Saturday, November 24, 2007

Lucky, lucky me

One of my supervisors emailed me recently asking for the address of this blog – he said he had heard I was writing about food. This is the person who once packed a ton of rendang from Sumatra to take along with him on his 9,000-mile journey home (and we got to taste it at a party he threw!!). The point of this aside is that while this is not strictly a food blog, I’m beginning to feel the pressure to deliver!

Lucky me, I am eating well, both at home (Mum’s cooking!) and outside. One of our favourite joints is this unassuming steamboat (alternatively known as hot pot in certain parts of the world) restaurant in a corner shoplot not far from home.

They have sets, depending on the number of diners, that include fish, prawns, meats of all sorts, vegetables, tofu, stuffed tofu, beef balls, fish balls, eggs, noodles etc. We normally add to their sets or order off their non-steamboat menu.

Steamboats are simple dishes, really – the success depends almost entirely on the quality of the ingredients since all of them are boiled lightly, and not subjected to heavy cooking. Luck Kee Steamboat takes pains to ensure all the ingredients – especially the seafood – are fresh and of a better grade. Here’s a close-up of the pot just as the lid is being taken away…

The above pictures are from 2006. Just recently, we went back to have their non-steamboat food. We’ve always ordered their crabs as a side dish (yeah, right, crabs as a ‘side dish’). This time we decided to go the whole hog [actually, you can order braised pig’s trotters (chee keok) from a nearby stall (bak kut teh) too].

We started out with a plate of khau yoke mai funbee hoon/bihun (vermicelli) stir fried with strips of braised pork belly; a dish with deep flavours that one can appreciate with just a few mouthfuls. You might think it strange that the noodle dish appears first, since noodle and rice dishes appear at the end of fine Chinese banquets. But when you’re having a crab meal, the crabs are usually served last, during which all conversation stops and everyone is all hands on deck, literally.

Next came the yim kook har, or salt encrusted/baked prawns. (I am getting terribly hungry as I write this, sigh!). Deep-fried to the right level of crispiness, you can throw the whole thing into your month, chomp on it, and swallow everything – head, eyes, legs, tail, meat, stock and barrel. (You’ll need a fairly big mouth of course, or a way to unhinge your jaws.)

A plate of vegetables also arrived at this point, but I felt sure my salt-encrusted fingers should not be touching the camera.

Then came our chilli crab. We held our breath. I said a silent prayer for the folks in the San Francisco Bay Area – the side of a tanker had scraped against the Bay Bridge, and oil spilled out of a huge gash, sparking an environmental crisis that led to the restriction of the Dungeness crab season, much to the dismay of the locals there.

And then we tucked in! As expected, all conversation stopped, until the arrival first of the mantou (bread) to soak up the chilli crab sauce, and then the piece the resistance…

… our steamed flower crabs (fa hai). Flower crabs are soft-shelled crabs that have a more delicate flavour, which makes them less suitable for the robust treatment handed out to their bigger and meatier cousins (stir-fried either with chilli; peppercorns; curry leaves, ginger and spring onion; and so on). Instead, flower crabs are best steamed, on a bed of egg white whipped with Chinese wine, and sprinkled with some fresh spring onions.

Man, was that a feast!


Jen L. said...

Mmmm, Luck Kee. And sigh.


All those crabs are making me feel like seafood today. And I shall go kill a fish or something. Luck Kee eh ? Maybe I'll get 'Lucky' when I get home next....provided they haven't close shop by then.

Aromatic Beans said...

Hey, Mr. Sun, they're expanding man, not closing shop! You got to tell the better half: Honey, I want to get lucky back home. Anything to start a conversation!!!