Counting calories: Korean Chinese power blogger Sue Chang secretly yearns for 'something simple at home' cooked by her mum
Kim Soo Jin
Quick with a smile and a laugh, Sue Chang epitomises the quintessential girl next door. As a Korean-Chinese power blogger, adept at capturing the attention of her 412,000 subscribers and followers across her Instagram, YouTube and Facebook page, Chang's biggest appeal is her friendly online persona.
She's the girl you want to hang out with over the weekend - or in this case, over lunch. So it's fitting to learn that her favourite cuisine is whatever her mum's cooking that day.
"I love eating everything: Chinese, Korean, Japanese but my favourite thing to eat is something simple at home," she says. "I think I could eat my mom's home-made doenjang jjigae [fermented soybean paste stew] with rice and a side of gim [roasted and salted seaweed sheets] every day and never get sick of it." We decide to eat at Mercato, celebrated chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten's latest venture into Hong Kong's dining scene.
"I came hungry," Chang jokes as she slides into her seat, looking at home in the bright and airy restaurant in the heart of Central.
Luckily, we're saved by the arrival of our appetisers: tuna tartar topped with black olives, cucumber and mint with avocado on the side; and house-made ricotta with strawberry jam, olive oil and grilled bread.
Mercato's dishes are made for sharing, which is what we do. When the dishes are laid on the table, Chang takes over the utensils and starts serving.
"Eat, eat," she urges, as she doles out spoonful after spoonful. The tartar is creamy and tastes good but the star is the phenomenal ricotta, which boasts a subtle taste and texture that is complemented by the sweetness of the jam.
"I think I might chip a tooth," she jokes, as she bites down on the rock-hard toast that came with the dish, but it doesn't deter her from reaching out for seconds - or thirds. And as soon as she finishes devouring the bread, she starts raving.
"This is really delicious. I want to keep dipping and eating, although I might gain weight."
She doesn't care about counting calories. This is a girl who enjoys eating chicken feet, soondae (Korean blood sausage made of pig's intestines), and Korean-style pig's trotters.
"I eat first and regret later - life is short," she says. "[My philosophy is that] we work hard to eat well."
Chang works hard, creating content for her social media platforms, each with a different focus: YouTube is mostly used for her video blogs and informal Korean language lessons; Instagram is where she posts selfies and snapshots of her daily life; and Facebook is where she holds live Q&A sessions with followers.
"I don't like being labelled as a KOL [key opinion leader]," she says. "I prefer the term, 'creator'."
She explains, KOL is too general a term that's used liberally to label almost anyone with an Instagram account. "I shoot and edit videos by myself," she says.
The focus is on creating valuable content, which means she's constantly jetting off to various locations, mostly Korea. Fluent in Korean and Cantonese, Chang's popularity lies in her ability to share Korean pop culture with her followers using Cantonese. When we meet for lunch, Chang had wrapped up filming a video travelogue in Seoul, and shooting her pre-wedding photo album in Jeju Island. A month before that, she was busy filming a video series focusing on Korean food for Road Show and another for the Korean Food Foundation, both filmed in Seoul. The list of her projects go on and on.
When our first main - a warm plate of rigatoni and succulent meatballs with smoked chilli tomato ragu - arrives, it leaves her raving.
"It's delicious," she says, complementing the subtle spiciness of the dish. "I could eat it all day and it wouldn't feel heavy."
She confesses that "maybe it's because I'm Korean, but I love spicy food". She has a soft spot for Sichuan dishes that are so hot and tongue numbing, it makes her order four bowls of rice just to keep going. Our second main, a crispy skin chicken with lemon braised potatoes, golden onion, green chilli and herbs, also grabs her attention. "Oh, it's so pretty." she says. "The way it is roasted reminds me of Korean fried chicken which I like to eat when I'm in Korea." She's taken by the bed of paper-thin potatoes, saying, "it's interesting how they've made it like potato chips. These are perfect for snacking on while having serious girl talk".
Filming herself doing "girl talk" is exactly how she increased her online presence, with videos that covered a wide range of topics and themes, from teaching Korean and impersonating G-Dragon to talking about the latest Korean drama series.
"The videos show my personality better," she says. "[It shows] me as an unni [older sister figure] who lives next door."
This approach has worked. Throughout lunch, her phone keeps buzzing with notifications and Whatsapp messages.
When our first dessert arrives - a beautifully plated salted caramel ice cream sundae on a bed of candied peanuts and popcorn and topped with whipped cream - Chang whips out her phone and starts taking photos.
"This is art," she declares. She takes photography and filming seriously, having invested in several cameras and a selfie stick to ensure she gets the perfect shot each time.
"I love popcorn," she says. "I always have to have popcorn when I watch movies. Sometimes, I even watch movies just to eat popcorn," she adds with a laugh.
The unusual pairing of the crunchy popcorn with the ice cream works well, and the whole plate is finished clean in seconds. Our second dessert, an impossibly fluffy and soft tiramisu unconventionally made with mascarpone and egg whites, is also a hit.
When lunch is over and we say goodbye, Chang is sashaying off into the late afternoon crowd, on the way to her next appointment.