plant called konjac.
“The jelly-like ingredient has almost no calories, no sugar and no fat. It contains 90 per cent water. And much of the remaining 10 per cent is made up of glucomannan – a soluble fibre.”
And the tiny flowers in the dish? They are flowers of Osmanthus, a flowering plant with some thirty species. Osmanthus fragrans (Gui Hua) is the one that figures prominently in Chinese cuisines. The reddish pieces that look like bird’s eye chilies are Goji berries (also called wolfberries).
Before leaving Hong Kong, if you have about half an hour to kill, enjoy dim sum at Pak Loh Chiu Chow at the departure area. Don’t miss the steamed chiu chow dumplings and the osmanthus jelly.