The eye-popping colors and pop-art graphics on the cover of Hong Kong Local: Cult Recipes from the Streets that Make the City immediately announce this is not your mother’s cookbook. ArChan Chan has taken the world of cooking into a new arena, one that blends Choose Your Own Adventure with Name that Neighborhood, steeped in the dizzying exuberance of a video game.
A Hong Kong local herself (who is now a chef in Singapore), Chan knows her territory and cleverly takes it from the realm of “food paradise” to a 24-hour all-you-can-eat buffet. Dividing her book into Early, Mid, and Late, Chan guides her readers through the culinary delights of a day in Hong Kong, showing how they can bring the food of this city into their own kitchens.
The recipes in Hong Kong Local aren’t the haute cuisine extravaganzas that Hong Kong feeds its high-end residents and plutocratic travelers. These dishes are street food offerings that can still be found in the city’s dai pai dong or street carts and show up in congee shops, yum cha restaurants, and the cafes known as cha chaan teng. They’re uncomplicated and almost minimal, depending on the freshest ingredients and “a high level of attention and care,” Chan emphasizes.
Under her guidance in the Early section, readers can begin their days with congee, Chinese doughnuts and fresh soy milk. Heartier appetites are appeased with milk tea, beef noodles and sticky rice rolls while traditionalists are taken to the delights of dim sum: steamed pork ribs, dumplings, and sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaves.
Still hungry? How about a pastry? Egg tarts, pineapple buns, coconut tarts, sponge cake, or the more substantial Hong Kong french toast – or maybe soup?
Moving on to lunch in Mid, Chan once again pays attention to appetites with varying capacities, with choices that range from snacks (bao and pork) to noodles, pepper steak, and fried rice, with mango soup, custards, and smiley cookies for dessert, washed down with a red bean crushed ice drink. This section moves along briskly; Hong Kong lunches aren’t lingering affairs – there’s shopping to be done and a number of people waiting for empty tables.
Late however is a whole other story – a moveable feast with family and friends that can easily last for hours – and Chan’s recipes reflect that luxurious abundance. Steamed whole fish with soy and spring onion, cheesy lobster, typhoon shelter crab, oyster omelette, nine different poultry dishes that include the traditional salted baked chicken, fried morning glory with fermented bean curd – this is food that makes memories and guarantees a satisfied sleep that night.
Hong Kong Local covers a lot of different bases. It’s a cookbook, a culinary guide to Hong Kong, and a godsend to people who live far from the Cantonese restaurants of America’s Chinatowns and hunger for the food they remember. And for those who know and love Hong Kong, it’s filled with neighborhood photographs that tease with their lack of captions and entice by beckoning with the welcome that this city is famous for.
ArChan Chan’s recipes and Alana Dimou’s photographs provide the cheapest ticket to Hong Kong that’s ever been offered. Look, cook, eat, and be happy.