Tuesday, July 27, 2010

SML...room for improvement

Last Saturday, we were looking for a meet up place in Causeway Bay for lunch with some friends and the kids.  Everytime I think of Causeway Bay, I think of the mounts of people, traffic and Jonathan getting into a fight with people who cut in front of him.  Where is a good place that is child friendly and relatively not as crowded?  Maybe Time Square?  Well, we thought of SML, always wanted to try it, decor seems nice and open.  We called at about 10am and got a reservation for 4 adult and 2 kids. 

When we arrived, the whole front of the restaurant was setup with 3 long table of 20 people for birthday parties.  Then at the back, close to the kitchen is where we were seated.  Quite roomy but very noisy.  The menu were very extensive, but not sure if they specialize on any cuisine.  I thought it was Spanish but there were lots of other stuff on the menu too.  We quickly ordered some pasta, salad, Paella, finger foods and some drinks for the kids.  As we sat and talked, it got more and more uncomfortable.  The restaurant was so busy and people were running around us.  I felt like I was in a fast food joint like Cafe De Coral.  Then our food start arriving.  When we ask what that was, the server had no idea even though she was the expediter.  Then two other dishes arrived at our table and it did not belong to us.  I thought the food was ok but the atmosphere made everything seems cheap.  At the end, we all became so restless that we ate quickly and left. 

The bill end up to be about $1000, it was not cheap but I felt cheap after dining in that restaurant.  

Pineapple Bun in Sai Kung

Sai Kung Bakery Café
Man in Charge: Ricky
Location: Shop 6-7, G/F, Kam Po Court,
2 Sai Kung Hoi Pong Square, Sai Kung, N.T.
Phone: 27923861
Famous for: Pineapple Bun and Egg Tart

Roaming around Sai Kung after taking my daughter to soccer practice, I cannot help but notice this bakery tucked into a corner behind the seafood restaurants roll. I enjoy taking my daughter there because she can safely run around without cars and I can relax with a cup of coffee and a huge Pineapple Bun. When I finally sat down with Ricky, I realize this little cafe is a classic example of how a local eatery in HK came about and why people love them so much.

If you are here during the weekends, you will see a huge line outside this café waiting for these infamous Pineapple buns fresh out of the oven every 20 minutes. Selling on an average 300 buns a day, the line outside the café did not come easy. It was lots of trial and error for 8 years along with the brains of the old-timer pastry chefs who keep trying using the best of ingredients to create this phenomenon.

In Ricky’s opinion, a true Pineapple bun should have a sweet crust that is crunchy, and a bun that is soft and moist. If consumed warm, the combination of the crunchy and chewiness is just why this bun is HK people all time favourite bun. Although Ricky said his bun is not necessarily the best in HK, he said they take pride in using the best ingredients from around the world along with the experience of top pastry chefs who used to work for high-end cake shop in HK. The one special thing about his buns is that they keep producing them through out the day and each batch is fresh and hot, you cannot beat that.

Being the first European Bakery open in 2002, cakes and breads were their specialty. SARS came shortly after their opening and thanks to Tung Chee Hwa, then Chief Executive of HK granted Sai Kung to have out door seating permits in promoting tourism in the area. Not only Sai Kung was not affected by SARS, it is the place for a breath of fresh air. As local customer base grew, so did the demand for variety of products. Pineapple buns were introduced despite objection from a few partners. Baking it on site through out the day with top quality ingredient slowly caught on by word of mouth. Now, it became one of my routines every time I come to Sai Kung. Next time you visit Sai Kung, besides from the seafood, make sure you leave room for these extra large buns and also give the egg tart a try! They are to die for as well.

Egg Waffles: Gai Dahn Tsai: 雞蛋仔

In 1949, The People’s Republic of China was established under the new Communist Party. Hundreds and Thousands of people fled into Hong Kong each month. The drastic increase of population along with low resources of food supply and strict price control by the government drives the creativity of merchants to make good use of all their products in their store.

The batter of the waffles came about when merchants were trying to find ways to utilize broken fresh eggs. With the influence of the British colony, waffle recipe was modified to local taste. They added flour, sugar, evaporated milk, then poured the mixture into a custom made honey comb shaped cast iron mold. On top of a charcoal burning flame, a golden crust, crispy yet chewy cake like snack was born. As the snack evolves, little egg shaped like iron mold was created for this special snack, hence the name “Gai Dahn Tsai”, a direct translation for little egg tartlets. It became an irresistible cheap street snacks unique to Hong Kong. Back in the days, Gai Dan Tsai was sold by hawker street vendors but nowadays, you will find it in mini snack stalls on busy streets of Hong Kong.

According to the locals, a good Gai Dahn Tsai should have a fragrant egg flavor, very crispy on the outside with a chewy semi-hollow center. Pulling out from a rustic brown paper bag, the individual bite size pieces of little egg shaped waffles should break apart easily. Lots of different flavours are available these days, but to truly experience this snack, I recommend the original flavor. For that extra sweet tooth, try the waffle version sandwiched with peanut butter, condense milk along with some coconut sesame sugar.


Mr. Liu, owner of Lee Keung Kee Egg waffle shop was soft spoken and humble about his food stall that basically dominate the egg waffle market in HK. Growing up as one of the10 sibling of a street hawker family in the 50s, he followed his family’s foot step and do what they do best and started his own food stall back in the 80s selling egg waffles. Combining his mother’s recipe along with his new ideas and his vision of constantly improving his product, he now owns 8 busy food stalls around HK that always have a line outside his stall. Liu said, the key to his success is the drive to keep this product on its best competitive edge. Still tasting his waffles everyday, the unique factor of why this egg waffles is so addictive lies in the batter. The right amount of egg, along with minimal distracting, the waffle should be crispy on the outer layer, one side hollow and the other side filled with soft and just cooked cake that is al dente. You should always consume the waffle within the minute that it came out from the grill. That is certainly not difficult considering, the light and crisp element of the waffle. Back in the 50s, these egg waffles are sold by the egglet for a cent. Using a charcoal burning stove with two extra large heavy cast iron mold, they crank out these little egglets and made it a business.

This recipe is easy to prepare and especially good for breakfast. If you don’t have the traditional egg shaped iron mold, an electric waffle machine will do the trick.
Preheat waffle machine or egg shaped iron to medium heat about 300°F
1. Flour ⅔ cup
2. Cornstarch 3 ½ tbsp
3. Baking powder 1 tsp
4. Sugar ⅔ cup
5. Evaporated Milk ¼ cup
6. Water ½ cup
7. Large eggs 2
8. Vege oil or melted butter 2 tbsp
9. Vanilla Extract (Optional) 1 tsp
10. Custard Powder (Optional) 2 tbsp
11. Cooking Spray or Melted Butter to Coat Pan

Combine 4,5,6,7,8,9 in mixing bowl.
Add 1,2,3,10 in the egg mixture and whisk until smooth without lumps.
Coat Waffle maker with 11.
Pour batter into pan until ¾ full.
Cover and turn pan upside down and cook until waffle is golden and come off the pan.
Cool Waffles on wire rack for 5 minutes and serve warm.