Tuesday, February 1, 2011

It's all about food, again!!

Dad could feel numbness developing between his jaws and uncontrollable shivers being sent down the spine.
"Oh no! There must be lots of MSG in one of the dishes we ate.", he tapped on mum's shoulder and said.
As more and more restaurants in Hong Kong stop using MSG, dad has not had such a bad bout of "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome" for a long time. The numbness just wouldn't go away.
At the end of the meal, a waiter approached the table and asked for comments on the dishes served.
"The food was quite average", granddad said.
"Your chef likes adding a lot of MSG!!", dad couldn't help interjecting.
"Oh no, we don't use MSG. We use chicken powder.", the waiter retorted.
Dad felt the powerful after effect for the rest of the afternoon.
So the above interchange happened a few days ago in a restaurant within one of the many shopping malls in Tsim Sha Tsui. Guess you just have to pick your eateries wisely and refer to a reliable restaurant guide. Perhaps referring to the 2011 Michelin Guide is a good start. After all, it is the latest version of the most authoritative restaurant guide in the world. Oops, that's where they went wrong! The restaurant was the third restaurant in Hong Kong that was awarded 3 stars by the Michelin Hong Kong & Macau Guide 2011, Sun Tong Lok 新同樂 in TST. You might want to refer to the following weblink on Michelin's justification for awarding this restaurant 3 stars.
“We understand the controversy and we’re not trying to promote shark’s fin, but fine Cantonese cooking.”

If ignorance is defense, the waiter could be forgiven regarding his no MSG statement. But a Michelin 3-star restaurant is supposed to have waiters who are knowledgeable about food and especially the dishes that the restaurant is serving.

The Knorr's brand of chicken powder no longer put mono-sodium glutamate (MSG) as one of its ingredients. (It was stated explicitly in its label a few years ago.) Instead the label now reads, flavour enhancers (E621 and E635). E621 is the E number for MSG and E635 is disodium ribonucleotides. Quoting from the wikipedia entry for E635:

A mixture of 98% monosodium glutamate and 2% E635 has four times the flavor enhancing power of monosodium glutamate (MSG) alone.
So chicken powder is basically some super-charged MSG!!
Traditional Cantonese cooking does involve adding a lot of MSG, maybe this is what the Michelin Guide was trying to promote.

Given that they use the same additives in instant noodles and dad never has a problem with instant noodles, they must have added a ton of the stuff in!!

MSG wasn't the only problem. The beef ribs, which were ordered at the very start of the meal arrived just before the bill was paid, were over-seasoned (or put it simply too salty) with nothing to accompany the meat. They also added a twist to the traditional dish of braised pomelo skin with shrimp roe. You literally need to twist a pepper mill to add your own shrimp roe to the dish. But no matter how hard dad twisted, the dish remained tasteless. The shrimp roe looked like passed its sell-by-date. The best way to put it is perhaps the old Cantonese saying, "a French banquet - an extra piece of fish". (You need a Cantonese speaker to interpret this for you.) [PS. - If you Google 法國大餐, the interpretation turns out to be the first item returned by the search.]

We doubt if mum and dad will ever go back there.

While on the topic of food, uncle Andy (who tried to take Scottie's food away when he was young), cooked some yummy white pepper crab last weekend. It looks like deep-frying the crab briefly before putting it through a bath of melted butter and crushed pepper. The crabs' shell were bright red and beautifully presented.

Also Freakonomics radio, a new podcast that both mum and dad love, has 2 recent episodes on food and wine. Like the 2 books with the same name, the eponymous podcast is a wonderful source of insights and fascinating stories. Enjoy!!

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