Chinese gastronomy has a long history, going back thousands of years. And, with that, there are many traditional dishes which take hours to prepare and include an arduously skilled process as the chef deals with many complicated ingredients. Some of these dishes once graced the dining halls of emperors, mandarins and the elite, showcasing the talent in their kitchens. Sadly, though, most heavily handcrafted creations are just too labour intensive to be commercially viable any more and are vanishing from the Hong Kong dining scene entirely. While there are some esteemed restaurants that may try to keep these intensive dishes on the menu, the masterchefs who craft them could be the last to uphold these culinary traditions. We visit some of the restaurants in town, though, who are keeping the traditions alive. Try these dishes – while you still can...
Hong Kong's disappearing dishes and where to find them
There aren’t many restaurants serving eight treasures duck nowadays, mainly because of the hours of work involved and the long list of ingredients needed like mushrooms, chestnuts, Chinese salted ham, lotus seeds, salted eggs, lean pork, lily bulbs and barley. The eight treasures, in fact. Each ingredient is prepared individually while the duck is braised with abalone sauce for over an hour so the meat absorbs the flavours. Then there are two big challenges. Firstly, there’s the timing when braising the duck, so the meat is tender without falling apart. Secondly, the flavours of each treasure must be balanced so no ingredient becomes overpowering. Spring Moon at The Peninsula – which recently picked up its first Michelin star, too – is a master of this Cantonese gem. $780
This is another banquet dish that’s disappearing fast but Fook Lam Moon is keeping it alive. This double-stuffed and boiled delight is a cross between a turducken and haggis. First, the chef packs bird nests into a boneless chicken. Then the whole bird is stuffed into a pig stomach before it’s all steamed with the eatery’s signature secret broth. The preparation needs to be skilled as the thin pork tripe could tear when it’s stuffed. Just think about it, though: the tripe is infused with the tasty broth while the bird nest absorbs all the chicken flavour. This is layer upon layer of flavour and texture. About $2,700 for a party of four (sold by weight).
With almost a five decade-long history serving Hong Kong the most refined Chiu Chow in our city, it’s no surprise Pak Loh Chiu Chow is holding the torch for the city’s traditions. For this dish, the chefs need to source large sea cucumbers which are soaked for at least four days before they’re filled with dried scallops, lotus seeds, ham and mushrooms. Then it’s all stewed for over three hours to soften the cucumber and have it absorb the flavours. Served alongside pork and dried flatfish meatballs, this has been a popular favourite among the Chiu Chow community for generations. It’s considered auspicious and symbolises a full wallet and belly. $1,967
A variation of the traditional eight treasures duck, Celebrity Cuisine’s duck with eight goodies not only has slightly different treasure as filling but the chef’s interpretation also smothers the meat in a rich, fragrant sauce. The laborious process starts with deboning the duck while keeping the skin intact and unbroken. Then ginkgo, chestnut, pearl barley, lotus seed, egg yolk, glutinous rice, lily buds and jin hua ham are prepared individually before being stuffed inside the duck. The bird is then marinated, deep-fried and steamed in supreme soup for two hours. We’re getting dizzy just thinking about it. $480
Great skill and masterful execution are the keys to Howard’s Gourmet, particularly with its signature sea cucumber and supreme broth. It takes an astounding six days to make, starting with the soup it’s cooked in, which is made with chicken, lean pork meat and ribs that are boiled separately in high pressure cookers. The broth is then frozen to seal in the juices and nutrients before being split into three layers so the meat remains at the bottom with the fats at the top. After removing the top and bottom, the chefs reheat the middle layer of clear broth and that’s then infused with the pourous sea cucumber that’s been soaking for four days. It’s soft, then roasted in the oven until crispy on the outside. The result is magnificent. Make sure it’s on the ever-changing menu, though, when you book. $1,000 for set lunch, $2,000 for set dinner.