The challenge: 10 cuisines from around the world, without leaving the SAR. From the temples of Mandalay to the plains of the Pampas and the beaches of Trinidad, Kate Springer maps out mouthfuls across the globe.
The Food: There’s much more to sunny Caribbean food than frosty piña coladas and jerk chicken. A hodgepodge of influences, Caribbean cuisine marries British, Spanish, French, Cuban, Chinese and African into an idiosyncratic mix of flavors that vary across the 7,000 islands. Generally speaking, it’s known for its slow-cooked and barbecued meats, and tasty Caribbean curries made with ghee (clarified butter), turmeric, mangrel (black nigella seeds), allspice, anise, thyme, cloves and mustard seeds.
The Place: The gregarious chef behind stalwart Sai Kung favorite Mandy’s Private Kitchenopened up a brick-and-mortar spot last year. Caribbean Bar & Restaurant (24 See Chung St., Sai Kung, 2791-2088) brings West Indies cooking methods and recipes to the table, with an emphasis on authenticity and home-style flavors.
Must-Try Dish: The highlights at Mandy’s are the spicy curried goat with Scotch bonnet peppers and the hummingbird fried chicken—the latter is marinated in herbs and lemon and then fried in a special Trinidadian batter.
Average Spend: $500 per person.
Say This: All crab fine dey hole! — “Everyone finds their place in life!”
The Food: There’s something simple yet addictive about Argentine food—perhaps its the grilled meats and straightforward flavors. A typical Argentine meal usually revolves round a parrilla, or fire pit, in which rumps and ribs get the char-grilled treatment. Expect heavy-handed sprinkles of coriander, as well as plenty of indulgent empañadas and lighter ceviches.
The Place: The rustic wood tables and homey vibes at Argentine steak house Tango (1/F, Carfield Building, 77 Wyndham St., Central, 2525-5808) are a good start to a very seductive menu, mostly centering around beef from La Pampa, the world’s most famous grazing pasture. From fillets to rib eyes, Executive Chef Ignacio Elizondo hand-selects the grass-fed prime cuts from Argentina’s top ranches. The restaurant also channels Buenos Aires’ nightlife culture, with long cocktail and wine lists.
Must-Try Dish: The grilled chorizo with chimichurri sauce is an awesome way to start the meal. And of course, the main event is the beef. Choose your favorite cut, then devour the the aromatic, seared steak as it is or dip it in one of many sauce pairings.
Average Spend: $500 per person.
Say This: Más loco que una cabra con pollitos — “Crazier than a goat with chicks.”
The Food: Southern-style Cajun cuisine is all about family-style meals and the Low Country boil. Here’s how it traditionally goes: pick fresh seafood, throw it in a pot with Old Bay seasoning and the holy trinity—peppers, celery and onions—and let it boil over a bonfire for hours. When it’s done, you just dump it out and enjoy the catch alongside biscuits, fried okra and corn fritters.
The Place: At Holy Crab (3/F, Cosmos Building, 8-11 Lan Kwai Fong, Central, 2110-0100) you’ll get a heavy dose of Southern-style seafood—think Louisiana crayfish and “catch of the day,” which are lobsters and crabs. Chef Mark Kerkstra, who hails from Florida, has been working up his own proprietary blend of Cajun seasoning over the years, and professes to serve the best clam chowder in the city. It’s only available on Fridays though, so clear your calendar.
Must-Try Dish: Pluck your own catch from the tanks near the kitchen, then choose your prep method and spice level—from “Plain Jane” to “Nuclear.” Don’t miss the buckets of lightly fried scallops and corn fritters, accompanied by a melt-in-your-mouth honey butter.
Average Spend: $500 per person.
Say This: Laissez les bons temps rouler — “Let the good times roll.”
The Food: Russian food, in Hong Kong? Yep: It made its way here via Shanghai, after tens of thousands of Russians emigrated to China to take advantage of booming trade opportunities and others followed to escape the Russian Civil War. Naturally, they brought with them a love of soups, smoked meats and vodka that eventually made its way down to the SAR.
The Place: Tucked away in Causeway Bay’s Hotel Pennington, Wheatfield Kitchen (2/F, Hotel Pennington, 13-15 Pennington St., Causeway Bay, 3422-8803) opened about a year ago. It’s a family affair: Chef Yip, who learned the ways of Russian food in Shanghai, helms the kitchen while his two kids take care of the front-of-house.
Must-Try Dish: The borscht is the signature—it’s a great intro dish, with thick beef and vegetables that have been cooking for over 30 hours. The apple pork chop and shashlik (kebabs) also come highly recommended.
Average Spend: $250 per person.
Say This: Appetit prikhodit vo vremya yedy — “Appetite comes with eating.”
The Food: Ethiopia’s signature is the wot: a thick, hearty stew which usually comes with injera—a sourdough flatbread made from the teff grain. For religious reasons, many Ethiopians fast for weeks at a time and lean on vegan-friendly foods, so you’ll find lots of lentils, legumes and collard greens. The main seasoning? Berbere, a chili-pepper spice blend that has about 10 ingredients. To finish off the meal? Traditionally, freshly roasted coffee is served as part of a ceremony.
The Place: Aiming to introduce Ethiopian to Hong Kong, founder and cook Helina Tesega of Eat Ethio (www.eatethio.com) is bouncing around from pop-ups to supper clubs. She doesn’t have a permanent restaurant, but you’ll find her at upcoming events such as Chai Wan Mei on March 15, and a coffee-and-food pairing at Common Ground café on March 21.
Must-Try Dish: Inspired by her mom’s home-style recipes, Helina makes mean lentil and beef wots—have them alongside some fried veggies and Ethiopian bread.
Average Spend: $60-100 per person.
Say This: Kes bekes enqulal be egrua tihedalech — “Slowly, slowly an egg will walk” — Be patient, and things will happen.
The Food: With a penchant for chorizo, seafood and lots of salt, traditional Portuguese food is all about warm, home-cooked meals and lots of wine. Age-old recipes usually incorporate ingredients like coriander, parsley, olive oil and sometimes piri piri peppers.
The Place: Casa Lisboa (8/F, Lan Kwai Fong Tower, 55 D’Aguilar St., Central, 2905-1168) has a long-standing reputation for refined Portuguese cuisine. Executive Chef Nelson Amorim imports the restaurant’s dried bacalhau (salted cod) and olive oils from Portugal, but sources his fresh ingredients locally. It’s also one of the best places to test-drive Portuguese wines, like the aromatic and effervescent vinho verde.
Must-Try Dish: A satisfying blend of coriander, hard-boiled egg, garlic mayo and ample crab meat, the sapateira, stuffed crab, comes in a whole crab shell. The signature suckling pig is one of the best in town: a huge portion comes crispy and honey-brown on the outside, and tender on the inside. Eat the orange on the side afterwards to cleanse your palate.
Average Spend: $400 per person.
Say This: A mulher e a sardinha querem-se da mais pequenina — “Women and sardines, you want them to be small.”
The Food: Lighter and less oily than south Indian food, Sri Lanka’s cuisine is curry-centric: typical breakfasts consist of 10-12 types of curries with “hoppers”—flaky pancakes or string noodles used to mop up the curry. Thanks to an array of natural resources and spices, you’ll often find lovely flavor combinations of cinnamon, coconut, palm sugar, cloves and saffron.
The Place: The cozy and friendly atmosphere at AJ’s Sri Lanka Cuisine (14 Sai Kung Hoi Pong St., Sai Kung, 2792-2555) tries to channel the motherland with pictures of crocodiles, snails and waterfalls adorning the walls. A spread of crunchy poppadoms and sweet pineapple chutney greets diners as soon as they plop down. You’ll find halal and pork-free dishes here, with an emphasis on fish and vegetable curries as well as several lamb dishes that all come in varying levels of heat.
Must-Try Dish: The pittu, a mix of grated coconut and rice, is sweet and light, especially good when paired with daal curry. For fun, get your hands dirty with the string hoppers and biryani rice, using the rice noodles to pick up the spiced veggies, meat and eggs.
Average Spend: $150 per person.
Say This: Kuzhukkum asai meesaikkum asai — “You can’t drink thick porridge if you want to keep your mustache clean” — You can’t have your cake and eat it.
The Food: Myanmar’s culinary scene is peppered with sought-after spices—think curry powder, paprika and red pepper. Fish is a key ingredient, appearing in many forms—from fermented seafood to fish broth to salty fish sauce. You’ll also find lots of thoke, types of salads that incorporate ingredients such as kaffir lime, lahpet (pickled tea leaves) and long beans, alongside various types of glass and rice noodles.
The Place: As its name suggests, Burmese Myanmar Thai Place (Shop 5, G/F, 108 Old Main St., Aberdeen, 2870-2080) bridges the border between Burma and Thailand. The restaurant has been anchoring Aberdeen for 22 years, and though the majority of the menu is Thai, there are two chefs from Myanmar in the kitchen who cook up an authentic selection of Burmese dishes.
Must-Try Dish: Try the Burmese beef brisket curry, which comes with a rich yellow sauce that’s bubbling over in a clay pot. It pairs with a hundred-layer pancake, a flatbread essential for polishing off the curry.
Average Spend: $100 per person.
Say This: Kjet kun hsan-o toe — “Like a blind chicken stumbling into a pot of rice.” — Being successful by chance.
The Food: Nepalese cuisine has a healthy bent, so everything’s fresh, light and changes with the seasons. Expect tons of chicken, lamb and vegetarian dishes seasoned with lots of saffron and exotic spices, such as the herby jimbu and timur, which is similar to Sichuan pepper.
The Place: Nepal Restaurant & Bar (14 Staunton St., Central, 2869-6212) is said to have been the very first restaurant to open in SoHo, and it’s celebrating its 20th anniversary this June. The resto is all about maintaining an authentic experience using only Nepalese-imported ingredients. And we’re not just talking about the food: there’s also imported spring water as well as refreshingly crisp Nepal Ice lager and plenty of powerful Khukri Rum.
Must-Try Dish: For starters, the Bhenta Tareko eggplant is excellent—it’s lightly fried with fresh herbs. Also try the Luiche Rana Pariwar, aka barbecued chicken, which is marinated in cashew nut paste, saffron and light spices. Lamb lovers will enjoy the Khasi Kathmandu, a creamy curry packed with lamb and brown onions.
Average Spend: $200 per person.
Say This: Ghati heri haad nilnu — “Swallow the bone after seeing the size of the neck” — Don’t bite off more than you can chew.
The Food: Indonesian food is about the spices—employing a huge range of ingredients including garlic, onion, lemongrass, peanuts, tamarind, nutmeg, coconut, cinnamon, ginger… and the list goes on. It’s actually a fusion cuisine, because historically Indonesia has played host to many different cultures, including Dutch colonists as well as Chinese, Indian and Arab immigrants. The result is a mix, but the general consensus? The hotter the better.
The Place: With cool vintage interiors and sophisticated Indonesian wood furniture, IR 1968 (5/F, The L Place, 139 Queen’s Rd. Central, 2577-9981) has been serving up classy cuisine ever since it first opened in Causeway Bay, over 40 years ago. If its longevity isn’t enough of an indication, the food here is delicious. Though Indonesian food is traditionally quite rustic and casual, IR1968 uses premium products and homemade sauces for a gourmet experience.
Must-Try Dish: You can’t go wrong with the ox tongue in Javanese sauce, but the beef satay is a must. It’s nothing like your average cheap-meat street skewers—the chef slow-cooks the Canadian tenderloin for two hours in a house-made peanut sauce for an ultra-juicy result.
Average Spend: $300 per person.
Say This: Ada gula, ada semut — “Where there is sugar, there are ants” — If you have money, you have friends.
This article originally appeared as an HK Magazine cover story in print and online.