Friday, 23 March 2012

Hong Kong Street Cafe-Style Spare Rib Noodle Soup

I reluctantly admit, I occasionally have trouble suppressing my sadistic streak.

On a trip to Hong Kong a few years ago, with a not very well-travelled colleague, I noticed his discomfort at eating food in establishments which did not have an English menu. Because I feel that the biggest benefit of international travel is that you can broaden yourself by sampling a life completely different to the one you are used to at home, I felt the need to experience as much of the authentic domestic lifestyle as I could cram into the short week away that we had, regardless of Norman's feelings on the matter.

Unfortunately for Norman, that meant that when it was my choice of an evening meal venue, I would invariably choose a cafe without a single Caucasian patron, eating food that I could barely recognise, and, naturally, completely away from the tourist trail.

Norman would huff and puff, and as the week went on I started to become irritated at his pained expressions as he would plead with me to choose a western-style venue, or at least a local place with a western menu, or at the very least a local place with a menu with Chinese writing, but at least some photographs of the food selection, or at the very very least a McDonald's with an English menu, colourful photographs and smiling counter staff wearing familiar uniforms.

By the last day, I had completely enough of Norman's wimpish, and in my opinion, mildly xenophobic attitude, and I surreptitiously led us well away from the beaten track and chose the mankiest, most repugnant  looking s**thole I could find for us to eat dinner. The menu was non-existent. There were crates of soft drink cans as seats. There was a pale of dirty water containing barely washed chopsticks, waiting to be used by the next diners. The clientele was entirely local, and the chef in the open kitchenette looked surly and unkempt. I inwardly felt mildly reluctant, but I couldn't back down. The place was perfect.

I asked the only person who was standing up, who I assumed correctly to be the waiter, if we could order 'two specials', and then we sat down at the nearest formica-topped low table to wait for whatever 'two specials' constituted.

Norman, whose eyes were darting everywhere and nowhere, was close to tears as two steaming bowls arrived. The joke was on me. The enormous chipped bowls contained the most attractively scented broth packed full of spare ribs, noodles, Chinese cabbage and spring onions. Norman was elated - I was disappointed. I was hoping for some indeterminate offal or a diced sheep's head, or something indescribably nasty, but it wasn't to be. Never mind, dinner was great and Norman had a story to tell the folks back home.

And today's recipe is the dish we ate. For complete authenticity, I suggest you serve this soup, like they did in 'Rat Alley', with some fiery chilli oil to stir into the broth - oh, and ensure your chopsticks have been left in a dungpile for a few weeks before you lightly rinse them off to use them.

As befits a working man's cafe dish, this recipe is a cheapy. £1.25 per generous serving, is the meagre cost.

Serves 4


500g pork spare ribs
2 litres of chicken stock
Thumb of ginger, unpeeled
1 whole (unpeeled) onion
2 whole (unpeeled) cloves of garlic
1 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
1 dried chilli
1 tablespoon of dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon of toasted sesame oil
Pinches of salt and pepper
300g dried egg noodles
1 head of Chinese cabbage or 2 bok choy, cut into large strips
2 spring (salad) onions, finely chopped, for sprinkling

In a large pan on a moderate heat, place the stock, ginger, onion, garlic and spices and cook, on a simmer, for 2 hours. Strain the stock to remove the flavouring ingredients and add the ribs. Cook ribs until done (1-1.5 hours approx) and then add the noodles until soft (10 minutes approx). Add the Chinese cabbage until al dente (5 minutes approx). Sprinkle the soup with the spring onions and serve immediately.

1 comment:

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