When noted Chinese-American cookbook author Ken Hom began his research on "Fragrant Harbor Taste" (Simon & Schuster, 1989), he turned first to Willie Mark, the foremost authority on food to be found in this exciting capital of Chinese food.
Willie, readily identified by his wispy gray beard and pixieish face, was waiting for me when I arrived for lunch at one of his favorite restaurants, the outstanding King Heung, on Paterson Street hard by Food Street, a mall of modestly priced eateries.
As Hong Kong's best-known food connoisseur, restaurateur, raconteur, author, columnist and consultant, Willie has a number of favorites among the thousands of establishments -- some licensed, some not. "It costs so much to open a restaurant here that it's cheaper to open the doors for business and pay the fines [for no license] while waiting for the license," he explained.
The certified King Heung has been serving Peking-style (now Beijing) dishes for many years, with Peking Duck the specialty of the house, of course.
"Would you like a whisky?" he asked, as waiters began loading the table with nameless but colorful dishes. "I've always thought whisky goes well with Chinese food." After sipping Scotch "neat" (no additives) with him throughout the meal, I had to agree.
Out came dishes of fish, lobster and prawns, a delicately smoked chicken, spicy pork trotters (pig's feet) and a mild fish soup. (I felt fortunate to have missed snake soup, a local favorite.) But it was the duck that was the centerpiece for the meal.
Under Willie's supervision, it was served by a waiter wearing white gloves, in the traditional manner. Only the darkened and crispy skin was removed; the meat of the duck is used in other dishes and the bones for soup. Some restaurants, however, will break with tradition and serve the meat as well.
The skin is then placed on a small pancake, along with a piece of scallion, a stick of cucumber and a dollop of Chinese plum sauce. It was delicious.
Willie has written several cookbooks on the infinite variety of Chinese cooking to be found here. All are interesting and good reads, butnot presented quite the American way. For example, Willie says the number of servings is unimportant in Chinese cooking, so you have to guess on each recipe. Also, Americans may have difficulty with translating the British imperial measures in "Top Chefs."
Willie's first, and probably his best for Western cooks, is his "Chinese Cookery Masterclass" by Willy (note the different spelling) Mark (Chartwell Books, 1984). Unfortunately, "Masterclass" is out of print, but it can be found in libraries.
His two most recent books are oversized paperbacks: "The Best of Chinese Cooking," published in 1991 by Centurion Books Ltd., London, and "Cooking With Hong Kong Top Chefs," first published in 1985 by Affairs Publishing Co. Ltd., Hong Kong, and revived with a fourth edition in 1992.
If interested in tracking down Willie's books, try either of these two sources: Nach Waxman, Kitchen Arts and Letters, 1435 Lexington Ave., New York, N.Y. 10128, (212) 876-5550; or MCL Associates, P.O. Box 26, McLean, Va. 22101-0026, (703) 356-5979.
* From "Cooking With Hong Kong Top Chefs" comes this easily duplicated and very tasty recipe. I suggest you leave out the monosodium glutamate.
* Spare ribs with orange
Makes 2 servings, or 4 to 6 as an hors d'oeuvre.
1 pound pork spare ribs
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon monosodium glutamate (optional)
2 teaspoons ginger juice
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon orange-flavored brandy (such as Grand Marnier or Cointreau)
1/4 cup orange juice
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon monosodium glutamate (optional)
2 cups plus 1 tablespoon peanut oil (divided use).
Chop the spare ribs into 1 1/2 -inch lengths.
Marinate the ribs for one hour in a mixture of the first five seasonings (four without MSG).
Heat 2 cups of peanut oil and fry the spare ribs for one minute. Remove from heat. Keep the ribs in oil for 3 minutes, then remove them. Heat the oil again and return the ribs for another minute. Remove, drain the oil.
Heat the pan and add one tablespoon of oil. Add the mixture of the remaining four seasonings (three without MSG) to the pan, bring to a boil.
Add the ribs to the pan and stir vigorously over high heat for 10 seconds. Serve.
The following recipe is found in
The Best of Chinese Cooking." Any number of large shrimp can be substituted for what Willie Mark calls "king prawns."
! Sesame prawns
Makes 4 servings.
12 king prawns
3/4 -inch knob fresh ginger
1 fresh red chili
1 clove garlic
1 spring onion
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
.' 2/3 cup plus 2 teaspoons Chinese
wine (or medium dry sherry)
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
2 tablespoons milk
2 ounces plain flour
4 ounces sesame seeds
oil for deep-frying
Shell and devein the prawns but leave the tails intact. Cu halfway through the prawn and open out into a butterfly-style.
Shred the ginger and finely chop the chili, spring onion and garlic and mix with the soy sauce and wine. Add the sugar and pepper and pour the mixture over the prawns, then set aside for 15 minutes.
Beat the egg lightly and mix with milk. Dip the prawns in the egg wash, dust with flour and coat with sesame seeds.
Heat the oil in a wok until very hot and deep-fry the prawns until golden brown. Drain and serve.