“Abalone King” Yeung Koon-yat’s life has changed dramatically from the extreme poverty he was born into in 1932 in Shiqi, a subdistrict of Zhongshan, Guangdong province. When Yeung was seven, his parents sent him and his two younger sisters to live with his grandmother. When she became too old to care for them, the three children were sent to an orphanage where, during the Sino-Japanese war (1937-1945), the two girls died of starvation. In 1948, at the age of 16, Yeung travelled to Hong Kong , got a job as a cleaner at a restaurant, and worked his way up the ladder, eventually becoming marketing manager at another establishment. In 1974, Yeung and a few friends opened Forum Restaurant , with capital of HK$600,000. After some business setbacks, Yeung decided to concentrate on perfecting dried abalone, an expensive ingredient that takes two days to prepare. Yeung, known affectionately as Ah Yat , became so renowned for it that he was dubbed the Abalone King. Today, Forum Restaurant has three Michelin stars. Until just a few years ago, Yeung could often be spotted standing at the entrance to the restaurant, greeting diners. In his cookbook, King of Abalones (1998), Yeung goes into detail about what makes dried abalone special, and why it’s different from the fresh mollusc. According to him, the best dried abalones come from Japan. He writes, “Desiccating abalones is extremely time-consuming. When an abalone is found, it needs to be dried in the sun first, and be removed from the shell. Then preserve it in salt water, rinse and then cook it in hot water. Afterwards, it is to be dried up again in the fire, and the desiccating process will be carried out once again. It is an extremely complicated procedure, and requires special skill […] “China is not the most well-known country for desiccating abalones […] Japan has the best trained specialists for desiccating abalones, and the secret of desiccation has been passed on by their ancestors, and is not allowed to pass on to the outsiders […] Therefore, the best restaurants in Hong Kong, including Forum Restaurant, are getting their abalones from Japan […] “Going through such a costly and time-consuming procedure, the expensive price of an abalone is understandable. A desiccated abalone has a special taste that a fresh abalone lacks. It is the ‘sweet sensation’ which is the effect of a chemical reaction from the process of desiccation.” On the Forum’s current menu, the least expensive braised abalone dish is priced at HK$2,380 (US$305). The cookbook gives several recipes for dried abalone dishes, although following them as written requires a great deal of time, expensive ingredients and a charcoal fire. There are also recipes that use other expensive dried ingredients, such as fish maw, dried sea cucumber and bird’s nest. More accessible (and less expensive) recipes include stewed grouper fin with bean curd, pi pa prawns, stir-fried crab in preserved bean curd sauce, scallops with Chinese ham and Chinese mushrooms, stewed chicken with dark soy sauce, stir-fried shredded snake meat, baked fish intestines, homestyle glutinous rice, and red bean soup. Like what you read? Look for more food and drink in SCMP Post Magazine .