Braised tripe, intestine, stomach, pancreas, lung, liver, and daikon chunks can be individually ordered or as a tender and perfectly spiced mix for a mid-day snack while shopping in the crowded street of Hong Kong. The killer is the extra broth, imbued with a perfect balance of medicinal herbs.
Again with the magical skinny bamboo skewers. They can handle anything with enough confidence and faith.
Back in my high school days in Hong Kong, students running short on money would lunch on these bags of noodles starting from 5-10HKD. Every noodle stand has all kinds of condiments measured out in small plastic bags, from sweet corn and cucumber to marinated baby octopus and fake crab.
You'd tell the lady your order (it was always middle-aged ladies dripping with sarcasm), usually doubling up the noodles to get your fill and a couple of other extras. Most importantly, everyone has their own tailored sauce order. Mine was hard on the garlic and extra spice. The ladies expertly combine your list of items into one small bag, add the sauces and stir it all around with two long bamboo skewers. Funnily, these skewers were always pointed at the tip, inevitably poking holes in the bag and streaming sauce all over your arms.
The mix is deliciously savoury, saucy noodles covered in soy, oyster, and sriracha sauce with minced garlic. Condiments like marinated garlic and seaweed salad which have their own sauces marry wonderfully with the base. Bursts of refreshing sweetness from the corn add a lovely texture between slurps of cheap umami.
Customizing food orders is the best part of cheap eats. The stakes are so low that anyone can wild out on combinations multiple times to explore their preferences. Seems like I'll have to hit up NYC for some bodega lovin' sometime again soon.
Hot, soft, and pillowy with a light chew, steamed rice rolls are a classic Cantonese delight- kind of the gnocchi equivalent. Rice flour is combined with water to make a smoooooth batter, then quickly poured over a large, oiled cloth. Steamed to set, these thin, delicate sheets are deftly rolled up into long cylinders and snipped into bite sized lengths. Usually, the scissors snip rolls right into a large sheet of greyish paper, which serves as the plate. Takeaways are slid into a white paper bag- not before adding the sauces though.
Soy, plum, chilli, and sesame sauces, as well as sesame seeds, are generously added per tailored order. When I was little, I always preferred my rolls with plain soy sauce, but my mom liked all the fixings, so I would hunt for the ones in between the streaks of colour. Once in a while, I'd go wild and eat one covered in all the sauces, and I liked it- but I still had a preference for the plain ones.
I realized that it was the sweetness of the rice that I missed. With soya sauce, the light sugariness would shine through the simplicity. That delicate flavour just disappears behind all the bling. Just like a hot bowl of steamed rice, tofu, or egg, there's something lovely about simple Cantonese recipes that I feel lucky to enjoy on a daily basis.
Fried calamari is a whole other game in Hong Kong. There is no lemon, no sauce, and they don't come in rings. Instead, you get the whole goddamn leg, battered from top to bottom and covered in an aggressively delicious mix of salt, white and black pepper, MSG, and god knows what else but it is addictingly, finger licking-ly good.
They're usually served in a brown paper bag, with a pair of skinny bamboo skewers that struggle with the weight of calamari leg. When they come fresh out of the hot oil, they can be a juggle to hold onto. The chewy upper legs are a fun battle for the jaw, but the tips of the tentacles are always fried to a crisp.
No diss on the Mediterranean take, but I definitely have a soft spot for this greasy, dirty version of fried calamari. Can't wait to get some next time I go home.