Classic pork dish brings locals together to chew the fat
The neighbourhood of Tai Hang is the proud home of the 130-year old Fire Dragon Dance parade during the Mid-Autumn Festival. It retains a traditional Hong Kong village feel, despite the development of upscale flats up Tai Hang Road and the spillover of shiny, new shops from Causeway Bay and Tin Hau.
Among Tai Hang's central blocks of low-rise residences, car repair workshops, restaurants, fruit stalls and newsstands, everybody seems to know each other. Nothing brings locals and newcomers together more than a home-style Cantonese meal, and Wun Sha Street is lined with tiny shops serving just that.
On any given night of the week, neighbouring restaurants Man Sing Cafe and Happy Fish Bistro set up tables on the pavement and dish up local favourites such as the steamed minced pork with salted egg (ham dan jing yuk beng) we have chosen for this tasting.
Man Sing doesn't have English signage or menus, but it does have a bright orange shopfront that you can't miss. The strictly first-come-first-served policy means no reservations and the whole dining party must be present to be seated. On a busy night, which was the case when we visited, that could mean eating surrounded by an audience of waiting diners just a metre away from your table.
The waiting staff barely stop long enough to take our order of minced pork and rice before zooming into the small interior and zooming out with drinks. The dish follows within a minute, and we find ourselves staring at a tower of pale, glistening pork with a bright orange salted egg yolk twinkling like the star on a Christmas tree. Around this impressive structure was a moat of sweetened soy sauce with floating bits of freshly chopped spring onion.
We carve out morsels of the soft, almost fluffy mass and take bites with mouthfuls of rice - and the meat just melts in the mouth. The combination of the pork's natural juices and the generous amount of fat and salt - there are some bits of gristle - make the use of soy sauce unnecessary for moisture.
The salted egg is no competition for the mince itself in terms of richness. We speculate about the amount of fat, and briefly wonder what it's doing to our arteries, before polishing off the rest of it. It is whipped to achieve such an airy texture. This is definitely a minced pork dish that inspires gluttony.
The next night we make our way to Happy Fish Bistro, which is famous for its steamed pomfret (no surprise) and roasted meats. But like any self-respecting home-style Cantonese restaurant, it has its own versions of steamed pork mince.
We are tempted to order the one with preserved vegetables, but stick to the salted egg version for the sake of the review. While the tables inside the small dining room are full, the atmosphere here is more relaxed and service more leisurely at the only table outside.
The steamed minced pork arrives in a wide oval dish - the meat's flat shape is more usual for the dish. The salted egg yolk sits in the centre, with the egg white cooked solidly around the edge of the pork cake.
There are spring onion bits, but no soy sauce on this dish. As we take a spoon to the meat, we find that it is much firmer than the one at Man Sing. It's packed solidly, with an almost gummy texture from the cornstarch in the mix.
Clearly, they believe in using less fat at Happy Fish Bistro. The result, although probably healthier, is a drier, harder cake.
Here, the egg yolk is the star. Seeming somewhere between soft and hard-boiled in consistency, the yolk flavour had a rich intensity that Man Sing's did not, giving the mince some added character.
The verdict: Happy Fish Bistro's steamed minced pork is just like mum makes. But Man Sing's other-worldly, fatty pork pyramid is the one we can't stop thinking about.
Man Sing Cafe
G/F, 16 Wun Sha Street, Tai Hang
Happy Fish Bistro
G/F, 12 Wun Sha Street, Tai Hang