My dad’s president of the Hawaii Teo Chew Association, and in terms of food, this roughly translates to required attendance at many Chinese banquet dinners throughout the year. He complains about the monotony of the food, but I sure appreciate the novelty of a bagazillion courses no one ever finishes. The kind and quality of the dishes will vary depending on how much money the association has “invested” per table. Chinese New Year banquets are extravagant with lobster, abalone and sharks fin galore, but this year for Mother’s Day, they decided to be cheap. Nonetheless I was excited to be home and when I’m happy I eat plenty!
Courses are eaten family style. The waitress will set the dish on the lazy susan and scoop out individual servings. Note: this made it very hard to take pictures as I had to battle strange looks from the rest of the table and the waitress, who send evil glares in my direction whenever my camera flash went off in a desperate attempt to snap a shot before she dissected the dish.
First in this thoroughly enjoyable three hour journey was a tray of cold appetizers. Sea cucumbers, scallops, jellyfish, a slice of abalone and the single (hot) appetizer, a deep fried shrimp ball. You can count on Legends for great shrimp balls – consistently hot and sweet with the thinnest golden crispy coating, I always find myself picking my mom’s share off her plate. Think of all the fat and calories I saved her! There’s nothing I don’t like this in this plate, though the jellyfish could have been at a colder temperature. Texture-wise, after finishing the shrimp ball, everything flys on the cold/chewy/gummy side. But each bears a distinctive flavor, such as the sea cucumber’s briny saltiness and the spicy sweet of the marinated jelly fish.
The Seafood Egg soup was a sore disappointment. Talk about going overboard with the cornstarch as a thickening agent, resulting is a very “gluey,” unnaturally thick soup. Along with beaten eggs, were small pieces of shrimp, scallops and pork. The soup literally coated your spoon (in a bad way), like salty sticky pudding soup that wasn’t meant to be.
I love Peking duck and could probably finish an entire dish of this on my own (given a few hours and no distractions). Imagine a fluffy, warm bun. The bun alone has a soft, light texture and a nearly creamy, milky taste. Then, fill the bun with a golden brown hot slice of duck skin and meat dipped in hoisin sauce and a small handful of scallions. The savory crispy butteryness of the skin drives me insane. It’s so awesome. Thin and crunchy, like a meaty cracker with hoisin, hidden between the palms of soft buns. You MUST have some now if you’ve never tried it. Separating the skin and meat is a thick layer of fat. Scrape it off if you feel guilty, but oh man, what you’ll lose in flavor!
Plain and simple: broccoli stir-fried with dried shredded scallops. I would have enjoyed the use of fresh scallops more, the strong, “old” taste of the dried ones along with it’s stringy texture after cooking doesn’t really appeal to me. The older Chinese generation has a much greater appreciation for dried scallops (any dried seafood for that matter).
Oooh, pigeon! I used to like seafood a lot more than land meats, but am starting to notice a change in taste preferences. I still like fish as much as I used to, but now I love meaty meat even more! Pigeon reminds me a lot of duck, only sweeter and a greater dark to white meat ratio. There were 10 people on the table. Most were disgusted by the pigeon. I ate a whole one on my own. The math work out! (Later on in the evening I was like…oh man. I ate a whole pigeon…)
That includes the head. I’m not joking when I say the brain is the best part. Dig in the head, poke around with your chopstick and fish out a tiny, sphere of warm buttery brains. It is similar in taste and texture to foie gras (which explains why I like it so much), only more spreadable. Where’s my toasted brioche!!!
The crabs just weren’t kicking it tonight. Small, and nearly devoid of any sweet juicy meat, I found myself expending excessive energy cracking though shells without much reward. My teeth got quite a workout! I like crab best when it’s dry fried with lots of chili peppers, tonight’s sweeter, wet method of cooking seemed like a ploy to hide the sissy crabs.
I could only get a picture after it had been dissected. Fish in the classic Chinese preparation: simply steamed and served with ginger in a light shoyu sauce. The fish was a little overcooked tonight, but I was perfectly content with a bowl of rice any many spoonfuls of the shoyu sauce and ginger.
In our culture, nothing goes to waste. Remember the duck from the beginning of the meal? Here’s the rest of it! I ate a couple of the still skin-on pieces, hoping to relive the blissful moments the crisp Peking duck in the bun. Not quite up to par, but moist dark duck meat is always welcomed in my book.
I was pretty full by this point, but somehow found room (don’t I always) for the seafood fried rice. This wet version is much different from ordinary fried rice as the white rice is fried with only eggs and served beneath a thicker, seafood stew-like topping. Before distributing portions, the waitress madly mixes everything together in a flourish, making for…hey, can we call this Chinese Risotto? :)
Mango Pudding. One of the best desserts on this planet. Ever. That is, after bread pudding, rice pudding and a couple of other things. It hurts! I cannot have favorites, nothing can be the best because there are too many good things! But pudding in general is my weakness. The pudding “fish” is cut into chunks, served in individual bowls with evaporated milk poured on top. Light and fruity without being too sweet, mango pudding is an ideal way to end a banquet meal.
I usually go to these types of dinners twice a month (when I’m not away at school), most of the time it’s at Legends, but Hong Kong Harbor View is another place banquets are frequently held. The banquets range anywhere from six to a hundred reserved tables and people are grouped according to family or member position. But despite the fact that I nearing the ripe old age of 20, I am still seated on the “Children’s Table” along with 6, 7 and 8 year olds. I share this humorous/bitter resentment with my 17-year-old cousin who has been doomed to the same table. Pros? More food for us, as 6 most year olds rarely care to eat. Con? It’s the children’s table! Maybe they’ll move me when I hit 21.
Did I mention how good it feels to be back home?
PS. Just bought Alan Richman’s Fork It Over this morning. I wanted for quite a while now but could never justify paying $30 for a hard cover version. Now it finally came out in paperback. Hooray! Delicious bedtime read material. My brain seems to be forever fixated on food. My parents think I’m suffering for an unknown disease and wonders how the heck my friend put up with my. It’s like food spews out of every pore of my being. And I kinda like it that way :)
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