Cheesy, Noodley Goodness

Sun Kee Cheese Noodle in Hong KongSometimes you don’t need anything fancy or gourmet; sometimes you just want a bunch of cheese, noodles, and tender pork.

And that’s exactly what you’ll get at Sun Kee Cheese Noodle: pure, unadulterated comfort food.

Sun Kee Cheese Noodle in Hong Kong

I mean, just look at that.  It’s just a big old glop of creamy, cheesy sauce on top of a mound of noodles and unctuous pork cheek.

I think you get a better idea of what’s going on here after the noodles have been mixed with the sauce.

Sun Kee Cheese Noodle in Hong Kong

It’s so good.  The noodles themselves are nothing special — I’m pretty sure they’re just instant noodles — but that sauce is rich and creamy, with a satisfyingly sharp cheesy flavour.  The tender slices of pork are a perfect accompaniment.

It’s kinda like mac and cheese, only with noodles instead of macaroni, and with big pieces of tasty pork.

Sun Kee Cheese Noodle in Hong Kong

Hidden away at the back of a sketchy little mall, the place pretty much defines the term “hole in the wall.”  But when the food is this good, I’ll eat it in a broom closet.  Just gimme that bowl of cheesy, creamy noodles.  I don’t care where I eat it.

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.

Mind-blowing Mango Pancakes

Mango pancakes in Hong KongYou know you’re in the right city when you can just randomly stumble across a place that’s this delicious.

How delicious, you ask?  Extremely delicious.

Mango pancakes in Hong Kong

I wasn’t even sure what I was ordering.  I held up two fingers (my brother is here on this leg of the trip, so I’m ordering for two), just assuming I’d wind up with waffles.  He asked “mango pancake?” I nodded, and we were off to the races.

Mango pancakes in Hong Kong

Everything about this was shockingly good — from the fresh and fluffy pancake, to the satisfyingly tart sauce, to the chunks of absolutely perfect mango.  The very sweet, creamy mango works great with the pancake, with the slightly sour sauce cutting the sweetness from the fruit.

I wish I knew what this place was called, but trust me — if you ever find yourself in Hong Kong, just wander around until you find it.  It’s totally worth it.

McDonald’s Around the World: Hong Kong Edition

McDonald's Hong KongThe menu at McDonald’s in Hong Kong is kind of boring; nothing particularly jumped out at me.  But I’m way too deep into this McDonald’s around the world thing to stop now, so yeah — I got a couple of things.

McDonald's Hong Kong

The first thing I got is the Loaded Fries with Guacamole and Tomato Salsa Sauce (that name just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?).  I think someone needs to tell McDonald’s Hong Kong that fries with a bit of sauce on them and a tiny cup of guacamole on the side doesn’t quite count as “loaded.”

This was fine, I guess.  The tomato salsa sauce was pretty tasty — it basically tasted like a very cumin-tinged hot sauce — but the guacamole was watery and bland.

McDonald's Hong Kong

The other thing I tried is the Spicy Jalapeno Chicken Burger.  This was actually pretty bad.  The jalapeno slices and jalapeno tomato relish were zingy and spicy, but it’s also topped with a very thick slice of pineapple which absolutely overwhelmed the sandwich with sweetness.

The worst part was the chicken itself.  Though the exterior was nice and crispy, it was ridiculously dry on the inside.  I finished this, but I’m really not sure why.

On Eating Michelin-Starred Roast Goose in Hong Kong

Michelin-starred roast goose in Hong KongOne of the things Hong Kong is known for is its various roasted meats — goose in particular.  I checked out a couple of goose joints that happen to have a Michelin star.  Yeah, they take their goose pretty seriously here.

The first one, Kam’s Roast Goose, was easily the most popular of the two.  It draws some pretty intense crowds, with a 40 minute wait on this particular evening.

Michelin-starred roast goose in Hong Kong

The goose here was seriously tender with a really great flavour, though the skin wasn’t nearly as crispy as you’d hope.  It was quite good, but probably not worth the crazy wait.  The Michelin star seems like overkill.

Michelin-starred roast goose in Hong Kong

The second place was called Yat Lok Restaurant; it definitely wasn’t as slick as Kam’s, but I think it was the better of the two.

Michelin-starred roast goose in Hong Kong

The goose was equally tender and flavourful, and the skin had that amazing level of crispiness that you’re hoping for (though getting it in noodle soup — while delicious — probably wasn’t the best idea, because it quickly sogged up that great crispy skin).

Michelin-starred roast goose in Hong Kong

A Face-Punch of Flavour

Hanamaruken in Osaka, JapanOne of the many (many many) things I love about ramen is how much variety you get from bowl to bowl.  There are so many different styles and types and varieties of ramen that what seems like it should be a simple dish (it’s just noodles and soup) has so much to offer.

Hanamaruken in Osaka, Japan

There are some bowls of ramen that are subtle and light; on the other end of the spectrum is the bowl of slow-cooked pork rib ramen I just had from Hanamaruken in Osaka.

Hanamaruken in Osaka, Japan

The broth here is unctuously, mouth-coatingly rich (though it thankfully never crosses the line into gravy soup territory).  It’s also intensely flavoured, with a seafoody punch rounding out the in-your-face porkiness.  There’s absolutely nothing subtle here; the flavour grabs you by the collar and screams in your face.  And yet it’s not overbearing or one-note.

But what really makes this ramen noteworthy is the slow-cooked pork rib on top, subbing in for the typical chashu.  It’s a big old hunk of deboned ribs that’s been slow-cooked until it’s so tender you can just pull chunks off with your chopsticks.  It’s also browned on the griddle to give it some additional flavour/texture.

Hanamaruken in Osaka, Japan

It’s so incredibly tender that even the cartilage has rendered down into a delicious, porky goo.  And yet the meat itself still has texture — it’s not mushy at all, which can sometimes happen with slow-cooked meat like this.

McDonald’s Around the World: Japan Edition

McDonald's in JapanAfter my shockingly great Korean McDonald’s experience — and considering how good all of the food in Japan is — I had high hopes for a similar experience here.

Yeah, no.  This was a pretty standard McDonald’s experience, sadly.  Not the best, and not the worst.

First up is the Mature Gracoro Beef Stew Burger, which is a crispy fried croquette with cheese and chili on top.  Oh, and the croquette is filled with macaroni and shrimp.

McDonald's in Japan

There’s a lot going on here — between the chili, the cheese, the mayonnaisey sauce, the shrimp, the soft macaroni, the crispy exterior of the croquette, and the creamy interior, it’s a very random hodge-podge of tastes and textures.  It’s not bad, but it never quite coheres.

McDonald's in Japan

I also tried the Teriyaki McBurger, which was very similar to the Bulgogi Burger that I tried in South Korea.  In fact, I think the pork patty is identical — but when I had it in Korea, it was fresh and tasty.  This one had clearly been sitting out for a while, and had a much dryer texture and a vaguely leftovery flavour.  The teriyaki sauce was about what you’d expect, and it wasn’t quite strong enough to wipe out that patty’s iffy flavour.

McDonald's in Japan

Finally, there’s the Sankaku pie — a triangular chocolate pie with a puff pastry exterior.  This wasn’t bad.  The chocolate filling was nice and gooey, but the pastry shell was a bit tough and chewy.

Worth the Wait

Ramen Yashichi in Osaka, JapanWhen I’m searching for the best food in a particular area, I’m always hoping for a clear consensus.  If you come across recommendations for the same restaurant over and over again, then you can be reasonably assured that it’s going to be good.

Well, there’s very little doubt about it: Ramen Yashichi serves what everyone seems to agree is the best ramen in Osaka.  And holy crap, the place draws the crowds to prove it.

I showed up at around noon on a Friday; they have a system where they hand you a ticket that tells you when to come back, and I figured it’d be a half hour later.  Maybe an hour.

It told me to come back at 3:56 — almost four hours later.

Ramen Yashichi in Osaka, Japan

Well, okay.  At least I won’t have to line up.

Except I absolutely did have to line up — I showed up at the allotted time to find about a dozen people waiting outside, so I spent about half an hour waiting to get in.  Then I got in and there was another line.  It took about ten more minutes.

But then I sat down and got to try the ramen, and it was like, yep.  I get it.  It’s a chicken-based shoyu ramen, and it was absurdly good.  It was a bit more oniony than normal — I’m not a fan of raw onion, so that was unfortunate — but other than that it was one of the best bowls of ramen I’ve had since coming to Japan (which means it was one of the best bowls of ramen I’ve ever had).

Ramen Yashichi in Osaka, Japan

I mentioned that the mediocre bowl of ramen I had in Dotonbori was just one-note salty; the thing I love about the best bowls of ramen is that they seem simple, but there’s so much depth and complexity to their flavour.  That’s absolutely the case here.  With every mouthful, you discover something new.  It’s magical.

Feels Like the Very First Time

Ramen in Dotonbori, Osaka, JapanThis is actually my second time in Osaka — the first time was about ten years ago.

While walking around Dotonbori, I came across a ramen joint with a giant cartoon dragon on the outside, and I suddenly got hit by a freight train of nostalgia.

Not only had I eaten here on my previous trip, but — and I’m not 100% sure about this, but I’m fairly confident — this is where I had my first bowl of real, non-instant ramen (you have to remember that the explosion of ramen joints in Toronto has only been in the last few years — rewind to a decade ago, and ramen was much more of a rarity in the GTA).

Ramen in Dotonbori, Osaka, Japan

Though ramen is one of my favourite dishes now, it certainly wasn’t at the time, and this restaurant failed to ignite any sort of love for the dish.  Did I just not know how to appreciate a good bowl of ramen?

Nope, it’s pretty lousy (as you’d expect from a place with a big cartoon dragon mascot in the most touristy part of town).  The noodles were actually pretty good, but the broth was just one-note salty, and the pork was dry.

Ramen in Dotonbori, Osaka, Japan

Still, the nostalgia!  Plus, how often to you get to revisit the place where you first tried one of your favourite meals?  Totally worth it.

Pancakes: Japanese Style

Okonomiyaki Chitose in Osaka, JapanPretty much every country has their version of a pancake (everybody loves pancakes).  Japan’s is called okonomiyaki — a savoury pancake that’s filled with various meats and veggies.  It’s an Osaka specialty, so yeah, obviously I had to try it while I was here.

And I clearly picked the right place to do it; I’ve had okonomiyaki a few times, and I’ve always liked it, though it’s never particularly stood out.  The one they served at Okonomiyaki Chitose definitely stood out.

Okonomiyaki Chitose in Osaka, Japan

They have a few different versions on the menu.  I went with the one that’s filled with shrimp, squid, pork belly, and noodles.

The chef cooks it on a griddle right in front of you, and just watching it get made is  entertaining on its own.

It starts with a mixture of the veggies and the batter.  He also cooks the seafood on the griddle off to the side.

Okonomiyaki Chitose in Osaka, Japan

Then he adds the cooked seafood to the pancake, followed by the noodles, and finally the pork (which is still raw at this point).

He adds more batter to each pancake…

Okonomiyaki Chitose in Osaka, Japan

…then deftly flips them over.

Okonomiyaki Chitose in Osaka, Japan

Finally, he slathers on some mayo, adds a couple of other sauces, some seasoning, and it’s ready to eat.

Okonomiyaki Chitose in Osaka, Japan

It was incredibly delicious.  The texture was perfect — previous okonomiyakis that I’ve tried have been a little bit doughy, but this featured an amazing balance of crispy exterior, fluffy interior, and chewy noodles, not to mention the perfectly cooked seafood.  The combo of the creamy mayonnaise and the slightly sweet, slightly tangy sauces compliments it perfectly.  It was ridiculous how much better it was than any okonomiyaki I’ve had before.