Why can’t I eat a reindeer fillet steak or Puerto Rican mofongo in Hong Kong, our columnist wonders. Photo: Shutterstock
Mouthing Off
by Andrew Sun
Mouthing Off
by Andrew Sun

The same old restaurants keep opening over and over again in Hong Kong. Give me something new

  • Does Hong Kong really need so many modern Cantonese, ‘authentic’ Italian or organic healthy vegan concepts, or can we go for something a little different?
  • It’s not easy brainstorming new ideas, but here are some for free: Caribbean, proper Mexican, and fine-dining Filipino cuisine

Why does it feel like the more new restaurants that open, the fewer places I want to eat at? Launches happen every week in Hong Kong, but lately it’s like déjà vu with the same formulas over and over again.

Like Hollywood movies, there are a lot of remakes and reboots. Do we really need more modern Cantonese, “authentic” Italian, or organic healthy vegan concepts? Or am I just jaded and tired of newly sprouted and highly touted establishments that disappoint?

More significantly, do we really crave these cuisines? Sure, an executive chef’s creativity is a major factor, but to extend the Hollywood metaphor, not every cook is a Scorsese or Tarantino. Most new eateries are more like Fast And Furious sequels – flashy, predictable, promising more than they deliver. You also leave thinking: “Wow, so much was spent on so little substance.”

New doesn’t always mean novel. Hong Kong has a wonderfully diverse restaurant scene, but it can always be better. It’s not easy brainstorming new ideas, but if I was a restaurateur, here are some under-represented cuisines I would happily dish for dinner.

Make mine a mofongo, says Andrew Sun, a fan of the Puerto Rican saucy mashed plantain served with pork. Photo: Shutterstock

1. Caribbean food

Not just Jamaican jerk chicken and ackee and saltfish, although it would be nice if someone opened such a takeaway in Chungking Mansions. Previous places that offered jerk dishes always made it too sweet and not spicy enough, like a barbecue sauce infused with wimpy peppers.

Something more authentic would befit “Asia’s World City”. Other foods from “the islands” with great appeal include Bahamas conch ceviche, Puerto Rican mofongo (saucy mashed plantain served with pork), callaloo and various mouth-watering Indian-inspired curries, stews and roti wraps. Oh, and how about a good Jamaican patty?

2. Mexican (not Tex-Mex)

Operators tend to think Hongkongers don’t like Mexican food. That’s because most places actually serve Tex-Mex: burritos and enchiladas heavy with beef, cheese, refried beans, along with other gringo inventions like chili con carne.

Chicken with mole Poblano sauce and Mexican rice, a traditional specialty of Oaxaca and Puebla. Photo: Shutterstock
South of the border, the food is much lighter and fresher. I want some maize-based (instead of wheat) tortillas, fresh Yucatan peninsula-style seafood, peppers stuffed with picadillo, and complex Oaxacan mole dishes. And how about a competent huevos rancheros for breakfast?

3. Casual Scandinavian

Thanks to Noma, Geranium and chef-y Nordic cooking of this ilk, Scandinavian cuisine is often viewed as snobby and pretentious, prepared exclusively with tweezers. In reality, cold-weather countries love simple comfort foods.

In addition to hearty open-faced sandwiches – topped with cheese, smoked salmon, pickled mackerel, eggs, pate or chicken salad – on healthy rye knäckebröd, you can enjoy beet soup, elk and reindeer meat for more rib-sticking meals. In Sweden, there are also restaurants that only serve meatballs with gravy and mash.

A typical Norwegian meal of moose patties with potatoes and vegetables - the kind of casual Scandinavian fare Andrew Sun would like to see in Hong Kong. Photo: Shutterstock

4. North American game

Make America great again by returning to its frontier heritage foods. Instead of another rote steakhouse, someone should open a log cabin to present North American wild meat.

Bison, deer and moose are interesting, low-fat proteins. The potential of swamp fare like crocodile and nutria (coypu) are endless. Wild hogs make excellent sausages. Hong Kong can also be introduced to unique sides like hush puppies, collard greens and wild rice.

Plus, I know people who would love a restaurant that offers turkey all year round.

5. Filipino fine dining

Arguably, it’s the new Asian sensation in international foods, so I’m a little surprised no one has opened an upscale, modern Filipino bistro in Hong Kong yet. Perhaps the false perception that all its foods are sweet, greasy and sour still exists in the minds of local diners.
But there’s no reason dishes like lechon, sisig, sinigang, and the ever prominent adobo, can’t be repackaged with refined presentation.
A serving of Filipino sisig. Surely dishes like this can be repackaged with refined presentation, Andrew Sun says. Photo: Shutterstock
Someone just needs to convince chefs like Margarita Forés, Jordy Navarra, Tom Bascon or Miko Calo to launch here to change some minds.