Monday, September 03, 2007

Central Hong Kong: Oodles of Noodles

Mak's Noodles

I know my sister's poured cold water on Mak's noodles, but it's widely touted to be the best noodles in Hong Kong, so I figured I had to try it.

To be fair, I didn't do an apples to apples comparison with Tsim Chai Kee, since I ordered a bowl of beef brisket and wonton noodles from Mak, and Tsim Chai Kee doesn't serve beef brisket noodles.

While Mak's noodles certainly weren't bad, they lacked the springiness of the ones at Tsim Chai Kee. Also, for the money you pay (HK$38), the small bowl that you get really isn't very worth it. However, it was quite interesting to see the staff at Mak's filling the wonton and jiao zi. The precision and speed of their operation is truly quite amazing - they're like automatons.

Mak's Noodles
77 Wellington Street, Central
Tel: 852 2854 3810

Tsim Chai Kee Noodle

Well, my sister's already posted about this place and their over-sized dumplings, but suffice to say it's definitely a good place for a noodle fix.

Tsim Chai Kee Noodle
98 Wellington Street, Central

Law Fu Kee Noodle Shop

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Further up the road, Wellington Street joins Lyndhurst Terrace, and opposite Tai Cheong Bakery is a convenient noodle house called Law Fu Kee. While perhaps not as famous as the noodle shops on Wellington, it's still a decent and respectable place.

Law Fu Kee has two other outlets in Central, one on Des Voeux Road Central and another on Queen's Road Central.

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The noodles they serve aren't quite as fine and springy, but they're generous with the beef brisket, and they price themselves fairly competitively. Apparently, they're more famous for their congee than for their noodles, but I'm not that fond of congee, so I haven't been able to verify this.

Law Fu Kee Noodle Shop
50 Lyndhurst Terrace, Central
Tel: 852 2850 6756

Kau Kee Noodles

Hong Kong's justifiably famous for its noodles, such as wonton or char siew noodles. What seems to be really popular among the locals as well, is a steaming bowl of beef brisket noodles.

The beef is braised till it's all but falling apart, and the tendons and fatty tissue have become soft and gelatinous. Served with a hearty beef broth, the flavour of the meat and flecks of beef permeate the whole bowl, making it hard to tell what's noodle and what's beef.

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Apparently, one of the most famous places for beef brisket noodles is this shop called Kau Kee on Gough Street. You'll find them on wikipedia and one most Google searches for beef brisket noodles in Hong Kong. So famous are they that (like Mak's), they close at 8pm everyday. Unlike even Mak's though, Kau Kee does not appear to open on weekends.

So I was really looking forward to trying a bowl of exclusive beef brisket noodles at this place.

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Surprisingly though, they don't appear to serve the traditional beef brisket noodles; or at least, the beef brisket noodles you see all over Hong Kong. Firstly, they don't use the normal thin, stringy Cantonese noodles, but the much coarser mee pok type noodles. Secondly, the beef brisket and soup are much lighter coloured and less savoury than is usual, putting me in mind of the well-known contrast between light and dark bak kut teh.

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It's a matter of taste, really. Kau Kee's version of beef brisket noodles presents a much cleaner taste, a little unctuous, but there's not denying that the soup is pregnant with the flavour and aroma of the beef. It's not as robust as the traditional beef brisket, which I suspect is darkened with perhaps dark soya sauce, but it was a refreshing change.

Kau Kee Noodles
21 Gough Street, Central
Tel: 852 2850 5967

Man Yuen Noodle House

In Hong Kong, like most other Asian cities, the best food used to be found in makeshift roadside stalls, which would attract the locals from all over.

These dai pai dongs were cheap, quick and served wholesomely good traditional food. Sadly, with rapid urbanisation and development, a lot of these dai pai dongs have been forced to close when their leases expired.

There was a huge uproar when the popular Tai Cheong Bakery was forced to move out of its old premises in 2005, but happily enough instead of closing down, it simply moved to a new location opposite the road.

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One of the oldest surviving dai pai dongs in Hong Kong is Man Yuen Noodles, and it too faced the same fate. Forced to close due to the non-renewal of its lease, it instead moved just a few feet away to occupy a new shopspace at the corner of Elgin Street and Hollywood Road.

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Truly a hole in the wall, Man Yuen is one of my favourite places to come for noodles, because it's cheap, tasty and the service is pretty good. As a family business, you quickly recognise all four staff members after about two trips here.

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The beef brisket and wonton noodles are a steal at HK$22 (HK$16 if it's just one ingredient), and they're generous with the brisket. Within minutes a steaming hot bowl of noodles appears before you, rich and satisfying like nothing else. The soup is remarkably oil-less, and the brisket is stewed with ginger and bay to give it an extra hearty kick to warm you up.

Man Yuen's a great place to come when it's drizzling outside, and you want nothing more than comfort food cooked the old-fashioned way.

Man Yuen Noodles
68-70A Hollywood Road, Central
Closed Sundays
Tel: 852 2291 0308

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