After 100 days (!), I’ve become accustomed to seeing seemingly ‘western’ items, like spaghetti, on the menus of Hong Kong-style cafes. I’ve always found this both odd and fascinating. Take Lido, for example; the servers speak mainly Cantonese, there’s little English to be found on the menu, and yet there’s some distinctly western dishes on offer. As someone relatively new to the HK-style scene, these have always seemed out of place, like going to a restaurant in little Italy and finding sushi on the menu.
But of course, they’re not out of place, because these dishes are just as typical on a HK cafe menu as curry, wontons, and milk tea (which, I’ve discovered, originated from the British colonial rule over Hong Kong. In other words, it’s one politically-loaded beverage). While months ago I thought “why would I order spaghetti bolognese from an Asian place?” I’m now all for it. This is my 99th post, after all, and I’m more than keen to keep things interesting.
That’s why, while standing at the Good Food stall in Parker Place Mall the other day, I focused directly in on their Baked Spaghetti. When I ordered it, the lady told me it would take 20 minutes to prepare, but since there’s a bakery next door and I can entertain myself for hours amongst sweets, I decided that was no problem. As usual, the meal price included tea, and I upgraded to a cold milk tea for an extra 50 cents. The grand total was $7.
While waiting, I went and purchased a few items from the Pine House Bread and Cake Shop. Like other Chinese bakeries I’ve been to, you take a plastic tray, a pair of tongs, and proceed to collect a pile of sweet and savoury goods from the bins.
I opted for a cocktail bun (filled with coconut, they’re my favourite thing to compare amongst bakeries), a large cookie in the shape of a buddha, a slice of almond cake, and a small fruit tart. When I got to the till, the cashier held up the buddha cookie and asked “have you had this before?” No. She smiled and said something to the man behind me, who chuckled. “It’s very hard,” she said. “I think you will like this more,” and grabbed a small moon cake from the shelf next to her. Sure! I don’t want no hard cookie. I think.
Soon my twenty minutes were up, and I went to collect the baked spaghetti from Good Food. I let out an audible gasp when I saw it, as it turned out to be enough food to feed a small family. Seriously, it was a tree planter-sized portion, and I wasn’t even that hungry. I asked her for a cover, and before I knew it she’d packed it up to go. I decided to take it outside to photograph.
The large pile of noodles was covered in a generous amount of meaty tomato sauce, sprinkled with cheese, and baked in the oven. I barely knew where to begin. I tossed the noodles with some of the sauce, and discovered them to be rather overcooked (though here’s a confession – I don’t actually mind that. Al dente is the way I prefer most of the time and would expect from an Italian restaurant, but sometimes soft noodles don’t bother me in the slightest. Judge me if you will).
The sauce was a bit creamy and actually quite tasty; I found myself enjoying the heaping forkfuls I pulled from the container. It tasted homemade, in the North American Italian-style, not the European-Italian style. It’s the kind of meal that if I was a student, I’d buy all the time. It was so inexpensive, comforting, and enormous – it could have easily fed two, or even three people. If I’d have been served this in an Italian restaurant and charged $20 for it, I wouldn’t have been so enamoured, but for $6.50 from a Chinese stall in a food court? Totally on board. Perspective can affect tastebuds as much as ingredients. That’s just a reality.
And the bakery treats? The cocktail bun was good, but by no means my favourite so far; the coconut paste inside was a little dry. The fruit tart was alright – I liked the mango on top – but unfortunately the slice of almond cake was terrible.
It consisted of two layers of plain, dry sponge cake, with a thin layer of cream in between and around the outside. The top was covered with almonds, which was the only thing about the cake that made it almond-like.
Fortunately, I liked the mooncake! Many bakeries are now carrying these in preparation for the upcoming mid-Autumn festival called Zhongqiu, which this year will be celebrated at the end of September.
They are small, incredibly sweet, and often have a salted egg yolk inside. I’ll post more about them when the festival is on. Turns out, it’s also a Russian instrumental and post-rock band. Let’s go see Mooncake, dude.
Before I leave you, I’d like to share a video I came across yesterday. It has nothing to do with mooncakes, nor HK-style cafes. It is, however, both handsome and inspiring, and those are always nice things to include in your Friday. I hope you enjoy “The Smokehouse.”
Not particularly vegetarian friendly
Remember to allow 20 minutes if you want the baked spaghetti!