Published on July 25, 2007
For those put off by the rich, meatiness of Chinese cuisine, the dim sum at the Ambassador hotel's Hong Teh restaurant could be the place to start. The furniture and decor at this two-decade old eaterie aren't flashy and contemporary, but the menu has been redesigned to bring it bang up to date with modern diners' demands.
Vegetarian dim sum are nothing new, of course, easily found during the vegetarian festival. Out of season, however, these meat-free delicacies can be hard to track down.
At Hong Teh, chef Lau Chi Kwong decided to fill the gap in the market, and do it in style. Visitors to the restaurant are met with a lavish selection of around 35 varieties of vegetarian dim sum on offer all year around.
The location gives some clue to the choice of cuisine. Sukhumvit Soi 11 has long been a favourite with Middle Eastern visitors, mostly Muslims who don't eat pork. And pork, of course, is an essential ingredient in most Chinese dumplings.
To please the locals, as well as those who refuse meat on health or ethical grounds, Kwong uses a list of basic ingredients that includes bamboo shoots, mushrooms, carrots and yam beans, all of them finely chopped. The vegetarian dim sum wrappings aren't much different from the ones you'll find on the meat-filled equivalents. And though traditionalists will swear that they can always tell the difference, there is something special about the flavour of these meatless treats.
On the vegetarian list are steamed dumplings, steamed Chinese buns with coconut and red bean filling, deep-fried wonton, deep-fried taro, deep-fried spring rolls, and fried Chinese radish patties.
For those whose only beef is with pork, shrimp, fish and chicken provide an alternative. The steamed dumplings come in fish, shrimp, shrimp with scallop, and stuffed bean curd varieties. There's also deep-fried seaweed with shrimps and deep-fried chicken wonton.
Traditionalists don't miss out - the menu groans with classic dim sum varieties, as well. The Chinese buns, for example, come with barbecue pork, minced pork or custard fillings.
Kwong, now 50, started his culinary career at 17. Vegetarian dim sum, he says, have risen to become an accepted part of cooking in his homeland. "They're freely available in Hong Kong, and all professional Chinese chefs should be able make them."
His secrets to making tasty dim sum are simple. "The important thing is to adapt the flavours to local tastes and to pay special attention to the freshness of the ingredients," he says. "Correct proportions of ingredients are also vital, and the most important thing is to serve everything the same day you make it."
Particularly recommended are the deep-fried dishes, crisp and gleaming golden straight from the oil, but surprisingly grease-free. The stuffing is flavoursome and juicy and the sweet sauce complements nicely.