Sauce for the goose
One of celebrity chef Walter Kei's favourite restaurants reflects the community spirit of Chai Wan, writes Gary Kwok
Having worked in the Eastern district for more than eight years, Walter Kei Hiu-wah knows exactly where to find good food in the area. When the celebrity chef and food columnist shows up in Yue Wan Market in Chai Wan in a simple blue shirt with his signature pair of circular glasses, he spends no time in leading the way to Chan Kee Marinated Goose, where he is warmly welcomed by the wife of the stallholder.
"I think it's the human touch in this market that makes it so special. Chai Wan is a small community. Everyone is so close and friendly, and that's why I like coming here a lot," Kei says.
He has been a regular at Chan Kee Marinated Goose for more than five years, drawn by the special sauces that the stall owners have had on the brew for more than 20 years, which makes the taste concentrated with a hint of pepper and star anise.
The store owners wake up at 4am every morning to prepare the geese, pigs' ears and intestines. They do not count how many pieces they sell, but Kei says the geese are so popular that they usually sell out by about 11am. "The sauce is the soul to the geese. The geese absorb every bit of it, but the texture remains tender," Kei says. "I like to serve the geese [as take away] with wine. They go very well with each other."
After picking up a box of goose meat from Chan Kee, Kei heads for another of his favourite restaurants, Lin & Chuen Kitchen on Shau Kei Wan Main Street East. "I love this place for its originality and simplicity. The chef designs the recipes himself, and the flavours are unique," he says.
First up on the table are the baked sea shrimps in Maggi sauce. The shrimps are golden in colour and look crispy. The aroma of mouthwatering Maggi sauce soon fills the cosy restaurant. "The sea shrimps they use are extremely fresh," Kei says. "You can tell by just looking at them - so plump and big in size."
The shrimp shells are also edible, after being deep fried.
Kei also admits to having a weakness for the soy sauce chicken in a clay pot. Different from other traditional soy sauce chicken, it is served in a clay pot with a lot of spices.
"The smell of ginger is strong," says Kei as he opens the pot. "This dish has many layers in terms of flavour. First you smell the ginger and shallots, and then when you eat it, the rich taste of soy sauce rushes into your mouth, accompanied by the chicken which is cooked just right."
Kei discovered his passion for food when he was studying abroad.
"No one in my hostel wanted to cook when I was in the UK," he says. "So I started cooking on my own, and slowly developed an interest."
But what made him take cooking seriously was the cost of food in Hong Kong. "When I came back to Hong Kong, I found the food pricey and the choices limited, so I learned to cook for myself."
Kei went on to write his first food column in 1997 and became famous after hosting a series of shows on TV including A Bite of China and Pleasure and Leisure.
Since then, he has frequently been invited as a guest to different parts of the world by various television stations and more recently by travel agencies, which gives him the opportunity to taste different cuisines in various countries.
His latest TV show is Walter's World on NowTV. He also gives cooking classes in his food workshop 'The Playground' in Chai Wan.
"Food represents a side of a place's culture, and I find it fascinating to discover different cultures of different places by eating," he says. "For example, I noticed that food in China has been getting spicier and heavier in taste lately. I think it is because the ingredients are not fresh enough, and the cooks tend to cover it up with more spices, salt and sugar."
He stresses that fresh ingredients are the prerequisite for a good dish. "If you do not cook with fresh ingredients, you can never produce a good dish, no matter how excellent a cook you are. The quality of a dish is decided 70 per cent by the ingredients and 30 per cent by the skills of the chef."
Despite all the cuisines that he has savoured, Kei says he likes Cantonese cuisine the best. "After all, I am Chinese, and my roots are here. I have special sentiments towards Chinese food."
For a taste of fine Cantonese dining, he recommends Guo Fu Lou in Wan Chai. "Their roasted pig and deep fried pigeon are very crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside. If I have friends flying into Hong Kong for the first time, I always recommend this place to them."
OEDO Japanese Restaurant in North Point is another favourite. "Their food is simple and traditional, nothing too fancy," he says. "I always prefer restaurants with a menu of fewer choices, say 20 dishes. If a chef is good enough, he or she does not need a wide range to attract customers. A signature dish already does the trick."