Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Hakka Food

Last night, we met my in-laws for dinner at Hakka in Kuala Lumpur. My in-laws had their wedding banquet here back in the day and they wanted to show it to us. The characters for Hakka mean "guest families," because the Hakka migrated from central China down to Fujian and Guandong provinces long ago. This means their food and language are very different than many southern Chinese. Per usually, we deferred to my FIL's expertise and had him order. Here's what I remember:

-Lemon Chicken I've had this before at American Chinese restaurants. This one had more dark meat and was breaded in something more dense than the American version. I think the breeding was flour based; I know a lot of American Chinese restaurants use cornstarch based breading. The sauce was tangy and lemony and not too sweet  and I could have eaten it with a spoon.

-Hakka Noodles My FIL says they made these noodles by hand in the restaurant kitchen. They were very chewy and sort of like thick spaghetti. The texture had a nice bounciness, which is a signature of the dish. They were served with fried ground pork, scallions and some kind of soy sauce. Very nice.

-Yam Leaves I was introduced to these Chinese vegetables when some friends hosted us for dinner, and they quickly became a staple in our house. They're my favorite green, and this was one of the best renditions I've ever had. The stems were fresh and crunchy and the dish was intensely garlicky. One of the hallmarks of good Chinese cooking is wok hei, literally "breath of the wok." It's a sort of indescribable smoky, oily, rich taste that you get by cooking food in a very hot, well seasoned wok. It is very difficult to attain in a home setting because residential gas burners don't get hot enough. The wok hei on these vegetables was fantastic, and it really added and extra something to the dish.

-Shark Fin Lettuce Wraps I wish I remember what this dish was called. Shark fin is a Chinese delicacy, so I was excited to try it. The shark fin was shredded with crab meat, tiny shrimp and fried egg. Normally the dish includes mushrooms and black fungus, but my FIL was kind enough to leave them out since CodeMonkey and I dislike them. You scoop the mixture into lettuce leaves and roll them up before eating. It was a very nice and rich dish, though I'm not sure I understand what all the fuss was about.

-Almond Pudding with Longan The restaurant's owner made this specially for my ILs as it wasn't on the menu. The pudding was tofu-based, I think, and intensely, almost overpoweringly almondy. I let CodeMonkey have most of my portion because I wasn't a huge fan. It was served with longans on top. I have wanted to try these for ages, but they are normally sold 3 pounds for $10 in my neighborhood, and I didn't want to spend that kind of money on a fruit I might not like. They were delicious, a more tender, delicately flavored lychee. I'll definitely be buying more of these back in the States.

-Glutinous Rice Balls in Ginger Syrup These are a common Chinese desert. The balls are a dumpling made of glutinous rice flour, and they're stuffed with black sesame paste. This was one of the better renditions I've had; the dumplings had a nice resistance before biting, and I wish there were more of them. In the past, I've had these served in plain warm sugar syrup, and the ginger was a fantastic addition. It was so spicy it made my mouth tingle. I couldn't finish it, and CodeMonkey helped me out.

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