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Yum Cha Time - Selected Dishes

Roast duck cutlets served with sliced cucumber.

Ducks are essentially wet creatures and love their water.  They can exude a gamey aroma so preparation of duck cuisine emphasises on two critical requirements - the well skilled drying of there duck with wintery winds if possible and applying the right marinade that enhances the taste and texture of the meat beneath a crispy skin.  Haha, Confucious is often ascribed in Western circles to have said about the fruitlessness of a peasant waiting for a roast duck to fly into his mouth.  Effort, aspiration, skill and patience are all required in the processing of a raw duck to one served at your local Chinese restaurant. The Hong Kong version is not the same as the Beijing, German, French or Sichuan version. In most yum cha places, the Guangzhou tradition rules - honey and rice vinegar are rubbed into the duck and left overnight.  Stuffing inside conquests of items like castor sugar, hoisin sauce, chopped fresh ginger, fresh chopped spring onions, five spice powder, oil and yellow bean paste, albeit in small amounts.  The duck has to be thoroughly cleaned.  I prefer duck in wraps or as cooked in Thai curry, do realise its potential oiliness but I readily choose a duck confit in an Italian or French restaurant.

An array of yum cha favourites, clockwise from 11 o'clock - braised phoenix claws (chicken feet); steamed siew mai; mango pudding; and steamed bean paste buns.

There are the usual standards in any yum cha gathering but what I look forward to are the baked char siew so buns, wok stir fried mussels, steamed pork rib cuts, prawn filled cheong fun, mango spewing pancakes, siew long pau (dumplings with soup filled insides), deep fried wantons, custard egg tarts, scallop dumplings and roast pork belly slices.   I have a penchant for the savoury instead of sweet in such fare.  What kind of tea blends are available these days at a typical restaurant for the commonly shared table pot?  Perhaps Pu-erh and Oolong are worth trying, but I also like the Japanese rice tea.

Deep fried delicacies - the wu kok or yam cake (top) with the prawn ball (bottom).

My Euro mates love the sweet and sour prawns, char siew so buns, deep fried calamari, stir fried Singapore  noodles, beef, deep fried ice cream and deep fried wantons.  Acquired tastes can include durian pancakes, phoenix claws (braised chicken feet), taro cakes and piping hot congee.

Yum cha sessions are meant to be leisurely, for business to be discussed, for families to catch up or for good mates to have a relaxing arvo.  The crowdedness and noise at most such places do detract from the original purpose.  Originally such food is downed with hot piping tea, but globalisation  of this cuisine means also the serving of beer and wine to accompany them.   Despite digital billing, most outlets around the world stick to the time honoured invoicing system of having a waitress stamp manually against your table bill. Does one just accept the offerings from passing trolleys, or are guests brave enough to request their favourite item which may not be even on the official menu?
Any yum cha eater senses the protocol of the place to have as much turnover of the tables in any one session.  It is better to have prolonged intimate conversations at a coffee place - as you walk out after your meal, you do notice the waiting hordes and queues.

Congee with century old egg slices, chicken pieces and garnish of shallots, pepper and julienne ginger.

All photo credits to Ms SK Teoh.  Images captured at the Golden Phoenix Restaurant, Equatorial Hotel Penang Island.


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