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Fried Stuff

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More Michelin-Starred Food in Hong Kong

Tim Ho Wan in Hong KongThere’s a dim sum restaurant in Hong Kong called Tim Ho Wan that both has a Michelin star, and is delightfully affordable.  So as you’d expect, it’s insanely crowded.  I mean, look at that madness in the photo above.

It doesn’t help that the restaurant is way smaller than you’d expect (dim sum joints tend to be absolutely enormous, but not here).  They do, however, cram as many people as they possibly can into a fairly small space.  Pretty much everyone has to share a table, which is quite common at Hong Kong restaurants.

Tim Ho Wan in Hong Kong

It’s totally worth it, though.  Everything I tried here was the best version of the dish that I’ve had.

Tim Ho Wan in Hong Kong

These baked buns with BBQ pork?  So good: sweet, with a lightly crispy shell, and a generous filling of perfectly cooked pork.

Tim Ho Wan in Hong Kong

These had a similar filling, but were deep-fried and amazing, with a perfect balance of crispy and chewy.

Tim Ho Wan in Hong Kong

And these shrimp dumplings?  Holy crap.  The shrimp was cooked to absolute perfection, and the wrapper was just right — not too thick, not too thin.  I honestly don’t think it’s possible to make these things any better.

Tim Ho Wan in Hong Kong

It wasn’t all fun and games, though.  These rice rolls filled with pig’s liver were shockingly unpleasant.  And I really like liver!  But the flavour here was all metallic bitterness; that pig must have lived a hard life, and it didn’t taste like it was seasoned with anything.  It was an odd misstep in an otherwise superlative meal.

Amazing Japanese Curry in Tokyo

Kitchen Nankai in Tokyo, JapanCurry isn’t necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Japanese food, but yeah, they love it here.  And if a hole-in-the-wall joint called Kitchen Nankai is any indication, that love is very much justified.  Like pretty much all of the food I’ve had in Tokyo, it’s good.

Kitchen Nankai in Tokyo, Japan

There isn’t a single word of English to be found anywhere in the restaurant, but — as is fairly common in Japan — they have plastic replicas of their dishes in a display out front.  This is a godsend for clueless travelers such as myself; the grizzled older lady who runs the place followed me outside, I pointed, and that was that (in retrospect, I probably could have just said “katsu curry” and saved her a trip outside.  Oh well).

Kitchen Nankai in Tokyo, Japan

The place specializes in katsu curry, which is a deep-fried chicken cutlet and a side of rice that’s been slathered in a tasty curry sauce.

Kitchen Nankai in Tokyo, Japan

That curry was bonkers.  It was so good.  I’ve never had anything quite like it — it had a really rich, beefy flavour, and tasted more like a long-simmered chili or a stew than like any curry I’ve had before.  It was also spicy enough to get some sweat going, but not so spicy as to distract from the flavour.

The chicken katsu was the perfect vehicle for the curry; it was perfectly tender, and crispy enough to stand up to the deluge of sauce.  It would have been delicious on its own, but with that curry it was out of this world.

Light, Crispy Fried Goodness

Tempura Imoya in Tokyo, JapanTokyo is trying way too hard to make me fall in love with it.  But you know what?  It’s kinda succeeding.

Its latest attempt to make me never want to leave: a little restaurant called Tempura Imoya.  I think you can take a wild guess at what they specialize in.

Like pretty much every place I’ve been to so far, there was a line to get in.  Hot tip: if you’re coming to Tokyo, bring a good book, because you’re going to be standing in a lot of lines (at least if you want to eat well — and trust me, if you’re in Tokyo, you want to eat well).

Tempura Imoya in Tokyo, Japan

I don’t think they even have a menu here, or at least if they did I didn’t see one.  They have a set tempura lunch which comes with a cup of green tea, rice, a bowl of miso soup, a plate of tempura, and a sauce to dip it in.  All that for just over seven bucks Canadian.

The tempura consisted of a piece of whitefish,  squid, shrimp, squash, and some kind of leafy vegetable — arugula, maybe?

Tempura Imoya in Tokyo, Japan

It was amazing.  Everything was cooked to perfection, and the amazingly crispy batter was almost improbably light.  It’s so light it practically just dissolves in your mouth (that sounds weird, but trust me, it was so good).  It was easily the best tempura I’ve ever had.

And that sauce — oh man, that sauce.  It wasn’t like any tempura sauce I’ve had back home; it was subtly sweet and crammed with ginger, and yet somehow it didn’t have that harsh gingery bite.  It was so good I could have eaten it on its own (and in fact there was a bit of sauce left after the tempura was finished, so I just poured the remainder on what was left of the rice).

Seriously though: Tokyo?  I’m going to need you to stop being so amazing.  I need to leave eventually, and you’re making that way too difficult.

So Much Fried Chicken

Gukje Market in Busan, South KoreaI was at the Gukje Market in Busan, a huge street market that sells, among many other things, a variety of street food.  Nothing was particularly catching my eye until I saw a restaurant on the outskirts of the market serving up some seriously delicious-looking fried chicken.  Korean fried chicken (or, confusingly, KFC for short.  I was on a food forum once, and someone was asking where the best KFC could be found in Toronto, and I was thinking “uh… at… KFC…?” until I realized he was talking about Korean fried chicken) is kind of a big deal.  So I figured I’d check it out.

By the time I realized that this place only served enormous plates of fried chicken meant to be shared among multiple people, I was already sitting at a table and felt like I was committed, so I just went for it and got the original/spicy combo plate.  I ordered a beer, too, because if you’re going to eat a sharing plate of fried chicken by yourself, you may as well be drinking a beer.

Gukje Market in Busan, South Korea

And yeah, as I suspected, it was a ridiculous amount of fried chicken for one person.  I did my best — I ate most of the spicy chicken, and made a small dent in the original.  The rest I brought back to the hotel to eat later.

Sadly, though, it wasn’t the fried chicken perfection I was hoping for.  It was fine — it particular, the sauce on the spicy chicken was sweet, spicy, garlicky, and delicious — but it was all white meat with a few wings thrown in, and it was overcooked and dry.

Gukje Market in Busan, South Korea

It’s also cut in that typically Asian style of chopping up chicken into small, ostensibly bite-sized pieces of meat that aren’t actually bite-sized, because if you try to eat them in one bite there’s a very good chance you’re going to end up crunching down on some configuration of bones and/or cartilage.  But it’s almost impossible to tell what’s what when it’s battered and fried like this, so you just have to take tentative little bites until you figure out what’s going on inside of each piece, and then try to navigate around tiny little bone shards and cartilage fragments.

Sorry, everyone in Asia, but the way you cut up chicken is absurd.  Either give me deboned bite-sized chunks, or give me full pieces that I know what to do with.  There is no third option.

Crunchy Fried Tubes in Amsterdam

Kroket from Eetsalon Van Dobben in Amsterdam, NetherlandsOne of the more popular foods in Amsterdam is a version of a croquette called kroket. It’s deep fried, with a very crunchy exterior and a creamy interior with chunks of beef. It’s really good.

Kroket from Eetsalon Van Dobben in Amsterdam, Netherlands

The first place I tried was a diner called Eetsalon Van Dobben. They serve the kroket on a pillowy-soft and fresh buttered roll, which works really well with the hearty, very crunchy croket.  Mustard is provided on the side, but I feel like its tasty enough that further ornamentation is unnecessary.

Kroket from Febo in Amsterdam, Netherlands

The second place was called Febo, which has an interesting layout in that it’s essentially a giant vending machine.  You find what you want, stick your coins in the slot above it, then open a little door to retrieve your food.  But there’s an actual kitchen and people replenishing the little food lockers throughout the day, so  it’s not like you’re eating stale food (the thing I got was  hot enough that it burned the inside of my mouth pretty thoroughly).

Kroket from Febo in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Though you can get a version in a bun, I went with just the fried tube on its own, which was similar to Eetsalon Van Dobben’s version, but with an even crunchier shell.

Kroket from Febo in Amsterdam, Netherlands

It’s a delicious fried tube of creamy, meaty goodness.  There’s really not much more to say about it than that.

The Quest for Delicious Wiener Schnitzel in Austria

Wiener schnitzelOne of the first things I ate when I got to Graz was a wiener schnitzel from a fairly well-regarded restaurant, and it was fine, but the meat was a little bit dry.  I’ve had better back in Toronto.  And it’s like, what the hell?  I’m in Austria. This should be the best wiener schnitzel of my life.

So I figured, okay, I’ll try again when I get to Vienna.

Figlmuller

There’s a place in Vienna called Figlmüller that’s quite famous for their schnitzel — I went at around 4:00 on a Sunday, at there was a half-hour line just to get in, so I figured this was going to be the mind-blowing wiener schnitzel I was hoping for.

wiener schnitzel

It was definitely better than the one from Graz, I’ll give it that.  The seasoning was outstanding and the outside was perfectly crispy, but again, it was a bit dry.

I wasn’t planning on eating this much wiener schnitzel, but just on principle, I had to try again.  It shouldn’t be this hard to find amazing wiener schnitzel in Austria.

I did some googling and found myself at a place called Cafe Rüdigerhof.  I had a good feeling about this one.  And…

wiener schnitzel

It was the worst of the bunch. The meat was, yet again, fairly dry, and this one wasn’t even particularly well seasoned. I had to add a very liberal spritzing of lemon just to give it any kind of flavour.

That’s it, I give up.  I’m not eating a fourth wiener schnitzel.  Thanks for nothing, Austria.