I had the unique experience of dining at a seaside Chinese restaurant where I had some of the best seafood in my life. The experience from start to finish was so different from what I typically expected from a Chinese restaurant. The restaurant was situated on the shores of Tuen Mun in the New Territories in a small corner where one side of the street was lined with seafood restaurants and the other with fresh seafood shops.
As soon as we pulled up in front of the restaurant, a valet rushed to the car’s side. I was a little confused. The area that we were in wasn’t an upscale neighbourhood, so I didn’t expect this type of service. The restaurant front seemed to be well-kept and the streets were passably clean, considering the fresh seafood shops just a few meters away. The valet was an image straight off the streets of Hong Kong dramas. Dressed in mostly black, flinging back a heavily dyed hairstyle and sporting a few choice tattoos, the young man who took the keys resembled a low-level street gangster. I was told later that these “valets” had the job of paying off the police when they came to ticket the illegally and valet-parked cars.
The inside of the restaurant was classily furnished with comfortable tables and chairs, but it seemed like a middle-of-the-pack place. I was with my family and two of our family friends who were Hong Kong residents and had a little better understanding of how this experience worked. There were no menus, instead orders were placed from memory of what was available the previous times, or asking the waiting staff. The restaurant provides a few dishes, but the majority of the food came from the fresh seafood available across the street. We ordered roasted goose and steamed, piping-hot chicken feet (a rarity) before all leaving the table and crossing the street to hand-pick the seafood. Now this is where I found the experience to be so memorable.
First off, there was nothing stopping diners from just dashing off (aside from the gangsters at the valet booth). There is an extremely high level of trust between the customer and the restaurant. Our family friend told us that people came here for the specific freedom of wandering across to choose their food. I personally thought that people didn’t dare run off lest they be chased down and tortured in any Hong-Kong-drama-sort-of-way.
Secondly, the ability to browse through a number of specific produce depending on your preference was amazing. Most restaurants let you see your choice of live seafood before serving it, whether it be seeing live fish in tanks or bringing a lobster by your table. This level of picking and choosing was a step beyond the services received in normal restaurants.
Finally, the collaboration between the seafood market and the restaurant was flawless. The staff at the seafood market knew as much about how to properly cook the different types of seafood as the staff at the restaurant. We received as many suggestions on either side of the street. In addition, the staff at the seafood market helped us bring the chosen seafood to the restaurant and made sure the staff knew what we wanted. Talk about knowing exactly what you are getting!
We ended up having lai liu har, or “pissing shrimp” fried in garlic, steamed clams with vermicelli, stir-fried razor clams in black bean sauce, salt and pepper crab, and abalone sweetened with soy sauce and chives. Being the first time eating pissing shrimp, I found it to be the most enjoyable, but all the dishes were cooked to perfection. The pissing shrimp had a hard, prickly exterior that required scissor-work to reach the succulent flesh underneath. I would describe meat as a halfway point between the strength of the flavor of lobster and the tenderness of the meat found in shrimp. It is definitely something I’d try again!