December 17, 2016
Keeping face is crucial for Chinese, especially among the elderly. When the time came to arrange my mom’s birthday, finding an appropriate venue for her party was my most important task. Thanked to my friend’s generosity, I managed to secure a private room at the members-only Kiangsu Chekiang and Shanghai Residents Association Restaurant. Opened 47 years ago, the club restaurant of the influential club serves traditional Zhejiang and Jiangsu fares, a niche in Hong Kong but two of the pillars of Chinese cooking.
After going through my budget and expectation, Captain Yang suggested four appetizers, soup, five entrées, noodle, dumplings and longevity peach buns for each table.
The cold appetizers of complementary flavor and texture were chopped Kalimeris indica, wheat gluten, jellyfish and fried eel. Kalimeris indica is a Yangtze Delta area delicacy known for its distinguished astringent, herbal taste. The crunchy jellyfish had a hint of sesame oil. The wheat gluten was cooked with bamboo in a thick sweet soy sauce. The smoky eel’s texture was similar to fried pork rind.
Up next was sautéed river shrimp. Unlike Guangdong where large ocean shrimp is preferred, small river shrimp rules in Zhejiang cuisine. The value of this dish lies in the human labor involved in removing the shells of hundred of these little crustaceans. Another crunchy dish, with a mild nutty flavor.
The brown hue might suggest strong flavor, but the Cantonese-style silkie, giant conch and Cordyceps militaris soup was delightfully light and sweet. Cordyceps militaris a type of fungus that attracts butterfly or moth larva, colonizes the living insect and mummifies it, keeping it alive just long enough to generate the biomass it needs to produce a mushroom which allows the Cordyceps to reproduce. Sounds disgusting? Cordyceps, especially Cordyceps sinensis, is considered by Chinese one of the best herbal medicines, with benefits ranging from cancer prevention to anti-aging.
On a separate plate were the silkie and ponch. The poultry remained tender.
Fish was supposed to be boney Reeves’ shad, but I opted for stir-fried grouper to ensure none of the elderly guests would choke on bones. This was specially requested and pre-ordered two days in advance. The timing on the wok was just right.
Two Cantonese dishes later, we were back to our intended Zhejiang programming. To our local palate, seeing cured ham as main dish is like finding poutine as the entrée of a five-course meal. The ham’s savoriness was matched by the intense sweetness of the yam and lotus seed sauce. The ingredients were eaten together with a slice of dough and deep fried tofu skin. Each bite contained both sweetness and savoriness, softness and crispiness.
Food suddenly stopped appearing. 30 minutes later inexplicably Xiaolongbao was served, supposedly the second to last item on our menu. The skin was thin and the meat was piping hot — one of the better Xiaolongbao in Hong Kong.
The final entrée was smoked duck, a Sichuan cuisine staple. After marination, the duck was smoked in fume of lauraceae leaves and tea for 20 minutes, steamed for two hours, then finally deep fried until the skin turns into dark brown.
The skin was crispy. The meat was tender and retained a decent balance between gaminess and smoke.
The guests were losing interest after the poultry dish, a common occurrence during Chinese banquets, but everyone’s attention was snapped back into focus on the arrival of two giant longevity peach buns. Underneath each hollow large bun were another half dozen small buns. The filling was red bean instead of the usual lotus seed paste. The buns had a lasting impact, at least on the hard drive of everyone’s smartphones. An Instagramable ending to a satisfactory evening.
Except for the inconsistent pace, the service was generally fine. The price came to $6,000 a table, or around $550 per head, a better value than many Chinese restaurants of similar status.
Address: 3/F & 4/F, Manning House, 38-48 Queen’s Road, Central
Opening hours: 11:00-23:00 Monday – Sunday